Category Archives: Memoir Writing

Dreams of Ambrosia

When spring rains cease and school adjourns,
we’ll take an old tin pail and swing it by the bail.
With Peggy-Dog at our heels, we’ll race
through the gate and down the path
to the river bottom pasture, where
cottonwood catkins drift as snow.

We’ll scamper and pick and eat our share
of little wild strawberries, woodland berries,
growing in the sand-covered moss where
beetle-bugs hide, as we dream of baking powder
biscuits piled high with God’s own fruit—
delicate and gritty, smothered in thick new cream.
North Cascade Mountains, Washington

“Dónde está el padre de agua”

I step from a van at the edge of Taxco, Mexico, onto mountainous paths too steep to drive, onto cobblestone walks away from water falls’ din, away from thunder known by Nahuatl and Zapotec as “where the father of water is,” high in the Sierra Madre Occidental, the “Madre de las montañas” of padres and conquistadors, a silver lode raped by Spaniards, Mexican and Catalan to build Santa Prisca, Catedral de los ancestros.

Here, I marvel at silver trinkets, glistening toys in merchants’ windows, picturesque jewelry crafted by generations of artisans.

Here, I dine on corn, beans and tomatillos, roasted pig, goat cheese and newly carved fowl; here, I drink fermented juices of hillside vines, terrestrial labor of aparcero Mexicana, where incessant winds and Pacific rains erode volcanos, Vulcan gods of Aztecs, Greeks and Romans.
Taxco de Alarcón, Mexico

Notes:
“Dónde está el padre de agua”: “Where the father of water is.”
“Madre de las montañas”: “Mother of mountains.”
Catedral de los ancestros: Santa Prisca (Cathedral of the Ancients).
Aparcero Mexicana: Mexican sharecropper.

Quelcid, S’Klallam Elder, Teaches Us

As it appears in the Winter 2012 edition of Clover: A Literary Rag.

Quelcid, S’Klallam elder, teaches us to make walking sticks. She beats her deerskin drum and sings: Pick a devil’s club, peeled andcured, that fits your stature. Bone it with a table knife, as my ancestors boned it with a deer’s shoulder blade. Wrap the grip with rawhide. Hang on it amulets of rosehips and beads.

To touch diabolical “devil’s
clubs,” Oplopanax horridum causes me to shudder. With each stroke of the table knife, I remember horse-logging with Dad and my brother Jim on the back of our place in the Upper Skagit River Valley. I remember “swamping out” trails through devil’s club and vine maple before each tree was felled, and whacking out horse trails to drag the logs out to the truck.

I remember Jim bending the green devil’sclub stem, then letting go as I swung my ax. Up it would spring, slapping thorns into each of us, driving them through our worn-out gloves. Always, as we were pulling thorns out of our hands, dad and the team would show up, impatient and disgusted at his teenage helpers.From Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound, indigenous people have for centuries, burnt, carved, ground, mixed, painted, plastered, rubbed, steamed, tattooed, and infused roots, stems, inner bark, and berries of this genus of ginseng, sometimes with thistles, black hawthorn, prince’s pine, cascara, and bear grease, for medicine, magic, and fishing lures.

And now to the beat of her drum, Quelcid sings: Take your walking stick. Go quietly through shadowy thickets to the river’s edge. Listen for its inner spirit speaking to a shaman, his face painted with bear grease and ash. Evil spirits know the magic, they will sneak away.

Winter Chores During WWII

     This is one anecdote in an anecdotal childhood. No overarching meaning or underlying theme, no fatherson conflict, no prepubescence struggle; it is just an incident that if aggregated with those of similar youths, becomes a picture of growing up in the time and place.
     This barn was built be Tom Porter in 1912; the field is the one I crossed to go home when the fences were split cedar posts and barbed wire; and we had an excessive snow storm in Dec.-Jan., 1944-45.

