When I was growing up in a small fishing village on the Oregon Coast, I never gave a second thought to the possibility of running out of natural resources. Whether lumber, fish, trees, or whatever, there was always an abundance. I can recall going down to the protective rock jetty at the boat basin with a handmade spear consisting of a stick and a coat hanger and stabbing flounder after flounder as they came in with the tide through the rocks. Or putting four hooks on a fishing line and dangling it from a boat in the sheltered harbor at Sunset Beach and pulling up four hooks filled with black cod every time we lowered our lines. My brother and I used to go out behind our home, which was attached to the back of my dad’s tavern. There were a bunch of old cars turned upside down and sideways in a swampy area. We would spend hours with our BB buns shooting waterdogs as they rose to the surface. For those of you who don;t know, these are a type of salamander apparently called mudpuppies in some sections of the country.
We typically did nothing with any of these “prey.” We wouldn’t eat them or give them away. As far as I remember, we’d just dump them back in the water or probably leave them to rot on a beach. Looking back, it is embarrassing. But that was the culture where I lived. Salmon fisherman were out to take as many cohos and chinooks as they could and they began complaining when the government started talking about setting limits. Lumber companies–Weyerhauser, Menasha, Georgia Pacific–raped the steep hillsides of Douglas-Firs, Western Hemlock, and Port Orford Cedar until forced to restock with seedlings and to leave large stands of choice timber alone.
Today, of course, the world faces one of its worst environmental dangers, the potential destruction of our planet because of greenhouse gases. As 70 nations meet to discuss the damage and remedies, most of us citizens go about our business polluting just as we always have. Cutting back on emissions would be a nuisance and an inconvenience. After all, there are plenty more waterdogs in the pond.
I’ve always liked the question, “What three things would you take with you if you were shipwrecked on a deserted island?” It does give you pause about what’s important to you. I always wondered if it would spoil a budding romance if I embarrassedly admitted that one of my choices would be a jar of mayonnaise. I seem to use it on everything. Maybe it’s because when I was in college, my roommate’s mother used to send us homemade mayo with fresh California lemons right off her tree. There’s never been any other like it but because she hooked me on it, I use whatever brand I can find on sandwiches, vegetables, fish, and a lot more.
When I was in the Navy and flew to islands in the Pacific, we took a lot of odd items to “make a deal” with the locals. The natives loved trading with us. They would give us monkeys, fish, and bowls carved from mangroves or palm trees, fans handmade using seashells and braided coconut husks, carvings from coral, and giant turtle shells. We gave them cans of paint (don’t ask me what they used them for), tools, cigarette lighters, and yes, I’m ashamed to say it, cigarettes and cheap jewelry.
This was many years ago. I wonder if they still live there, still have coral, turtles, and giant clams? Anybody been to Ponape, Ulithi, Yap, or Truk lately?
In one of the creative writing courses I took in college, I was writing a piece about the time in the Navy when I visited the flag-raising monument on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, where some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting took place in WWII. On the way up the mountain, actually just a hill, I and my fellow sailors, all of us in uniform, passed a group of Japanese tourists coming down. We eyeballed each other and probably had the same thoughts.
But what I wanted to refer to in this blog post was that, in my writing that day, I wrote that when I looked over at the beach from the trail we were walking, “I could almost visualize the sandy blood.” My professor made a big point of stating to the class that this sentence would have had far less impact if I had written “bloody sand” instead of “sandy blood.” He said that while one was a rather trite phrase, the other said a lot more about the carnage that had occurred there. I’ve always taken that to heart and tried, in my writing, to use little twists like that for effect. I suppose sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. But maybe my point is to occasionally “think outside the box.” (oh, how trite is that?)