Sunday, May 27, 2018

st mike's college reunion

By Fred Owens

Laurie and I will fly to Toronto this Thursday to attend the 50th reunion of the class of 1968 at St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto.

I wrote a memoir about my college life fifty years ago. There are a few passages that seem a bit smug, but I was simply having too much fun in college  -- is that a crime? If a story needs to have suffering and angst, look elsewhere.

Anyway the memoir is 20,000 words and much too long to put in this newsletter.

St. Michael's College is part of the University of Toronto. In Canada. That's right, I went to school in a foreign country.

Canadian students had no fear of being drafted and getting killed in Vietnam. That was a concern at the time among American young men.. There was little debate in Canada about the Vietnam war because everybody high and low thought it was a bad show.

The Canadian government sent a token force over there, but there was no draft. Canadian students had hazy plans about their future after graduation -- "might spend a little time in Europe, might take a job with my father's firm"..... and so on.  Meanwhile American students were sweating out choices like teaching jobs and graduate school, which got you a deferment. CO status? But you had to pretend you were a Quaker. Flee to Canada? I know a few who did just that.

You don't hear much about the draft these days, but it was serious business back then. Guys like, say, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, devised ways to avoid military service.

My own status was 1-Y or "available in case of national emergency" which is exactly how I felt at the time. I didn't want to fight but if there was a national emergency I expect I would have showed up.

So they didn't need me in Vietnam, and why were we in that country at all? I will go to my college reunion, class of 1968, and re-hash this episode with my classmates.

Some served. My roommate of three years was drafted into the army after graduation and did his tour in Vietnam. I would use his name, but first I would need to call him at his home in Dallas and get his permission. He's a man with nothing to hide, but he's not inclined to draw attention to himself. He served in the army and did his tour in Vietnam.

We will be ancient ones, fifty years later, discussing the pruning of roses, the bragging of grandchildren and the travails of hip surgery -- so why not bring up some of the old  war business?

Not everybody in Fishtown was an artist or poet. Some residents were simply odd fellows. Here is the story of Keith Brown.

