By Morris R. Pike –
Astoria . . . a weather-worn town on the Oregon side of the Columbia River where the cold, steady salty sea air and penetrating winds have done their etchings for a long time. Nevertheless, the city’s persevering character begs to be noticed.
Arnie (you know, my alter ego) and I donned our jackets and left the River Walk Inn to get to know her a little better. I have the feeling, however, that one could live a lifetime and never know her through and through. Not wanting to miss the subtleties that require lingering attention, we decided not to take the trolley that runs along the waterfront. We began our walk a bit west of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Across the small craft harbor between our hotel and the bridge, stood a bight red stay-with-me hotel. One has to admire the builder’s audacity to place the huge structure in the teeth of the frequent storms the thrash the mouth of the Columbia . . . winter and summer.
Stubs of dark pilings sticking out the water told us that this was the section of waterfront that was home to the once thriving fish canneries.
“Why don’t they pull those pilings out?” Arnie asked? “They’re ugly.”
I repeated his question to an aged fellow leaning against the rail.
“Ha,” the fellow clipped. “Stupid laws.”
Arnie whispered in my ear.
“Arnie says that doesn’t make sense,” I said to the man.
The ancient mariner lowered his pipe and looked at me askance.
I ignored his bewilderment. “Why would they pass laws preventing cleaning up eyesores?”
“Grandfathering! Damn it . . . long time ago . . . before city bigwigs had so much power, merchants built fish canneries and such out into the river on docks. They owned the buildings, the river space and the pilings, but not the land beneath. When the building disappeared the law said they would lose rights above the water if the pilings were taken out. So, there they stand . . . protecting imaginary magic kingdoms and serving as resting places for sea gulls. Unless that stupid law is changed or the piling owners give up, the pilings are likely to stay where they are for a long time.”
“They’re made of wood . . .why don’t they rot?” Arnie asked.
“Why don’t the pilings rot away?” I asked giving voice to Arnie’s concern.
“You might want to know,” the old fellow said. “Below the water line the wood becomes like petrified wood . . . like forever.”
I thanked the old fellow for the history lesson. Arnie and I walked away.
“Actually, I think they are kind of pretty,” Arnie said eying a cluster of pilings standing in the water near us. “Look at that.”
Of course, I looked. There, squatting on moss covered planks spread across an array of pilings, were sea gulls.
“A seagull convention,” I said chuckling.
“Looks like a congregation of birds to me . . . having church.”
We both laughed.
“Wonder what their liturgy looks like,” I said not expecting Arnie to answer.
“Probably follow the inner urge that keeps them alive so they can keep doing what sea gulls have done since God invented birds.”
We laughed louder. A lady hurried past keeping her distance.
Photos by Morris Pike
Morris R Pike’s stories for children on up are available on Amazon.com