                          Winter Chores During WWII

Six animals in their stanchions. Mangers filled. Freshly bedded. Gutter emptied. Shit-splattered floor scraped clean.

It’s a warm, moist, bovine world in this old barn. Temp will drop to ten tonight.

A pale moon, almost white, rises over Porter Mountain, cast the barn’s long shadow over its yard, down the bank, and onto the field below.

High above Sauk Mountain, Queen Cassiopeia and “Big Bear” dance around North Star.

Snow covers ground. Path through the field packed. Been there a week. No rain. A miracle.. No slush. Splashing girls at school is fun, splashing in the barnyard, not.

When the Skagit is high, the meadow swales in the old river bed pond. When a northeaster blows, enough ice freezes for kids to play. Don’t let Mom or Dad find out, or fall in.

Crystalline droplets glisten on straw poking through crusty snow. Ice settling on swale slopes crack. I’ll follow a fencerow home. I can almost see it from here.

Midstream (Chapbook)


Midstream
on the upper Skagit River, a Wild and Scenic River

Richard Lee “Dick” Harris

You surmised correctly. I am a poet of place, grounded in the Upper Skagit River Valley in the Cascade Mountains of Northwest Washington State who appreciates the grandeur of nature. I did enjoy fishing and owned a boat—an aluminum canoe with a quarter-horse electric trolling motor. Two years at Boy Scout camp and still I could only swim a few strokes. The boys who taunted me pulled me from a river backwater as I was drowning.

As you interact with my words you will learn that my growing up in log cabins without electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water, in an isolated culture of backwoods loggers and Native Americans in the Upper Skagit River Valley shaped my perceptions and language; and from this valley, I wandered through much of the world observing the significance and uniqueness of ordinary experiences, their relationship to the natural world, and clash of cultures.

******

Born in ice melts and trickling creeks, the Skagit River rushes through gorges, faults, breached ice age moraines and magma, growing in voice and spirit as it flows to the Sound. Raven, salmon, eagles and The-People-of-The-River were one in word and spirit before Chechacos, King-George-People, and their books, sought to make The-River their own.

With magnanimity, The-River has borne the evils of their ditches, dikes, and dams. When leaves rustle golden, it calls Wind-Spirit and Rain-Spirit to return Valley-Spirit; and when creeks quicken and fawns drop, it calls Shaman Spirit to awaken from dreaming-sleep and restore the The-Valley to days before the world changed.

******

In the season of advent, in the days of long nights, storms sweep our valley with moisture laden clouds streaming fog and mist over sandbars and sloughs and lifting their disgorged masses over the North Cascades. Eroded windfalls and flotsam careen and crash in the river’s turbulence. Leafless cottonwoods and shallow-rooted hemlocks torn from saturated earth and duff-laden sponge dive and bob in undulating arrhythmia. Roots skeletonized into filigreed tendrils spew frothy wakes of dirt and rocks.

These storms happened when The-People-of-the-River spoke many tongues and the river ran both ways. And, they will happen again.

******         

 

This River Sings


Snow, avalanche, and scree;

creeks, ponds, and seeps,

collect in reverberating rush,

cascade in mountain pools,

eddies glazed undercurrents.

 

Mosquitoes and deerflies,

humorless protein,

psalmic multitudes,

survive winter’s minus.

Spring, tempered and wet,

its creeks quicken and swirl.

Tawny duff and flecks of sun

conceal newly dropped fawns.

 

Eagle, salmon, and raven

sing this river’s song—

sing as it flows—

            dammed,

        tunneled,

               diverted!


This river sings as it

sprays cool mist,

splashes rocks with

syncopated rim-shots.


Cottonwoods rustle in tenor,

maples in baritone,

as softly this river sings

through mist and fog.

 

Softly, its spirits sing


of a mountain’s ashes

rising in evening drafts.

 

Wild and free, this river sings.

