You had to have been there to get the point

Posted by Tom Camfield

Yes, we do live in a “paradise” around here, but it is a continuously amended one. As the world population crowds and elbows, “paradise” by comparison to non-paradise becomes different in character. The bar is ever lowered—and to some of us becomes less meaningful.


Over the years I’ve had newcomers say to me such things as, “Everything’s just so wonderful here!” My traditional response has been—sometimes vocally but often as not just mentally—“Yeah, it’s still pretty nice; but you should have seen it before you got here.” (images flashing through my memory of when automobile traffic was practically non-existent on local roads)

Such a reply goes right over their heads without registering, and they walk away happy as clams in a carpe diem world. “Clams.” There’s something most of them have never seen in their native habitat but which we old-timers used to dig freely on local beaches—along with the occasional geoduck. Even picked a few oysters.

After World War I, Port Townsend’s official population dropped to 2,847 in 1920, but with the timely arrival of the paper mill it leaped to 3,979 in 1930 (my second year here). The head count took another large drop with the 1953 closure of Fort Worden—to 5,074 in 1960. Our estimated population a couple of years ago (for 2016) was 9,527. So during my lifetime here, the town has grown from about 4,000 to about 10,000 people.

Jefferson County has gone through matching convolutions but has grown at a faster clip of nearly 4 times its 8,346 count in 1930 to an estimated 32,234 last year. So at that same rate, someone born about now will see a Jefferson County population of some 125- or 130,000 when they reach my present age. But what the heck; “not our problem.”

From the mid-1930s through the mid-’40s my family lived on our mini-farm on the west side of San Juan Avenue, a couple of blocks north of the F Street intersection. We had a cow, pig, chickens, a few ducks, a veal calf and large garden. My father had built the house, barn, garage, chicken house and pig sty—and also worked a regular shift at the paper mill (that varied among days, graveyard and swing). Hand tools for the buildings; a plain spade for turning the soil. Quite a guy—one of the last of a dying breed. (He would later build another family home.)

There were few houses about, and the western meadowlark inhabited the surrounding vacant fields, including the valley behind us. Chinese pheasant  haunted our corn patch, and quail loved our raspberries. Barn swallows in the spring. But I never saw a single deer during our decade there. Nature’s original chain of existence had room to thrive throughout the deeper woods of the county, where bears, cougars and even a few foxes survived—although all were hunted, along with somewhat elusive deer.

I’ll use blackberries to illustrate the wonders of yesteryear here in the middle of town. Take our “wild blackberries.” Many “townies” who didn’t grow up here seem to think that refers to the Himalaya berries such as those growing near the lagoon at the foot of 19th Street. Wrong! That Himalaya species was introduced to North America in 1885. It soon escaped from cultivation and has become an invasive species in most of the temperate world. It is a noxious weed to property developers. Our true native woodland “wild blackberry” is fond of logging activity out in the forest, a season or so after timber harvest flourishing over stumps and debris. It’s still around but a greater part of its nearby habitat has been “developed” by “progress” or otherwise fenced off these days. 

I use this example because around 1940, one or two of my younger brothers and I—when I wasn’t chopping wood, milking the cow or engaged in other chores—could walk down to the lower side of Madrona Street where there was a great shaded area full of true “wild” blackberries in among the willows. If you’ve never tasted these, you’ve never really lived. Baked into a pie, they are to kill for. It’s been a while now, since Jean and I used to pick them freely out around Cape George Colony and elsewhere. I made fantastic wine out of them back in the early ‘70s. We picked such berries and also cut and hauled firewood on land above Chevy Chase golf course in the ‘70s. I and my dog also made berry-picking trips out along not-then-developed Otto Street (and also cut a little firewood in that area). 

As a 10-year-old, I picked wild hazelnuts while prowling Mother Nature’s backyard near our home. That was the sort of entertainment I provided myself. By age 12, I also was out and about earning my own spending money, mobilized by my first bicycle.

Times truly have changed from back around 1941 when I and other children fished off Union Wharf (then still a ferry terminal) with hand lines (no rod/reel). Rock cod was a favorite catch. Best bait was pieces of “pile worm,” a marine creature inhabiting tubes stripped from the dock’s pilings when the tides allowed. I occasionally would pedal my bike all the way home to Happy Valley with a fish dangling from the handlebars. Would today’s electronic-age kids be caught dead doing that?

A popular summer weekend outing was a couple of families gathering on the beach near the old Railroad Y (from where shipments from the local mill were barged), west of the present Port of Port Townsend boat haven. Great sand and shallow-water beach. Few other people ever were anywhere near about.

