NEVER GOT A DECENT PHOTO OF THE NEWSPAPER MAT DECOYS

Another November

Written shortly after I may have sustained a concussion trying to load my disabled duck boat onto a wrecking-yard hulk hauler beside a highway in the raining, blowing dark. The chain hoist slipped and the stern of the boat whacked my temple, hard. Spinning headlights on the busy highway blurred and I faded out but somehow kept my feet and did not lose consciousness. Maybe rage helped. My boat trailer broke and sent the boat across three lanes of traffic, trailing sparks like a generator burn-out as the brand-new motor skeg ruined itself plowing a furrow in pavement. I’d wrenched every sinew muscling the damaged 500-pound rig back to the uphill shoulder. I refused medical assistance and went off on another hunting trip.

November 11, 1975 — Vantage, Washington, again. Across the Columbia River, headlights speed down the steep grade in front of the basalt cliffs over there, or labor upward. Coming down, they will either turn west across the Vantage Bridge or carry straight on to the Tri-Cities. Going up, they will turn east on I-90 through high irrigated farmlands toward Moses Lake. I’m not after elk this time. I’m not exactly roughing it. I never went to see a doctor about the boat whacking me in the head. It seems improved now, just a renewed ringing in my ears like when I was rear-ended in Pennsylvania. I’m still fighting the bad cold I came down with the night of the boat-trailer fiasco. But I rented a Datsun pickup mini-camper from Bill Chapman, so I’m comfortable. I’m an official outdoor writer now, I need to be outdoors. I know Western locutions like Thanks Much and You Betcha. I plan to experiment with cheap goose decoys to see if I can get a story out of it.

The goose decoys are made out of vinyl stereotype mats which were used to print the Sunday Seattle Times a couple weeks ago, a step that cold type and offset pagination will eliminate soon. The handwriting already is on the wall; when I was working the copy desk, hulking Linotype operators were quite a sight trying to learn to paste up pages under the guidance of sure-handed female instructors; like dancing bears trying to follow ballerinas. None of them are any happier about the impending loss of their big noisy dirty Linotype machines than the Damon Runyon characters on the desk are about impending video-display terminals for editing. Some threatened to retire before they will squint at a monitor all day. For now, page negatives from cold type still go to the stereotype room to imprint on vinyl mats before transfer to the curved plates for mounting on the big Hoe presses.

The vinyl mats were free, courtesy of Jim King, recently elevated to managing editor, who left a stack of them in the trunk of his car for me in the executive parking lot. I spray-painted them flat gray, daubed in white tail sections, trimmed one end to resemble a tail and the other the curve of a breast. I sawed simple silhouette heads out of Australian pine from crates used for New Zealand inboard-outboard jets imported by a Tacoma boat company where Wanda worked; a 29-cent dowel made two stakes to staple to the heads. Last step was to spray the heads black and daub in chin straps. All of this is based on a tip I got from a California printer hunting ducks in Kern County when I was with the labor union.

The little Datsun pickup camper got quite a workout over Snoqualmie Pass. I am umbillicalled to KOA power, hence bright steady light and a percolator of fresh coffee filling the camper with its aroma. No Coleman stove to fight or Coleman tent in which to freeze my butt off. It is a long two years since I was here with Marge; it seems even more remote, like some half-remembered stage play. I went back today to where I buried the truck that year, quite careful not to leave the road. A huge jackrabbit bounced off through the sagebrush like a ghost fleeing dawn. Or a memory fleeing recall….

--

--

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store