In addition to other events, which we will cover shortly, my friend Regnor, one of the most inspiring and disciplined artists I’ve ever met, died of cancer.
He was born in Norway, above the Arctic Circle, and spent his life on fishing boats. His father was lost at sea. He told me he liked being on the water so he could spend time with his Dad. Whether he was throwing a pot, or sailing the 1930’s teak sailboat from Burma that he gorgeously restored (with its little mother-of-pearl inlays depicting the elephants moving its logs), he had a way of making mastery look not just effortless, but playful.
The ocean was his muse, and he was tireless, creating series of works featuring boats, fish, lighthouses. His enthusiasm for working in clay was infectious. I spent many fine evenings (he was definitely a night person) in his studio, hanging out with Regnor and his excellent Australian Shepherd, Mingus, playing with clay, drinking beer and listening to jazz. He loved to entertain, and threw huge bashes for every Summer and Winter Solstice.
He told me he wanted to write a cookbook about his experiences fishing in Alaska.
The title would be “You Can’t Fuck It Up If It’s Fresh.”
He suggests that, rather than suppressing grief, to “open to it as fully as possible and allow our hearts to break,” noting that “it helps to realize that we only grieve for what we love.”
So I’ve been employing some of his techniques. Only problem is that a broken heart will make you lose your mind.
Meanwhile, at Washaway, three powerful storms came ripping through the week of December 8. Marcy called me at work throughout the day on Tuesday, the first of the storms, to report updates: Les Strange was dismantling the metal roof over my Vagabond trailer in preparation to move it. Likely for financial incentives, Les was busting ass for me in a crazy storm while his own place was washing away. And then the Vagabond’s rusty trailer hitch broke off, and then it was jacked up and put on another trailer hitch, but that one broke too, right at the end of my driveway, which is where the mighty Vagabond came to rest, and where it was now tarped.
“Miss Marcy, I’m doing my very best for Miss Erika,” Les told Marcy.
Marcy put Les on the phone. He told me my vision of moving the Vagabond to the Third Estate (the Second being a swamp between my lots) was impractical now, as that lot was eroding at the same rate as the First. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Last week, the Third lot was still deep in the woods, with no view.
“You’ll see when you get here, Miss Erika,” Les said. “This is heinous.”
There was nothing to do but keep going to work, while seeing all the horrible pictures and video of my neighbors’ places on the news, TV and Facebook. I was crippled by dread, yet there was not a thing I could do to change the outcome.
Then Regnor died. Vise grips closed around my heart, making it difficult to breathe.
“This is definitely the end of a good time,” Stanley told the TV news.
When I got to the beach on Friday I was the last one standing, Willy B. Last, with all the full-time residents gone. There went the neighborhood. Stanley and Resha’s place was gone,
In God We Trust was gone,
and Ray and his girlfriend Arlysa had evacuated, having become a peninsula, their driveway inaccessible, their roof blown off.
It was impossible to fathom. Last week Ray and Arlysa were ACROSS THE STREET from doom. Yet it came from two directions: the street, and the path to the beach, now gone.
My next door neighbors’ place, The Doyle’s, was sideways. It was very, very spooky.
It was lucky that my boyfriend Todd was with me. He is an upright bass player in high demand. Do you know what kind of music needs a good bass player? Every kind. It was a miracle he had this particular weekend off during Christmas-Nutcracker time. Without his help, I would not have survived this ordeal.
But there were challenges. The outhouse was gone, yet its presence was still required, like a phantom limb. Also, my power had been turned off, the meter vanished, the wire gone. I called Gray’s Harbor PUD. “This is unacceptable,” I said. “I am still here.”
Two guys came out right away with a cherry-picker truck and were very helpful and apologetic. “Sorry for the inconvenience, we thought we were doing the right thing.”
But one of the guys seemed concerned. “Are you guys staying here tonight?” he asked. “Have you got a gun?”
That seemed a curious question. “No,” I said. “Why?”
“There’s tweakers everywhere, coming out of the woodwork, stealing stuff left and right. We scared ’em off last night when we came by to turn off your power, but they’ll be back.”
Tweakers are, of course, the wild-eyed, scab-faced devotees of Crystal Meth, best known for theft. So I figured the guy was trying to scare us, to get out of having to turn the power back on, but soon I began to see he was telling the truth. Two skinny, sketchy characters came stumbling through my yard, carrying a big piece of metal pipe.
“Hey, this is private property. No trespassing,” I said. Blank looks.
“You can’t come through here.” I insisted.
They shrugged, mildly inconvenienced. But how much policing can one do, not being there all the time, with all the permanent residents gone, who used to keep an eye on things?
Why, look. In fact, I was already getting ripped off! Firewood: gone. Rain barrels: gone. The cute little birdhouse in the shape of a trailer that my friend Sue got me, that I meant to snag last week? Gone. There used to be protocol, that you don’t take stuff until a place is either undercut or on the beach, but now no one is here to enforce the proper decorum.
In a week’s time, my paradise had transformed into the zombie apocalypse.
In a plot twist the author was not expecting, the villain of this story, the eroder of the good time, turned out to be not Mother Nature’s Fury, but people.
Les Strange stopped by to collect his fee. I paid him in full, even though things didn’t go quite as well as planned. Les told an elaborately embroidered tale of the spiders he encountered under the Vagabond in the line of duty: big as a quarter, big as a golf ball. Les does not love the arachnids.
But Resha did find a magnet from her fridge that said “Wonder is the seed of knowledge.” They stopped by my place to watch the sunset.