Keith Brown was an idiot, a man with serious mental health issues, who lived in a shack on the North Fork of the Skagit River at a place called Fishtown.
You had to walk across Chamberlain’s field to get to Fishtown, or else, if Margaret Lee let you, you could drive out to her farm, and park your car there, and then it was a shorter walk, but either way you had to walk.
Keith lived in float shack moored to the bank. Years ago he had winched it up the bank during a spring flood, so it never floated anymore, but it was built on top of Douglas fir logs 2-feet in diameter and bolted together in a raft.
Keith’s shack was almost level. A marble, placed on the floor, would roll slowly towards the riverside of the shack, but this only made the place a bit more lovable – giving it a tilt, but not something you could see with your eyes. The shack was soundly built when Keith claimed it and moved in. He added a cupola on the roof  with 3-foot windows on all four sides, for sleeping in the moonlight, or listening to the rain.
He tinkered with electricity. He made a light switch from a fork, by drilling a hole through the handle midway, so it could move back and forth, and if he pushed it one way towards the contact point, the little light would go on.
 He had catalogs from electric supply houses, dog-eared, laying on the counter, next to egg shells, banana skins, diodes, transistors, and lumps of lichen, car parts, fishing tackle, and odd sorts of plastic bottles.. A research scientist in his own way, Keith transmitted the news and the song of the River, via electronics that passed through subterranean granite tunnels, which existed in his imagination. But Fred was no scoffer. He had heard the voice of the man from Venus long ago after the desert murder, so he listened to Keith’s fantastic theories without judgment.
Keith devised a small windmill on his roof that powered a 25-watt lamp.
Otherwise he used kerosene lanterns, and cooked and heated on a wood stove. He packed in his supplies, walking across the fields to Dodge Valley Road, and walking 3 more miles to LaConner unless he got a ride, carrying a canvas rucksack, with empty bottles for recycling on the way in, and beer and groceries on the way back.
His car was a 60’s model Triumph, the English sports car. He parked that at the quarry, what people called a quarry, but was really just a part of the hill that had been carved out years ago for the stone. Keith hadn’t driven the Triumph in a few years and the tires had gone flat, and the blackberry vines were starting to grow over it. He had removed the trunk lid of the Triumph, and inserted a plywood panel, a place to mount his lawnmower – that was back when he worked for people, back when he wasn’t quite so crazy. But the Triumph was getting moldy and starting to compost, as if everything was going back to the earth sooner or later, something that even the farmers approved, because they never threw away their old equipment, they just parked it out in a field and let it rust, and the same way old boats, either sunk, or half sunk, or propped up in the backyard – they all returned to the earth.
The dreamboats were gone in 1986 – the hopeless rotted hulls, the beautiful romantic lines of a wood boat that had once fished the abundant salmon of Puget Sound. The dreamers came in the 60’s and worked on them, to rebuild them, steaming oak planks in water-filled metal drums, bending new frames on the old rotted hulls. But they were dreamboats, and the hippies gave up on them, for the most part, although a few were launched, like the 32-foot Bristol Bay double ender that Singin’ Dan rebuilt and launched and lived on down the river from Fishtown at Shit Creek. Singin’ Dan came from Scandinavian fishing stock, and he knew what he was doing.
But the dreamboats were abandoned. They made picturesque hulks, and the other boats were just let out to die peacefully, slowly sinking in the mud, landmarks with histories imagined or real.
It was the law of the sea, as Fred had read in Moby Dick in the chapter about abandoned vessels. A boat, a ship, or the valuable carcass of a floating, dead sperm whale were all bound by the same law – it was either fast or loose. If it was “fast”, made fast to something, a pier or attached by a line to another boat, then it belonged to whatever entity it was made fast to. But if it was loose, if it was afloat, or adrift, or run aground, but on the sea, if it was abandoned – you couldn’t leave a marker or a note saying you were the owner and intended to come back and fetch it. If it was loose, then it belonged to whoever might claim it, and that’s how Keith got his float shack in Fishtown, because it was stuck on a sand bar just off the bank when he got there in early 70s.
He just moved in and took it over. You could still do that in Puget Sound. Nobody minded anyway, there were lots of abandoned houses and shacks around the Valley back then – that’s why the hippies moved up there – free rent.
Keith had stained teeth and he laughed with a mad cackle, because he was mad. He had brown skin, so dirty it had acquired a patina, a sheen, like an old pair of pants. “I would fuck him if he took a bath,” G* said, in her typical brazen way. B* and G* lived in a shack that B* had built up on pilings, maybe a hundred yards downstream from Keith’s place. You had to get off Keith’s shack on a gang plank over the mud, then walk through the brush, bending under salmon berry pink blossoms if it was Spring, and then cross by the haphazard fence marking Steve Herold’s garden, and then hike up a small hill. It was a small hill, but it would have been a very big egg, because the hill was shaped like an egg, and then what creature would hatch from such an egg of a quarter mile diameter, lying oblong and crosswise to the flow of the river, this hill bearing madrone trees peeling red-orange bark.
Fred would take that path, going through the madrone trees. “You always see them growing near the water. You never see them more than a half-mile from the water,” Fred noticed.
Over the hill and easing down the stone on a rope tied to a tree just for that purpose, the egg-stone of the egg hill, was a composite of small stones – like old cement of geological age, over to the shack that B* and G* had built on pilings, where G* said things like that about Keith Brown and other men.
Keith was the canary in the coal mine, a symptom of changes in the valley. Fred had often visited Keith, taking the stroll across the fields, and then the primeval path through the old woods, coming up on the shack, sometimes in winter, stepping across mottled leaves, working his way through the path, stepping around logs, sometimes in spring when the skunk cabbage thrust up through the swamp near the river.
Fred came to visit, and if Keith wasn’t home, he came in anyway and built a fire and made tea and found a few books to glance at. The porn magazines were under the mattress in the cupola. Fred was a snoop. “I think I got that from my mother. She always found my things and it always seemed accidental, but it was her third eye, and I have the third eye, too,” he thought.
But the door to the shack had no lock. He was always welcome. Or else Keith was there, tinkering with something, and they talked. Keith had a way of talking that made sense, but before you know it, it made no sense at all. “He’s half-mad,” Fred observed. “He’s got one foot in this world and another foot in a far more resplendent universe.
Afterward, after Keith got arrested for arson, Fred said, “We could see he was going off the deep end, but we had abandoned him, and he was all alone.”
Keith spent more time listening to the voices – the CIA was after him because his electronic inventions might generate enough power to over throw the monopoly of the corporations and large oil companies. The CIA was linked with the ant-Christ and Keith was the only one who knew that they had killed Lisa and buried her under the Lighthouse Inn in LaConner.
Keith began writing messages with a magic marker on his jacket and jeans – sayings from the Illuminati, and quotations from Revelations – “Beware, the beast with 600 eyes is coming.”
His cackle became louder. The problem, Fred realized, was that nobody had time anymore. Keith was the village idiot of Fishtown, but the village was itself disappearing, B* and G* moved into town, to that yellow house on the hill. Paul Hansen was building his 3-story log cabin (known as Fort Hansen) on a hillside on the reservation. He didn’t come out to Fishtown anymore. Black Dog Allen was down in Willapa Bay working on oysters.
Avocado Richard had taken over the cabin where Charlie Krafft used to live. It would have been good for new talent to move into Fishtown, but Avocado Richard, besides being a sculptor of dubious talent, was a mean, crazy drunk.
And, therefore, it became obvious, after Keith was arrested, that Keith simply had fewer people who would talk with him in his own crazy way, so he started listening to the voices all the time. And the voices told Keith that it was his duty to expose the CIA plot against him, and he could do that by setting fire to the Lighthouse Inn. “I’ll burn it down, and then they will find Lisa’s body, and then they will know the truth,” Keith said.
That fall Keith came into town with a five-gallon can of gasoline. He climbed up on the roof of the Lighthouse Inn, poured out the gasoline and lit the blaze. The cops came right away, the firemen put it out. There was no damage, but they locked Keith up in the mental hospital down in Steilacoom. He was incompetent to stand trial. “He’ll never get out,” Jim Smith said. “They won’t let him out unless he stops telling that story about Lisa and the CIA, but he won’t stop, and they’ll never let him out.”


