Rural Route 3
My brother and I signed the real estate papers and handed over the 10% down payment of $4500. We had been wisely advised to make this investment by a clever friend and fellow Olympia homie who went on to owning much of Seattle. We drove out Boston Harbor Road and proudly pushed open our newly purchased door to the displeasure of the soon to be displaced renter. The battered house looked every bit like its forty years of relative neglect. But since the times were calling for us kids to find our roots and go “back to the land,” the more tattered and bucolic, the better. And I’ll be damned, there was a greenhouse and a chicken coop.
Once it stopped raining that spring of 1975, Terry and I bushwhacked down the gully to fell and buck a dozen and a half good-sized alder trees and found there was indeed a waterfront view. I had never worked so hard in my life with a chainsaw. But then, I had never used one before. And that was not the end of the work; only the beginning. I would not have believed how three humble muddy little acres could spawn such a load of leaves, limbs and logs year after year. Yet all the outdoor labor of forty-five springs have been well repaid in comfort, contentment and inspiration.
Sense of Place
North Olympia, Washington has a relatively brief yesteryear as written history goes. The rocky saltwater shore in front of this old farm house was browsed by native peoples for centuries where the bays would feed them clams, oysters and fish all year. It was only a hundred years before my birth the white settlers came to this area. They cut the timber, cleared the land and built the first community in the state where the Deschutes River tumbles into the lowest tip of Puget Sound exactly five miles south of here.
In the early nineteen hundreds folks didn’t give a whit about waterfront views, but were into feeding their families and making enough of a living to occasionally ride into town for manufactured goods and other sundries. Apple orchards, berries and hay for the cows did pretty well in the dense glacial-till soil. Small gardens survived the clay just enough to fill the canning shelves in each basement. Most every ravine north and south of us held a concrete block cistern to capture spring water. There’s still an old frayed wire and broken pipe running out of our cellar that once led down to a shed with a primitive electric pump.
For two decades after the war, dozens of huge cargo ships were lined up on our side of the inlet, initially to store surplus grain, then left to rust until being scrapped about 1970. The uplands have remained rural and agricultural even now, with the exception of the pretentious ego-affirming erections that front the shoreline. Our humble octogenarian cottage hides in the shadows up a draw so as to arouse neither envy nor ridicule.
Hazen and Violet Fauver lived next door. They had moved back to Olympia when Hazen retired from the shipyard in Bremerton at the same time my girlfriend and I moved here. Janine soon left me for reasons that would be clear if you knew me in my late twenties. Hazen however somehow found me to his liking. It didn’t take long for him to drop by or stop me on the road to share everything he knew about everything. The only route in and out was our common gravel drive, so I either had to move fast and pretend not to see him or consider swimming into work. Mr. Fauver had a need to talk, talk some more, and talk to anyone who would or wouldn’t listen. He was near deaf from years working in lumber mills and shipyards. His wife was near deaf too. No surprise there.
Together we bought an ancient diesel steel-track bulldozer and worked a forested ten acres he owned up near Boston Harbor. The old guy who could barely hear or see would notch and start the back cut, and his young neighbor who had more guts than sense would, if the dozer didn’t suddenly die first, yank the high-roped fir away from us and our trucks as it fell. Then we would yard the trees to a clearing and admire our work. When it was my turn to use the machine, I would trailer it down to my gully and push stuff around for bonfires or just to feel manly.
In conversation Hazen never minced words. He cussed and complained and used early 1900s slurs for foreigners and the most demeaning derogatory for females, his wife Violet included. A few years before he died he handed me a thick file of typed pages and asked me to look them over. I was holding sheet after double-spaced sheet of quite literate and thoughtful narrative poetry. Including — which shocked the socks off me — the most syrupy sweet and tender love ballads. Whether written for his wife or his muses, it was, if not eloquent, very honest and endearing.
Following my editing and preface, he had a small press print several hundred copies of “Memories and Poems of Jarshime Kimmel”. There is no doubt that my own urge to stare down and record my feelings flows in great part from this unique and inscrutable old coot. Who would have figured this guy, or at least his pen name, understood what a quatrain stanza was?
Old Hazen was the real deal. He knew two wars, social and civil unrest, countless storms, the Great Depression, and hard manual labor. During WWII he built his house in an orchard from free scrap wood he brought home from the mill. It still stands today; I can see it from here. He survived simply and frugally. Mr. Fauver didn’t own a phone for seventy years, he raised their own food, burned and buried their garbage, let their cattle and dogs run free, and he could fix anything that broke.
One day he told me about sharp pains in his midsection and asked for a diagnosis. Being a dentist was apparently good enough for him. It was rumored he hadn’t seen a doctor since he joined the Merchant Marines in the thirties. Violet, who never drove and was now mostly blind, asked that I arrange and take him to an appointment where they discovered the cancer that would take him within a year. Something he finally couldn’t cuss away or repair himself.
Scents of Place
Brother Terry purchased a house in Seattle in 1980, and I bought his share of the ranch. The mortgage was paid off 25 years ago, and, after numerous parties, upgrades, shrub trimming afternoons and a marriage, I’m still here. Somebody once coached me with these wise and financially sensible words: “One house, one spouse.” Maybe it was my dad as he sent me off to college and into the world. He has become a lot smarter than I remember when I was fourteen.
A decade and a half as a lone bachelor permanently shaped me just as I tried to shape the land. My bare feet grew roots in the summer when I was blessed to have a generous amount of time off. If I needed to briefly wander to chase dreams, I would put on shoes. Always returning to celebrate a long afternoon in lazy meditation under the sun. No shirt, no shoes, no sunscreen, no problem. Then to roam about the yard until dusk, beer in hand, listening for the silent sounds of isolation.
And the smells of spring and summer! The flowers and grasses, the firs and the locust trees, the laurel, pink hawthorn, funky shasta daisies, the pungent sweet scent of buttercup being mowed! And, keeping with my Emily Dickenson moment, the intoxicating scent of the japanese and trumpet honeysuckle vines that embroider the surrounding hedges, fences, and telephone poles. A most gracious and welcomed invasive plant. In my next life, I pray to return as a lonicer japonica. You’ll know me by my fragile beauty and head-turning scent as I run and twist wild and free, climbing toward the sun. Sounds just like something I would do.