Port Gamble, 1983


Just down the coast the mill shut down. Again. This landscape scenic and quaint to
tourists borders on boredom and despair for out of work locals, descendants of the
captains who named landmarks Point No Point and Useless Bay, their houses labeled
with markers like the headstones in the cemetery, prized by visitors who love to make
rubbings of the inscriptions with chalk or crayon.
Straw miniatures of the Victorian houses are offered for sale in the General Store
where the Seashell Museum overlooks still another struggling lumberyard. The workers
drag in on breaks for root beer, ice cream and a sympathetic ear. Government subsidized
competition from Canadian mills. Wood will never mean what it used to mean. Upstairs,
a world away from their heaven, sand dollars sell for 35 cents. Down the road a tennis
court strangles in blackberries behind the summer home an out of state banker uses a few
weeks a year.
Some of the men jog every morning, running from something harder now to
understand than survival or tides. A son tries hard to land a foreman’s job, two fingers
and a girlfriend lost to the navy, the price of his only success. The schedule he doesn’t
know he wrote for his life is posted in Braille between the splinters tossed from a
dangerously dull blade, the wind on the back of his neck cold, no steady direction.
Realism has fallen on hard times. Where once hardships could have been
understood, now they’ve become products for tourists and spawned an unsung religion
preached in the taverns that simplifies the confusions of trade economics.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has grown scenic, still less important than the
lighthouse, even if the ships are fewer and foreign and guided by technology that makes
miniature diagrams more valuable than cargo.
And yet, in the museum, time waits patiently; scallops, limpets, periwinkles,
hooded cowaries, a family of shells called olives . . . all displayed in cocktail glasses. A
petrified skate. A sponge like a lace stocking. These collected frameworks of stolen
homes endure far past any other creature’s need but ours, organized under glass with
Latin names like definitions meant to capture them, as beautifully intricate as the
chambers of the nautilus someone split with a diamond saw. Each one so much the same
till you open it.

Rich Ives is the author of Tunneling to the Moon: A Psychological Gardener’s Book of Days currently being published in serial @ Silenced Press everyday in 2014 and forthcoming in paperback. Begin from the beginning, catch up, read daily. Just refer to the Burrow Guide.