Then there was my Native American uncle Gil Mounts from the Olympia area. We had Oak Bay Park pretty much to ourselves during a family picnic outing. Uncle Gil would strip to his underwear and dive for Dungeness crabs. 

The modern “discovery” of Port Townsend began in the 1960s. The “resurrection” included such things as the beginnings of the local arts community. Eventually came marine trades, retiree residential communities all around, etc. Land-use zoning restrictions for the town were first adopted while I was serving on City Council through the ‘70s. A period of noteworthy transition.

In the early 1960s we lost half of Kah Tai Lagoon to "progress" when it was arbitrarily filled to accommodate dredging for its boat basin by the Port of Port Townsend. What we got in place of historic natural wetland beauty was a Safeway store, a McDonald’s, a hardware store—and, I must admit, a fairly large park-like area of greenery. However, there used to be nothing providing more serenity to one’s soul than driving down the highway S-curve in the evening and seeing the lights reflected off the waters of the lagoon, which then ran right up next to the road. 

Those were the good old days of more ducks and red-winged blackbirds, fewer people. I remember that interlude well. At that point I was editor and publisher pro-tem of this newspaper. I watched the lagoon be truncated. To this day, I sort of wish the dredged material had been barged out to deep water somewhere. But we just sacrificed a major part of serious wetlands. In my mind we lost a lot and gained a little in ambience—while admittedly moving forward with the times in a big way with our boat basin. Boats lined up have an appealing look I guess—but then, so do ducks.

Newcomers, of course, may have a vague impression that things have always been that way around here. 

I’ve kept a keen eye on such things as our intra-city golf course over many decades. Myopic sorts, often with short-term personal interest, are forever coming along proposing some sort of “development.” That would be world-class regress of a Trumpian nature. It would shrivel my Port Townsend soul to see bulldozers out on the fairways. I used to caddy for one of the individuals who founded that great intra-city green space in the 1920s—George Welch. And, sidling sideways for a moment to politics, how long before vindictive Donald Trump punishes our Democratic state by opening Olympic National Park to mining or oil drilling by some of his cronies?

I’m in no way truly older than local dirt, but I do remember quite clearly Port Townsend’s great hurricane of 1934. I remember, from the ‘30s until the present day, individuals who have maintained our community in a spirit of camaraderie and sense of community, as well as those who have worked at plum-picking and bullying local society solely out of personal gain. 

Meanwhile, today’s newcomers became part of world crowding through no fault of their own, although contributing to same via their own children—just like the rest of us. They shouldn’t be condemned for individually seeking a better life, even though their role in a collective way erodes my own life. Their values have been formed from widely diverse influences different than my own. It’s all sort of like immigration via our border with Mexico. I sympathize strongly with the immigrants there. Philosophical and political nit-picking aside on matters of legality, it’s not all that much different from people emigrating to Port Townsend. Gotta say that underneath it all I welcome them and wish them well. 

Everybody’s escaping something, and sanctuary is not a form of thievery. Life is sort of short (although my memory suggests otherwise) and sharing has to be one of  the greatest virtues. But in addition to basic sharing with newcomers at a comfort level we also should be assisting those who are getting the short end of the stick these days at a suffering level, those who have been pushed by “progress” to the barren outer fringes of existence.

My grandfather (and soon thereafter my parents) arrived here in 1927 to help build the local paper mill. That was 91 years ago. Ninety-one years before his arrival, it was 1836. Native Americans owned the area, populated the woodlands, beaches and riversides. The first of us invading “White Eyes” didn’t barge onto the scene for another 15 years. My great grandmother Camfield, whom I knew well for some 20 years here in Port Townsend, was born just two years (in the East) after Port Townsend’s official founding in 1851—when the town’s only building was Alfred A. Plummer’s modest cabin. My own lifetime here has spanned some 54% of Port Townsend’s existence since the original owners were dispossessed by us Palefaces.


A  BIT OF POLITICS for trolls to chew on until I can get to another blog—The Trump administration is moving to reverse Obama-era rules barring hunters on some public lands in Alaska from baiting brown bears with bacon and doughnuts and using spotlights to shoot mother black bears and cubs hibernating in their dens.

The National Park Service issued a notice Monday (May 21) of its intent to amend regulations for sport hunting and trapping in national preserves to bring the federal rules in line with Alaska state law. Under the proposed changes, hunters would also be allowed to hunt black bears with dogs, kill wolves and pups in their dens, and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou. These and other hunting methods — condemned as cruel by wildlife protection advocates — were outlawed on federal lands in 2015.




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