excerpts from

Three Years
on the
Nowhere Road

To a camp on the Calawah

I had two friends, John and Mitch, who had come out to the Peninsula in late summer and they were the source of my information about jobs in the Forks area. That they were camping somewhere along the Calawah River was all I had for directions.

Just north of Forks, where Highway 101 crossed the Calawah, a Forest Service road followed the river to the east, and that’s where I headed, walking along the riverbank for several miles with my seabag on my shoulder until a Jeep with an open back seat pulled over to pick me up. I hopped aboard and found myself sitting under a rollbar next to a tall rail-thin fellow with long stringy black hair and goatee, dressed all in black and wearing a sort of stovepipe hat. He looked like something straight out of Gustave Dore’s London Scenes from the 1840s, a scraggly backstreet character who would stick a knife in your ribs without thinking twice. He was carrying something in a long leather scabbord that I took to be a fishing rod but which, in fact, turned out to be a loaded rifle. I was feeling a bit giddy, finally being so close to my destination after such an exhausting journey, and I took several deep breaths and made an innocent remark about the sheer sweetness of the air. My companion gave me a sideways smirk. "New in town?" he said. --- As it happened, he was headed to the same campsite I was. His name was Rick, if I remember correctly, and he worked in one of the many shake mills around Forks as a splitter.

The jeep dropped us off about a quarter mile from the Klahanie Campsite and we walked in together. I recognized Mitch’s blue Dodge pickup and camper in one of the camping areas at the base of some of the biggest conifers I had ever seen in my life, and which I later learned were Sitka spruce. Mitch and his companions had built a spacious shelter of alder poles and plastic sheeting ("visqueen"). It was well-constructed, weather-tight, with a ridged roof and enough headroom that several persons could stand comfortably inside. The rangers were allowing them to remain there until the park closed for the season, in a week or two, at which time they were expected to take down the shelter and haul everything away.

There were chairs in the corners, a lopsided cast-iron woodstove that was lashed about with wire to keep it from falling to pieces, and a raised platform along the back wall which was just wide enough for four or five sleeping bags. It was not immediately apparent where I would be sleeping. All I knew was that I didn't want to sleep outside in the rain. As it turned out, there was just enough room below the platform to crawl underneath and lay out my blanket. I set out my few books, kept everything else in my seabag which I used as a pillow, and imagined myself in the hold of a whaling ship.

Mitch seemed taken aback by my unnanounced and unexpected appearance. He and John had invited me out a month or two earlier, but that was more as a lark and an adventure and when I didn't immediately take them up on it, he figured that was that and I wouldn't be coming. But coming out earlier in the summer had been out of the question. Neither Mitch nor John was married and I was, and I had a good job as a tree trimmer with the Park District that I wasn’t about to walk away from. But all that was before the strike.

And now here I was, not on a lark but looking for work. Mitch said, “John’s in town. Let’s drive in and find him.” Forks was such a small town, with just one main street, that we found him almost at once. He spotted Mitch’s truck cruising down the main drag and walked out into the street to flag us down. We stopped beside him and he peered in through the open window. “I just mailed you a letter telling you not to come,” he informed me. I opened the door and slid over and he got in beside me. Mitch turned the truck around and we headed back out of town. “What do you mean?” I asked him. John shrugged. “Summer’s over, winter’s coming--- weeks and weeks of rain, by all accounts. Everybody’s leaving.” “Well I just got here,” I said. "I'm not going anywhere. What do I care about a little rain?” Mitch and John looked across me at each other and guffawed.

Back at camp, everyone settled in around the warm, steadily ticking stove and listened to the rain that just kept getting heavier. Someone was frying fresh meat in a skillet on the stove. “I hit a deer with the truck last week on the way into the mill, so we all skipped work and spent the day butchering," Mitch explained. "Now we’ve got a lot of meat to get through before it goes rancid.” My spirits lifted. It looked as though I wouldn’t have to worry about supper.

Being early November, the cold rains of winter were starting to arrive and I was glad to have a place that was warm and dry. The old stove had been salvaged from the county dump. It smoked badly as the fire was getting underway, but once it was hot and drawing efficiently, it hardly leaked at all. The stovepipe ran through a hole cut in a sheet of corrugated tin which formed part of the wall behind the stove, so that the heat of stove and pipe were deflected from the plastic. It worked fine, and this simple stove-and-tin-sheet configuration was used in all the alder-framed visqueen shelters that I would see across the Peninsula during my time out there. Plastic palaces we called them. They weren't beautiful, but they were about the only cheap shelter that would reliably keep out the rain, which was the primary concern, given that the average annual rainfall on the Peninsula was in the neighborhood of 150 inches, nearly all of which fell in the winter.

After supper that evening, I talked with several of the young men about where they were working, and what they did. Most worked in the shake mills around Forks, but John was working as a choker-setter for a little gyppo logging outfit. After what I had seen of the clear-cutting on the slopes, I wasn't at all sure I wanted any part of such destruction, especially since much of the logging was taking place in old growth forests. Several of the boys mentioned tree-planting as a possibility, but I calculated I could make more, and be paid more regularly, working in a mill. It was also easier for an inexperienced outsider to get hired at a mill than on a logging crew, so that settled the matter in my mind. I could always switch jobs down the line if I wanted to make a change. The main thing was to wire money home as soon as possible, and in that respect a shake mill looked like the best bet.

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