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Meghan Markle is a Democrat, obviously.

By Fred Owens

Meghan Markle is a Democrat, obviously. She is hugely popular, intelligent and media savvy. She and Prince Harry will make a "nonpolitical" tour of our country in coming months. She will make Trump look like dog doo...... Oh, and she just married into  one of the richest families on the planet ..... The Windsors are much richer than Trump will ever be and they got their money the old-fashioned way, through inheritance.

What I just said is only speculation, but the Democrats do need a new face and she is available. Prince Harry does not have a job at this point but he is trained in ceremonial duties and would make a perfect First Gentleman.
Meghan is an American citizen and over 35. She is not prone to angry tweets at six a.m. A careful scrutiny of her early years might turn up something embarrassing, Certainly Prince Harry has to walk back a few stunts in his past. Here's hoping there's not too many show girls telling stories about him.

Assuming Meghan is even interested. But I'm thinking, once the wedding hub-bub is over, she might look around for something useful to do, and the Royal Family forbids meddling in English politics, but why not give Meghan a free hand in her own country?
The media adores Meghan. CNN can't get enough of her. Oprah is gonzo. George Clooney is pleasantly intrigued. Bernie Sanders might even admit to himself that he is getting a little too old for the job.
Or maybe not Meghan Markle, but someone like her --  young, bi-racial and moderate in expression.
Here's a closing touch that warms my heart:
Meghan Markle walked up the aisle by herself, most of the way, but she accepted the hand of an old man, Prince Charles, for the last gap in her journey.....Old men around the globe noticed this small courtesy.
Ben Munsey Leaped Over the Fence

 (it's a bit of a poem, part fiction and not entirely true)

Ben Munsey leaped over the fence that June day in 2002. He crashed the party at the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner, the annual fundraising auction fueled by high-ticket prices. Munsey didn’t have the money and he didn’t believe he should have paid anyway.

Docents guarded the front gates of the museum that fine summer evening, smiling at the ticket holders, but glaring at street urchins like Munsey.

“I’m too told to be an urchin, I’m past fifty years now. I teach English at Skagit Valley College, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pay $150 to eat shrimp off an ice sculpture and speak nonsense with nobodies from Seattle who come to the valley to ride their bikes past fields full of sweating Mexicans picking strawberries. I live here. I’ve been here a long time, before they built this museum. There was an apple tree right here, the tree was here for years, in a field of tall grass, before they built the museum, which I call a mausoleum, a burial place for the living art which once graced this little town, before the swells came and bought it up, and the before the docents came to keep out the riff-raff. But I am talking to myself,” Munsey said.

He spotted Singin’ Dan, who used to live on the river, a former river rat like himself, a denizen of Fishtown and Shit Creek, a slum dog drummer on Bald Island summer nights. “Dan, I thought you didn’t live here any more,” Munsey said.

“Well, I don’t live here anymore,” Singin’ Dan said, “I sort of got married and I sort of live in Olympia now.”

“Okay, so maybe we can sort of get a beer or something,” Munsey said.

