“Tiny planned to drink hot chocolate and eat cookies.”

          Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From

We approach the ferry stop turning off

Lower Columbia River Highway 30

past Gnat Hatchery Road to Clatskanie--

Westport Slough to the Columbia.

This is the Wahkiakum Ferry, and

Oscar B is the name of the boat,

and we’re in Clatsom County, Oregon.

Wahkiakum means Tall Timber in Chinoook

and this ferry runs on the hour 365 days a year,

the last regularly scheduled car ferry

on the Columbia River between two states.

A 4-mile stretch taking 10-12 minutes

with capacity for carrying 23 cars.

The Oscar B carries you to Puget Island

and a drive of about ten miles

to a bridge taking you to the mainland,

on the Washington side. Lewis and Clark stopped here.

We’re the first car to line up

and we’re soon joined by others,

people stepping out of their cars

and rolling down the windows,

a woman asking, Are you here

for the adventure, too? Raymond Carver’s

family lived here in Clatskanie, I say

to the woman. For me, it’s a big deal.

There is a library and a park beside it

where we had lunch once. This

is where I’m coming from. Yes,

this is for all of us. Carver might have

fished here as a boy. His father 

worked at the sawmill.

No, I never knew him. Only

in his stories and poems. Later

his family moved to Yakima

where we’re from. This is my brother

and my wife. We’re coming from Seaside.

We were at the beach. And now we’re here.

Today we’ll see yellow and blue flags

of Ukraine flying as we cross the island

before arriving at Cathlamat, which means

stone in Chinook, and we’ll stop at Patty’s

for coffee and pannini sandwiches while

looking at the sign where the Hudson’s Bay Company

operated from. We’ll learn later

that the mother of a friend of ours

came from Cathlamat. I’ll re-read that story

of Carver’s, Where I’m Calling From

after we get home. A boy in the story

falls into an empty well, but nothing fell

on him and nothing closed off that circle of blue.

My friend is a shield maker and I remind him

of that shield of Achilleus he took into battle

with those pastoral images confronting

his enemies before they met his sword,

their last image of this life. The blue ocean

circled that shield of Achilleus.

We walked some miles on the beach

we say at lunch. Off the highway,

going slow. An old friend has died,

and his memorial is Saturday.

Carver puts us in the small world, like Chekhov.

Now things are out of our hands, too.

Tiny, God bless him would still have

things on his plate, whereever he is.

This ferry runs 365 days a year, on the hour.

Jim Bodeen

5-9 March 2023

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