******

Chak-Chak, the Skagit Bald Eagle


Perched in an old-growth forest,

Chak-Chak rouses. In morning light,

Scans the river with piercing eyes,

Searches sandy bars for dying chum.


Chak-Chak
breaks silence,

Soars from Sauk Mountain,

Drifts Washington Eddy;

Glides the river’s course.


Chak-Chak
skims shimmering water,

Clutches a floundering salmon,

Settles on a backwash beach,

Feeds on his catch.


Perched in barren cottonwoods,

On the south bank where the wild Skagit bends,

Chak-Chak, in stoic dignity,

Basks in warm afternoon sun.


Chak-Chak
calls his mate.

Wings extended, talons interlocked

In descending flight, they tumble,

Somersaulting earthward, breaking skyward.


Before evening shadows deepen,

Purple hues of dusk chase the day.

Chak-Chak catches an ascending draft

To his nightly roost—and slips away.

******



Insensitive that I can’t swim

or my parents’ orders,

my peers taunt me,

“Damn it, chicken shit.

Get in!”

With adolescent derring-do,

they defy undercurrents

to swim eddies.

I look down in humility,

count pebbles in the gravel

and dream of elsewhere.

******



I drive into the North Cascades
following scenic Skagit River past civilization’s blight to celebrate its wildness. I gaze in awe this fleeting moment at snowy ridges and glacial slopes, alpine lakes and hanging valleys, traces of ice from eons ago. I see barren hills stripped of hemlock, cedar and fir, dammed rivers, meadows without life, mountains raped for gold.

Others, too, have seen this blind greed and wanton scarring, destroying the spirit of this beloved land.

******

 Eagle Feathers and Rainbow

Looking at you now, Imogene, in your
cradle of lasting years, I see you in
our picture on the steps of Rockport School,
two rooms at the foot of your family’s

sacred mountain by the river of your
tribe, so many years ago. You are
the pumpkin-faced first grader wearing
a simple wash-dress in the first row,

                                                                                  

so sober under your freshly combed hair

and new barrette, Imogene. I’m a second-

grader behind you, all frowns and ears sticking

out, my hair slicked-down. I loved your name,


Imogene … Imogene. You see,

I still sing it. In minutes now, elders

will carry you away, to lower you

into an earthly bed under boughs of


cedar and snow on your sacred

mountain. As darkness hovers, Imogene,

your spirit will rise, an eagle passing

through a rainbow above the river.

******



Quelcid, Native American elder, teaches us to make
walking sticks.  She beats her deerskin drum and sings: Pick a devil’s club, peeled andcured, that fits your stature.  Bone it with a table knife, as my ancestors boned it with a deer’s shoulder blade.  Wrap the grip with rawhide.  Hang on it amulets of rosehips and beads.

To touch diabolical “devil’s
clubs,” Oplopanax horridum causes me to shudder.  With each stroke of the table knife, I remember horse-logging with Dad and my brother Jim on the back of our place.  I remember “swamping out” trails through devil’s club and vine maple before each tree was felled, and whacking out horse trails to drag the logs out to the truck.

I remember Jim bending the green stem, then letting go as I swung my ax. Up it would spring, slapping thorns into each of us, driving them through our worn-out gloves. Always, as we were pulling thorns out of our hands, dad and the team would show up, impatient and disgusted at his teenage helpers.From Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound, indigenous people have for centuries, burnt, carved, ground, mixed, painted, plastered, rubbed, steamed, tattooed, and infused roots, stems, inner bark, and berries of this genus of ginseng, sometimes with thistles, black hawthorn, prince’s pine, cascara, and bear grease, for medicine, magic, and fishing lures.

 And now to the beat of her drum, Quelcid sings: Take your walking stick.  Go quietly through shadowy thickets to the river’s edge.  Listen for its inner spirit speaking to a shaman, his face painted with bear grease and ash.  Evil spirits know its magic, they will sneak away.