And they stood there on the sidewalk, watching the patrons ensconce from polished vehicles. “Pretty soon they’ll have valet parking,” Singin’ Dan said.

Then it was like – not a plan, no, without any intention, or desire, or any voice of complaint or rebellion, but as natural as the tide rising that Munsey and Singin’ Dan drifted around to the back entrance of the museum, where the busboys unloaded the catered dishes, where the portable fence was installed to guard the premises on this special fund-raising evening -- a fence that looked like a double dare to two old hippies.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan – years later they both said “I thought it was your idea” – but it wasn’t anyone’s idea, more like the purest of action, despite being much too old for such a stunt – they leaped over the fence, Singin’ Dan easily and thinner, but Munsey with a beer-filled paunch dragging over the top rail.

It felt like robbing a bank, Munsey said later, you might spend twenty years in prison, but for a few seconds you feel more freedom than you ever felt in your life – like a vision of ecstasy, like breaking the law is even breaking the law of gravity and you’re flying.

They dashed right into the main gallery of the museum, to the fountain of ice festooned with dainty bowls of shrimp and smoked salmon and real wine glasses for the white wine, people talking in summer dresses and heels and linen sport coats, juggling napkins, and some idiot playing the guitar in the corner to give it that lah-di-dah flavor.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan filled up their dainty plates, but the matron came barreling down – it was Kathleen Willens in a stern, very stern voice who came bearing down with the brunt of the law, because she had been told by the bus boys that two old hippies had crashed the gate and leaped over the fence.

In truth, Munsey and Singin’ Dan stood out from the crowd and, besides that, Willens knew them for who they were, knew that Munsey and Singin’ Dan needed to be watched and suspected. She marched up to them and asked to see their tickets, knowing as well as the skies above that they did not have any tickets

Willens could have let them stay, if only for a hoot. How did all that art get to the musuem if it wasn’t for a hoot?

But the hoot was over, there was no more drinking sake at Fishtown. No, by the summer of 2002 it was all in the can, under lock and key at the museum, and creatures like Munsey and Singin’ Dan may as well move on down the road. If you don’t have a ticket that’s just too damn bad.

Update.  This is a fictional account of something that happened in 2002. I do not have current information about the status of the museum. It might be just loads of fun to go there. I certainly wish them the very best. You can love art all you want, but it still takes a few dollars as well.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Monday, May 14, 2018

seven gardens

Dear Friends,

I worked in seven gardens this week. Six of these gardens have roses and all these roses are in full bloom with unblemished foliage. It is a good year for roses in Santa Barbara. The seventh garden has hydrangeas and they are looking good too.
I argued with a friend on Facebook about politics and got agitated. That was Saturday morning. I try not to let that happen. Lane is a good friend, but I do not share his views. Still  it's hard to accuse him. I remember the time, maybe 1998,  when my car broke down in Marblemount, way up the Skagit River, some 70 miles from my home in LaConner. Well, Lane lives near Marblemount. He drives a robust SUV Surburban. He said, "Look, I got a flat bed trailer. I can just hook that up and put your car on it and take you back to LaConner." A seventy mile tow, for a friend. I can't argue with that. Except he is wrong most of the time on politics.
Anyway, the Current Occupant of the White House is the source of much agitation. I call him Captain Chaos, and he thrives on disruption. Argh!
I turned off my iPad and retreated to the garden. We planted tomatoes and peppers. Working side by side with Laurie brought me a sense of calm. I feel that garden work is essential, and I do it everyday. But we must remember the immortal words of Aristotle, that public service is the highest good and we must do our duty as citizens. Vote! Debate! Discuss! Ask Questions! Read History!
But don't get agitated. Participate. Make an iron determination to remain calm.
The inspiring example for calm determination is Barack Obama. What a good President he was. In 2008 he won the popular vote and the electoral vote. In 2012 he did it again. Twice a winner, and retired with honor.
Obama's eight years were untouched by personal scandal. A good father to his two children, a good husband to Michelle. There were no Me Too moments in his life. A quiet home life. He played golf.
I don't golf myself but I applaud the sport and I believe that time on the golf course gives time for reflection and repose -- something every President needs.

