excerpts from

Three Years
on the
Nowhere Road

A visit to a Makah family on Neah Bay

My most unexpected day with Robert Lee involved a drive up to the very northwest tip of the Peninsula— in fact, to the very northwest tip of the continental United States, to Neah Bay, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

As was typical of Robert Lee, he offered little explanation, only that he was going to drop in on some friends, and so off we went on what turned out to be about a 120-mile round trip in that old two-gear rattletrap sedan of his. It is surprising in a way how little I seem to remember of that visit, but it was a gray day and the Makah Reservation where we found ourselves seemed little more than a collection of small drab houses overlooking a gray sea. As was Robert Lee’s custom— and the custom of many native folk as well--- he didn’t knock on the door but stood some distance away and just shouted out a greeting. It wasn’t long before someone came out of one of the houses to meet us. After a bit of talk, we were shown inside and invited to sit at a table and join the family for their midday meal.

I remember nothing specifically about what was said as we partook of soup at their table, but that is hardly surprising-— not only because it has been some fifty years since that day, but because Robert Lee did virtually all the talking, and it consisted of little more than his usual loud, hearty, amiable rambling, asking a question, not waiting for an answer, but just booming along good-naturedly to the next topic. I remember that the subject of fishing was raised, and there may have been some casual exchange on that subject, but nothing of consequence. The Makah family seemed at ease with our presence at their table, and clearly considered Robert Lee a family friend, even if they mostly just listened to him courteously without responding. Possibly my presence as a stranger dampened the conversation, but that’s not how it felt. My impression was that this was always how the talk proceeded when Robert Lee dropped in. He always talked like this, whomever he was with. The Indians were just more silent than most.

And then we were off, and back down the road. I didn’t press Robert Lee with questions as we rode, though I was very curious to know how he had come to know a Makah family well enough to be welcomed into their home. I may have asked a tentative question or two, but Robert Lee was never one to go into detail about his personal history. He had stories galore, to be sure, but they were purely for entertainment, never for self-disclosure. So I generally just settled back and listened, and let him raise and leave subjects as he was inclined.

More excerpts from
Three Years on the Nowhere Road
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Off to the wilderness

A bus from the Twilight Zone

I am picked up, then dumped

On a dark, deserted highway,
the kindness of a stranger

My first ride in a logging truck

Forks, logging capitol of the world

To a camp on the Calawah

Job Interview

Up before dawn, a logger’s breakfast

My first day at the mill

A dip in the river

Working deck at the mill,
and almost losing a hand

To a new camp, further downriver

Robert Lee:
the old logger who lived in a box

The Dickey River People

When a barrel stove becomes a cannon

Alone at last

At the outfitters

On Christmas Day, I am flooded out

At the mill, I am promoted to splitter

Encounter with a sasquatch?

A scene out of Dr. Zhivago

I settle in for a solitary winter

Hanshan, the mad hermit poet

Hiking the coastline with a tomcat

A night on a seastack

I join an encampment of friends
on a tributary of the Hoh

Calling at the country estate
of Robert Lee, Esq.

Visiting around the Peninsula
in Robert Lee's 2-gear sedan

A visit to a Makah family on Neah Bay

These opening chapters represent
about 20% of the entire book,
which I hope to release
later this winter.

BJ Omanson
Nov 2021