******

Decades later, a thousand miles north, I walk along a River Road and the tidelands as the Chilkat River melds into Lynn Canal and the afternoon shadows of the Chilkat Range. I stroll past dandelions in multiple bouquets and remnants of snow in the off ditch decorated with florescent swamp lanterns, my winter coat over my shoulder.

Lunch is freshly caught trout and newly picked beach greens; dessert, spring’s first rhubarb.

Politics are with the crew at the Main Street intersection where the temperature is 57 degrees, Fahrenheit, filling chuckholes and replacing collapsing sewers. God is in the pantheist totem on the path between Mountain Market and the town library celebrating “where they go to learn by themselves.”

Only the eagle sees beyond the glaciers.

******




Endnotes

Skagit is pronounced SKAJ-it.

“Cheechako paddling shovel-nosed canoe, midstream Skagit River near Rockport ferry crossing” (Cover photo, circa 1920, from family collection).

Cheechako is Chinook Jargon combining Lower Chinook “right away” and Nootka “come” into “new comer.”

Born in ice melts and trickling ….” See “When the River Ran Both Ways,” Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009, (2010).

In the season of advent, in the days of long nights ….” See “Signs of Winter,” Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009, (2010).

“This River Sings” came to mind while I was sitting on the banks of the Skagit River at Rockport waiting for the celebration of life for my brother Marvin L. “Jim” Harris, 1937-2009, to begin. Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010); Phrasings In Word and Dance 2010 (spoken and dance); Chuckanut Sandstone Review, 2010; www.skagitriverjournal.com.

 “Chak-Chak, The Skagit Bald Eagle.” See backstory, Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010); p. 20, Concrete Herald, May 2010. Pencil sketch by Helen Harris.

“Eagle Feathers and Rainbow” is dedicated to Imogene Washington Bowen, 1935-2007, elder, Upper Skagit Tribe. Imogene is pronounced ΄Īm-ŭ-‘jēn. Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010).

“Quelcid, Native American elder, ….” Photo by Helen Harris.

“Decades later, a thousand miles north, ….” “Chilkat Range in the Morning” photo by RLH.

Collins, June McCormick. Valley of the Spirits: The Upper Skagit Indians of Western Washington (1974).

Hilbert, Vi, Haboo: Native American Stories from Puget Sound. (1985).

Midstream was drafted in Generating & Editing Poems for Publication, an Iowa Summer Writing Festival workshop, June 9-15, 2012, led by Richard Jackson, UT Chattanooga.

Bedtime reading

    My bedtime reading has always been kind of a ritual. Currently, I read a poem, if it is a page or shorter, followed by a couple pages of prose. That is, if I don’t fall asleep first. Right now I am rereading William Stafford’s ‘Even in Quiet Places,’ poems collected from several chapbooks that his son Kim and several associates made after Stafford’s death. I’m particularly attracted to ‘The Methow River Poems.’ For prose, I’m rereading ‘In Pharaoh’s Army,’ Tobias Wolff’s memoir of the Viet Nam War.
    Both of these writers share my valley, the Upper Skagit, with me. Stafford wrote some of his last poems at the request of two forest rangers as he traveled over the North Cascade Highway; and Wolff is an alumnus of my high school, Concrete HS. Two cautions: He came about 20 years after me and ‘This Boy’s Life’ is a highly imaginative memoir and the movie even more so.
    What is on your bed stand?

‘Earth Day’ on the Upper Skagit River, WA State

               To Celebrate Wilderness 

                    
                    I drive into the North Cascades

following the Skagit

past civilization’s blight

to celebrate its wilderness.

 

I gaze in awe, this fleeting moment,

at snowy ridges and glacial slopes,

alpine lakes and hanging valleys,

traces of ice from eons ago.

 

I see barren hills

stripped of hemlock, cedar and fir,

dammed rivers, meadows without life,

mountains raped for gold.

 

Traveling this trail of refuse,

I ponder our thoughtless greed.

Will we ever recover that which

                    we have destroyed?

From Rockport Bridge

 

I stand on Rockport Bridge,

this sunlit winter day.

My eyes follow the Skagit

past Washington Eddy

to Eldorado’s glistening ridge.

 

For a fleeting moment, I see

snowy ridges, glacial slopes,

alpine lakes and hanging valleys,

traces of ice from eons ago.

 

Framed by cottonwoods and purple hills,

the road edging Mount Sauk

scribes the river,

gently washing pebbles

beneath a winter sky.

 

Travelers pass me

in eagle search,

skimming the view—

a ferry barge,

a cedar canoe,

our log cabin—

artifacts of my youth.

 

These incidental visitors
will never hear eagles call,
see black bear fish,
trout rise to the fly,
witness stars outshining the night,
all that I see from Rockport Bridge.

In These Years of Reflection


In my childhood,

when cold winds swept the slopes,

I warmed myself by father’s fire

and read of life beyond the river.

 

In my youth, when summer rains

washed the garden and ruined the day,

I did my chores in a myriad of dreams,

leaving the Skagit behind.

 

In my adulthood, when fortune

shunned me, I recalled neighbors

and yesterdays across the river,

memories that renewed me.

 

In these years of reflection,

I return to the valley to hear nature’s melodies
and see ancestral spirits in harmony,
as the wild Skagit tumbles to the sea.

Published in The Storytellers, SunPorch Productions, Bellingham, WA, 1994. [out of print].
Read at
North Cascades NP Earth Day & National Park Week Celebration, Newhalem, WA, 1998; Bald Eagle Interpretive Center (Old Rockport School), 2000 and 2001; Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival, Concrete, WA, 2/4/01; Concrete High School Class of 1951 Reunion, 2001.

Frank Tom, Skagit River Ferryman

Frank Tom

Circa 1875-1949

Skagit River ferryman

When I was a child and crossed the Skagit River on the Rockport ferry in the back seat of my parents’1929 REO ‘Flying Cloud’ or huddled with my brother and sister under an old quilt on the flatbed behind the cab of Dad’s 1927 Chevrolet truck, Frank Tom was “our ferry man.” As I grew older and crossed the river to school, get the family mail, or play in the school gym, he was the omnipresent ferryman who got us safely over town and back. Since leaving the valley, Frank has become more than “the Indian” who operated Rockport ferry during the years I lived on the south side of the river. For me, he personifies transportation on the Upper Skagit River before high dams controlled floodwater; ferries were mechanized, or replaced with bridges.

Although listed as Upper Skagit-Suattle on Indian census rolls, Frank Tom was known around Rockport as a “saltwater Indian.” This notion is supported in the Washington Death Index, 1940-1996, and by June McCormack Collins in Valley of the Spirits. The first gives his birthplace as Skagit,[1] which is quite likely Skagit City, a trading post community founded on the Skagit River delta in 1863.[2] In Valley of the Spirits, Collins writes that Frank “was the direct descendant of the saltwater ‘chief,’ Patíus, of the last [19th] century.”[3] Patíus, or Pat-teh-us, was the Upper Samish Tribal signatory to the Point Elliot Treaty of 1855.[4] Additionally, the Upper Skagit and Upper Samish tribes lived in winter houses on the same tidewater sites, spoke a dialect unlike other tribes in the area, and shared prairies on which they cultivated native vegetables.[5]

According to his World War I military draft registration, Frank Tom was born on June 20, 1876.[6] In other documents, his year of birth ranged between 1874 and 1878.[7]

Tom’s physique and countenance were those of a Northwest Coast Salish male, relatively short and stocky with flat facial features. He never showed it, but he must have been very strong to winch the cable that angles the ferry in the river current for every crossing with a hand-operated windlass. Additionally, with a pike pole he pushed the ferry free from the sloping gravel river bottom of each landing into the current, an especially difficult task during low water.

Frank always spoke softly, except when shouting over the noise of the river or truck engines, telling drivers where to position their vehicles to adjust the ferry load for the river level and current speed. Never appearing bored, he operated the ferry at least one round trip an hour for just about every daylight hour, the year around, year after year, regardless of weather. Likewise, with apparent self-assurance, he transported foot passengers, automobiles, and short-log and freight trucks across the river, unless he deemed it unsafe.

Frank wore clothes similar to upriver loggers: a long-sleeved chambray work shirt and Levis held up with suspenders over “long-handle” wool underwear. Unlike loggers who “stagged” their pants, Frank turned his cuffs up.[8] I do not know if he was balding, I never saw him without his well-worn fedora. His hands must have been as calloused as shoe leather from years of operating the ferry or poling his canoe on the river without work gloves. I do not recall ever seeing him wearing any.

When he first knew Frank in 1916, Will Jenkins wrote in Last Frontier in the North Cascades, that Tom was a “renowned crafter of canoes” on the Upper Skagit.[9] Although I do not remember him in any canoe other than his shallow, snub-nosed, freighting canoe, nor recall seeing him work on any, I can still picture the racing canoes he housed in a weathered shed near his home.

To touch one of those exquisitely fashioned, sleek artifacts with their razor-edged bows raised goose bumps on young Caucasian boys. This was especially true when they sneaked into Tom’s yard and traced their fingers over the painted totems on their sides, all the time imagining that they were racing war canoes down the river.

In Valley of the Spirits, Collins describes Tom as “very knowledgeable about hunting and fishing.”[10] Although outside my memory, I cannot help but believe that a man of his generation and culture who spent his life on the Skagit River was both a seasoned hunter and fisher.

Several incidents come to mind that demonstrate Frank Tom’s sense of community and his knowledge of the river.

The earliest happened when Jenkins and his brother were young men and before Rockport was taken up with World War I. Frank crossed the river with the brothers in a “little cedar dugout” before sunup after they had spent all night at a community dance and party in Rockport, so they could hike home to their mother’s timber claim, six miles up Illabot Creek.

Another incident involved cattle rustling during World War II. Fred Martin, whose family’s homestead was 5-6 miles up the road from the ferry, drove our school bus until the end of the war. The Martins took advantage of open range laws to run their beef cattle on the logged-off land between their ranch and the first student pickup. Periodically, Fred would leave early enough to stop along the way and see where his cattle had wandered. Once in a while, usually on Mondays, he would discover a butchered animal. Frequently, the hindquarters were missing and the rest left for coyotes and other scavengers.

On these Mondays, after Fred parked our bus and chocked the wheels, he and Frank would have a private conversation outside of our hearing. We younger riders always wanted to know what they were talking about. The older ones knew. Because Frank knew every local driver, the make and model of their cars, and their travel patterns, he could tell Fred about any unusual crossings, including the county designation on each car’s license plate and other telltale signs, during the past weekend.[11] I do not know if any of these rustlers were caught. I am sure they were.

When Frank judged the river unsafe, he’d tie up the ferry on the Rockport side, walk up the hill to his county-owned cabin overlooking the landing, and watch for the river to calm down. When he thought it was safe, he would untie the ferry and in his imperturbable manner begin crossing again. To my knowledge, everyone who knew him trusted him.

Everyone, that is, except Mom. She trusted Frank all right; it was the river she didn’t trust. She was terrified the first time she crossed it in 1937; a pregnant 22-year-old with two toddlers moving into further isolation until the last time she crossed it before the bridge was opened in 1961.

One incident involved me personally. Early in the summer after my tenth birthday, my mother began sending me to Rockport, once or twice a week, to get the mail and buy as many groceries as I could carry.

When it took me far longer than it should to walk two miles, cross on the ferry, go to the store, and return home, she probably suspected that I was playing around Rockport with some of my schoolmates. What took her by surprise was Frank telling her that I was “swimming” in the river!