Obama could never show anger when he was President. That was understood. The first black President could not show anger. Instead Obama appeared detached, aloof and arrogant, because he could show that. But he could not show anger. This is how it seemed to me.
It's the Jackie Robinson rule. Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. He could play hard and play rough, but he could not show anger.... That worked and Obama followed his example.
My friend and college classmate Virginia Smith said, "Obama was also just naturally a cool guy with a long fuse. How did he get that way? -- maybe growing up in Hawaii."
I criticize Obama for one thing, the Affordable Care Act. It was a mistake to pass that important reform without bi-partisan support.  Delaying the bill, or watering down the proposal, as unwelcome as that was to the Democrats, would have been far less trouble in the long run.  No major reform can succeed without bi-partisan support. We can see that in hindsight, as the beginning of all-out partisan conflict which has reached a boiling point with the current president.
But we are talking about temperament. Obama had a calm style that a majority of voters could live with, that's why he was twice elected.
And no, Obama is not coming back for a third term. It's up to us now  -- to confront disruption with calm purpose.
Except for one thing, Obama has, shall we say, a personal stake in the Iran deal. Trump has baited him on that, calling it terrible and not worth a shred of paper. Obama might very well emerge from the golf course to defend his record on that.
Obama is young and healthy. He is well-liked around the world. It's not over.
Israel. It took seventy years to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We could have waited another seventy years.
thank you and have a good week,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Fishtown, not Fishtown

May 8, 2018
Dear Friends,
It could be argued that Clyde Sanborn never lived in Fishtown. He never lived anywhere in the sense of setting up housekeeping and hanging up a dish towel. He flopped wherever he was and kept a few books here and there.
He did stay in that cabin where Black Dog Allen used to live. It was across the slough from Barge Island and downstream of Fishtown proper.
Crazy Peter lived on Barge island, or he did live there years later after Clyde died in 1996. Art Jorgensen spent his last years on the upstream tip of Barge Island. Art died too and I went to his memorial service at Al's Landing, upstream from all that.
Art was more of a true river rat  -- he never went to town, he never went anywhere. I used to go see Art at his cabin in Fishtown before they tore it down in 1989. That's when he moved over to Barge Island for his last years.
So when I call this story Fishtown, not Fishtown, that is what I mean. Art lived in Fishtown until they  tore his cabin down, but Clyde never did, and that makes him not Fishtown. And not Shit Creek, not Sullivan Slough, and not Brown Lily Hill. Clyde never really lived anywhere except where he was at the time.

He was a drunkard and a poet. You could argue that he was not a very good poet, and some people said that. They said he was just a drunkard who scribbled a few lines on scraps of paper. True. Clyde always said he was a poet, he never said he was good at it.
Just now published is Go With The Flow, a fabulous book of Clyde's poetry and biography, edited by Allen Frost. It costs $32 on Amazon, it costs that much because of all the color photos. I am so very happy to own a copy of this book. It captures -- no, does not capture, but does set free -- the moments of Clyde's life and you can read his poetry and hear stories from his friends.
I don't know. Maybe you just had to be there. I was there and I wrote five pages of this book, starting at page 135, in a story called Clyde's Bicycle. The story is not about Clyde or his bicycle, but Allen Frost put it in the book anyway.
A smart editor would have said, "well. Fred, this story you sent me is not about Clyde or his bicycle, so it doesn't exactly belong in here."
But Allen Frost never said he was a smart editor, he just really wanted to publish a book about Clyde Sanborn and I am so glad that he did. This is a really good book. You learn more about Clyde's life than you imagined. It's a wealth. A smart editor would have thrown stuff out and made it tighter, but this happy volume is not tight. More so, this happy volume is open and generous. That's how I got my story in, even though it's not about Clyde.
And yet it is about Clyde's world and where he lived, where he slept, where he drank his red wine and where he kept his boat.
As for his poetry, I will leave it to others to pass judgment. As for his drunkenness, yes, I never knew him to spend a day sober.  But he lasted for twenty years floating between LaConner and the river.  He lasted for twenty years because so many people liked him.
Clyde was always drunk and he could have made himself a better man. But he never hurt anybody, never got in a fight, never wrecked a car, never abused a woman, never stole anything, and never took more than his share. Clyde was rowing home one night in the spring of 1996. He fell out of his boat and drowned. They had a memorial service for him in Pioneer Park and more than 300 people showed up for that.

Later that Same Day. Oh, I could write old river stories all day. But you've already heard them. It's the old saying  -- many rivers flow into the sea, and at the mouth of every river there are some old fishing shacks where fellows hang out and watch the tide come and go. They call it Fishtown. Could be anywhere on earth.
Laurie and I were in LaConner last week for a two-day visit. We saw the tulips and spent time with old friends. We're planning to come back again in early September.
take care,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital