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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Dreaming of Washington, Walter Mitty Style

That day [his father left for the west coast] I was truly walking on air on the way to school.  My imagination ran wild.  During the morning, while the tenth grade was reciting, I got a picture atlas from the library shelves and flipped it open to the Pacific Northwest and the State of Washington.

It was a glorious prospect.  The pictures in the atlas were all in black and white, but my imagination added the colors.  There were green mountains, the snow peak of Mount hood, and vast expanses of evergreen forests of Douglas fir.  There were photographs of logging and one of a tugboat pulling a huge raft of logs down the Columbia River which, to me, looked as big as an ocean.  I could throw a rock across the Little Sac River in most places but the Columbia was more than a mile wide—as wide as the distance from our house to school!
Inevitably, I went off into one of my Fantasies.  This time I was a lumberjack in a red plaid wool jacket and calked boots. I was high off the ground, topping a tall spar tree, when the foreman came and yelled up to me, “Hey, we got us a log jam in the creek and it looks like a real killer.  You will have to come quick!”
I was famous not only for being the best tree topper in the Pacific Northwest, but also for being able to clear any log jam.  I finished topping the spar tree with two mighty swings of my sharp double-bitted axe and came down on the double.  The foreman led me trotting down a shaded forest path until we came to the large creek down which the logs were floated to the Columbia River.
The jam was a bad one.  Logs had wedged between huge boulders and those behind had been piled high in a tangle by the swift current.  My practiced eye quickly spotted the key log at the bottom of the jam.  Get that out and the whole shebang would hurtle down the creek.
I simply said, “Gimme a peavey,” and spit on my hands.

“But when you pop that key log loose, the whole pile is going to come down on you.  You won’t be able to get up out of there in time!”
I had already considered that.  “Never mind,” I said flatly, “when she pops out I’ll ride her down the river—done it before.”
I took the heavy peavey and nimbly hopped from boulder to logs until I had made my way down to the source of the problem.  The huge pile of logs towered over me and creaked ominously from the force of the water dammed upstream of the jam.
The four-foot thick key log was jammed against the edge of a big grey boulder.  Calculating the angle, I got the point of the peavey into the thick red-brown bark, set the hook, and heaved mightily.  There was a groan and a scrape as the end of the log came loose.  It started to move and the pile of logs rumbled as they came loose.  Catlike, I leaped onto the log, my calked boots holding firmly to the shaggy bark.
The log lurched then, a split second ahead of the crashing pile, shot out into the current of a white water rapid.  I balanced the peavey crosswise in front of me and, as we shot out of sight around a bend, the canyon echoed my triumphant “YAHOO!”
I suddenly snapped back to reality there in Bona School.  The room had gone silent and everyone was staring at me.  In my excitement and enthusiasm, I had shouted “Ya-hoo!” out loud!  Mr. Mitchell was looking at me and grinning.  “Beg pardon, Conrad—what was that you said?”
My face was beet red and my ears were burning in embarrassment.  I slowly closed the book and mumbled, “I—well—ah—I was thinking about something else I guess, sir.”
All thirty kids in the room roared with laughter at my discomfort.  Mitchell rapped on his desk for order and said dryly, “Yes, I guess you were and I think I know what it was.  We appreciate your enthusiasm for the great Pacific Northwest under the circumstances but we do have work to do.  I shall call recess five minutes early then we will get back to work on our science project.”
Of course I was razzed unmercifully on the playground, but beneath it all, most of the kids were envious of the prospect that Richard, Rex, and I faced.