Saturday, April 13, 2024

Shakespeare and a dump run; a ballad of spring cleaning

| May 14, 2020 1:00 AM

I knew a girl who could pull more gear, stay awake at the wheel longer and generally out endure most of her peers during the sleepless commercial fishing openers on the coast.

She wore her strawberry hair cropped, carried mariner tattoos on each of her arms and she hopelessly smote a friend of mine.

He tried to win her affection with long nocturnal drives in a 1960s model luxury car that sported duct-taped upholstery. He played host to bare knuckle boxing matches around campfires, and placed flowers in brown bottles he collected and hung on a line like freshly-washed dungarees.

The two, however, parted.

Alas, I should add.

He lost his job on a logging crew after sleeping through the horn-blasts from a waiting, early-morning crew bus. And not long after, lost his final paycheck by leaving its cash folded like fast-food napkins next to his sleeping bag near the glow of a flickering fire circle.

Fiends, it became apparent, were about.

The girl — her name was Clare like the county in Ireland — headed north on a seine boat into the swirling mist accompanied by the cutting dorsal fins of porpoises, and Orcas, and the sputtering wings of surf scoters.

The twain never again met.

If Shakespeare were alive I would have called him.

Write about this pretty please, dear bard, sir.

It was however no tragedy. Not a Troilus and Cressida.

The tide rose and my pal, call him Thelonius, went out with it, over the rocky escarpments and the bristle-back sea stars. He drifted into the ocean; the Japanese current grabbed his vessel. He did a stint on a couple of processing boats as if holding to the memory of the tattooed girl with the strawberry hair, but then he let go and became a wildland firefighter. He eventually jumped from planes into what he called “gobblers,” at the behest of the fire god known as Big Ernie, but that was years ago.

He lives in the mountains now, in drier climes and seldom writes to me.

When he does, he doesn’t mention the girl with strawberry hair who built a wooden sailboat, blew down the coast to Seattle where she married and is likely pursuing a life in a suburb with a decent white-collar job and long sleeve shirts.

In spring, memories like this pop from blithe dirt like new flowers. Through the foggy lens of years they may appear to outshine what came after.

This phenomenon is true with everything but winning lottery tickets.

Last weekend while spring cleaning, I loaded old tin hats, saw chain, leather shoulder pads, rusting saw bars and dried caulk shoes into a bin with deflated crab buoys and scraps of seine net.

I found myself staring blankly into the rear-view mirror like the Robert Graves poem where he scans his features, mulls eternity and then pops the clutch on the pickup truck.

“Perseverance, dear my lord, keeps honor bright,” Shakespeare said.

I clunked down the road with my rusty mail on the way to the landfill. Then — alas, again — from the wooded bluff heard a turkey call. The cheerful gobble shattered melancholy.

I came back to myself, as another bard penned, felt the slate call in a side pocket and remembered the real work, and what still needs to be done.


Ralph Bartholdt is a staff writer at the Coeur d’Alene Press.