What actually happened is that I would often arrive at the landing and see the three or four other boys from the south side swimming in an eddy caused by a boom jutting out from the bank to divert the current and ease the ferry’s approach.

Wanting to be one of the boys, but not knowing how to swim, I would strip to my skivvies and splash around in the eddy, going out as far into the river as I could and still touch bottom. Frank was concerned that I was venturing too close to a sudden drop-off and the dangerous undertow he knew was there.

The rest of the summer, my trips over town were restricted to once a week with strict time limits. I didn’t so much as put my toe in the river because I knew that Frank was watching me.

When the river was too high and turbulent for the ferry to cross and someone on our side had an emergency, Frank was always trusted to respond in his canoe.

My brother wrote about a time during a prolonged flood that Frank came to our family’s rescue in an emergency of sorts, the particulars of which Mom didn’t know until well after the event. He canoed Dad, who couldn’t swim, and Jim, only five or six years old, over town to buy gifts at Rockport Mercantile, the only store in town, so we would have presents under our Christmas tree.[12]

Frank operated the Rockport ferry at the time he registered for the 1917 draft, and he operated it until the close of World War II.[13] For almost half-a-century, he transported those of us living or working on the south side of the Skagit River, to and from Rockport and the outside world. As a child, if you had asked me who the ferry belonged to, I would have said, “Frank Tom.”

Frank died on September 30, 1949, in Rockport on the banks of the river beside which he was born, and on which he spent his life: working, fishing, and plying his shovel-nosed canoe.



[1] Washington Death Index, 1940-1996.

[2] P. 38, June McCormack Collins, Valley of the Spirits, 1974.

[3] P. 247, ibid.

[4] Pp. 2 & 67, Chief Martin J. Sampson, Indians of Skagit County, 1972.

[5] Both the Upper Skagit and Upper Samish were Northwest Coast Salish.

[6] Ancestry.com

[7] 1920 & 1930 U.S. Censuses, 1934 U.S. Indian Census Roll; and Washington Death Index, 1940-1996.

[8] Loggers “stagged” their pants by cutting the cuff hems off so as not to catch on limb stubs while scrambling over felled trees or through underbrush. If a “stagged” pant leg did catch, it ripped, reducing the chance of falling on the sharp tools they always carried.

[9] P. 68, Last Frontier in the North Cascades by Will D. Jenkins, Skagit County Historical Society (Mt. Vernon, WA), 1984.

[10] P. 247, ibid.

[11] Each county in Washington was assigned an alpha designation as the first character for their car license numbers according to their population when licensing was established. King County (Seattle) was A; Skagit was M, etc.

[12] Jim told this story with more dramatic detail in his unpublished memoir.

[13] WWI Draft Registration (1917-18) Record.

“The Ferryman”

  The Ferryman

    for Frank Tom, circa 1875-1949, ferryman

    at Rockport, WA, crossing, circa 1915-1945


Stout and strong, a man of few words,

he waves a log truck on, holds another back.

He knows when the ferry is loaded

for a river running high, a river running low.


Hand-over-hand, he turns a windlass,

winching  bridle cable shackled to line

sweeping upward to a travelling carriage

riding a skyline between spar-trees on either shore.


He anchors the windlass, hurries to the

bankside apron arm, climbs onto its

counterbalance, grips the top rail,

forcing his weight downward, leveraging

the fulcrum lifting the apron. He kicks

a bail over the end, secures it to the deck,

scans the current for swirling debris.


In a bracing stance at the ferry’s stern,

he drives his pike into the gravelly shallows,

pushing out of the calm of a log boom lea

into the ricocheting current. Overhead,


the carriage rattles, jerking forward

with each roll of the current.

The skyline vibrates, sings

as its spar-tree guys shimmy and strain.


He unchains the windlass, stomps on

a brake pedal, slowly unspools the cable,

widening the ferry’s angle, reducing its speed.

          Upper Skagit River, WA

                                             World War II