It was not the most restful, that last night in the Vagabond, listening to the tweakers’ rattle-trap trucks roar up and down my lonely street in the darkness, all night long.
No one can steal from me now. I’m giving it all away. First, we loaded up Todd’s Honda Element with the irreplaceable treasures that could reasonably fit in my modest storage unit in Seattle, also known as my dead Honda Accord: the wood-burning stove from the cookhouse, the table at which we dined, now disassembled, the record player. There were tough choices to make. I limited myself to only ten records, three of them Duke Ellington. This will be an interesting experiment: do tweakers like jazz?
Then we moved key items, such as the Vagabond’s bedding and the cookhouse’s beautiful propane oven over to my Airstream at Marcy and Bob’s, over in the Less Doomed part of Washaway Beach.
I had Les move my Airstream over there two years ago, where it’s been a guest cottage for Marcy and Bob, while staying secure for me. This, it turns out, is the only happy ending: I can still come here, and have a beautiful and safe place to stay.
In their back yard, the Airstream was waiting, nestled among various junk from my old place: the mannequin, the ROAD CLOSED and UNSTABLE SAND signs, all priceless treasures now. Inside the Airstream, Marcy and Bob had set up a welcome gift basket with a bottle of Cuervo Gold, limes, two glasses and some pink Himalayan sea salt. Tears sprang to my eyes.
My remaining best possessions would be pro-actively given preemptively to the right people. I gave Marcy and Bob keys and told them to help themselves to the cookhouse’s beautiful windows and full glass Craftsman door. Without a door, the place would then be literally wide open, for the vultures to swoop upon.
Which came to pass, of course. People who I’ve only met once were quick to snatch up my stuff while being amazingly tactless. “Went to your shop on the beach haha,” Freddy, the hat-knitting “photographer” messaged me.
I allowed for the possibility that my property would be gone the next week. On the way out of town, I stopped by Les’s place to say thanks again. I summoned him with a trumpet serenade of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” that had a bad case of the blues.
“You didn’t save the world, but you sure as hell tried, and that’s all that matters,” I told Les. He gave me a hug. Then I gave him the keys to the Vagabond and told him to help himself to its beautiful “Trolla” wood stove, all the $60-a-foot metalbestos stovepipe in there and the cookhouse, and anything else he might fancy or turn into money. On purpose, I left behind an ugly but warm men’s down jacket and the quilted red lumberjack vest I wore for my appearance on “Evening Magazine.”
Let’s review: in order to outwit thieves and reward loyalty, I gave some of my choicest, most valuable and expensive possessions to someone who’s always done right by me, who bent over backwards for me in my time of need while his own place was falling into the ocean: Les Strange, the guy who everyone always likes to call a thief.
A week later, I came down alone, and stopped by my place first before going to Marcy’s. The cookhouse, without windows, door, or stovepipe, with a hole in the roof and a week of rain, was a ruin. Yet my toaster and records were still there, as were the fridge and cabinets. I always liked that little toaster, so I snagged it. I made a plan to come back the next day for the records and to dig up a plant I wanted. But it was not to be.
The next day, 20 more feet had fallen in, so the plant was gone, as was the magnificent alder tree the crows used to sit in, sweetly and quietly, waiting to be fed (any hollering resulting in denial/removal of their favorite treat, old, cold french fries). My friend Lamar had suggested to me that, since I always knew this would happen, wouldn’t it be actually really important to watch my place fall into the ocean? Yet I could clearly see the crow tree and the firewood shed in the surf, and it was not cool. Also, someone had taken all the records overnight.
I am grateful for the help of a sympathetic and kind man who loaned me a screwdriver to help get my power strip off the cookhouse wall. At the end of the street, Ray’s place was falling into the ocean and the tweakers were openly looting, staggering under the weight of his cast-iron sink.
As the cover of a tide book from the Minit Market put it a few years ago, “It’s Not the End of the World, But You Can See It From Here.”
Suggested talking points for visiting a place falling into the ocean:
1. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
2. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
3. “Is it OK to come on your property?”
I left for a little while, then came back. Now there was a guy parked on my property, and I told him “No Trespassing.”
As he put his car in reverse, he remarked, “this place’ll be gone tomorrow anyway.”
“Fuck you!” I screamed. There are problems with allowing the heart to break.
It was definitely the end of a good time. I’d say that this is the fundamental problem with what Hunter S. Thompson called “Gonzo” journalism, where you’re an active participant in the story, instead of doing a fly-on-the-wall, drive-by, objective-journalist thing.
Like getting stomped by the Hell’s Angel’s, when the story starts to suck, it really, really sucks. It’s personal.
To make matters worse, I really wanted that jerk to be right, for the last of my place to “succumb to Mother Nature’s Fury” the next day, on a King Tide during the Winter Solstice. Wouldn’t that have been a nice Regnor-esque ending? But the talent would not cooperate. I’m still here, two weeks later, what’s left of me, the ruin of the cookhouse and the tarped Vagabond that has ceased to roam, just hanging on like a loose tooth.
The tweakers are getting bored. Now that everything of interest has been looted, including the fridge and the kitchen sink, they have too much leisure time. They threw my cabinets and microwave over the bank and kicked a hole in a cookhouse wall. If they had asked me, I would have illuminated to them the fact that the solid brass drawer pulls on the small white cabinet are useful for opening beers. I salvaged a cute little drawer off the beach. I really must stop stopping by this place, it is hurting my feelings.
One good thing about grief is that it’s better than dread. I know what’s going to happen. It’s happening.
Let’s have that storm.