Monday, August 5, 2013

Did I ever tell you about...

There are still so many good ferry stories. Here are a few.

One early summer evening on the Wheatland Ferry, a junker of a car pulls down onto the boat. From the cabin, I can tell that someone is living in the car. The stuff in the back seat is piled high, and it seemed to be a mix of clothes, food, and garbage. Before I even walked up to the car, the driver, a 50s or 60s woman, had swung the door open, and propped her leg up on the opened door. Her poor legs and ankles were horribly swollen with edema. She wasn't wearing shoes, and her feet and toes were awful as well. Plus, I saw more of a strangers mangled toenails than I will ever need to.

She was downright effervescent. Happy, breathy, enthusiastic. She used to ride the ferry as a child, and hadn't been here in a long time. Somehow she started talking about the last homeless shelter she was in, up in Wenatchee, Washington, where, even though they were super nice and helped her set up an email address and even made her up a bunch of business cards, they stole something (I was never clear on what it was) and she could barely stop badmouthing them, describing how terrible they were. So now I'm curious, because she seems an odd and interesting person. Her business cards were for her crocheting business, called "Funki or Fanci" She did have a lovely crocheted blanket in the back seat, so it was obvious she had some talent. Her email address, the only way of contacting her, was (I'm making up her name here) JaneGodsChild@....

She was with a very quiet, somber man, who seemed to be her opposite. She called him Dad, and he responded by calling her Mom. Evidently they'd met at the homeless shelter in Wenatchee. That place couldn't have been all bad! She told me how much she loved him, and was so lucky to find him, though he complained vehemently when she didn't have money for the ferry.

I took them across the river, where they only wanted to sit and watch the sunset. I reminded them of what time the ferry closed, and that I'd make sure they got across before I closed. They came across in due time, thanking me all the while. When I walked up to my car that evening, her card was in my windshield, with this note on the back:
Jenny, yeah!
Thx 4 a cool trip.
We will c u again.
xo Jane
PRAY, if this man is 4 me 4-ever! :)"


Did I ever tell you about the fishing tackle? I don't think so.

A man and woman walked across the ferry, and ran up to a truck on the other side, yelling back to me to wait, she just had to give her daughter something. She didn't come back down quickly, so I resumed hauling traffic. She sat in her daughter's truck for about 20 minutes while her male friend wandered around on shore. Eventually, her daughter drove off, and she and the man were both wandering the shore, looking down. I assumed they were rock hounding, but they never picked anything up. They walked onto the boat, asking if we had any spare fishing rods or line or hooks. I looked around the boat, since a few weeks prior, someone had left a fishing rod on board, and a coworker eventually took it home. There was nothing on board at the time. The couple got off the boat on the same side, searching the shore, they said, for stray bits of line or hooks. There was a pickup truck parked up next to my car, and they hollered down asking if the truck was mine. I said no, and they were bummed, since it appeared that there was some fishing tackle, or tools or something, in the bed of the truck. All the while, I was hauling traffic, and didn't have time to watch them closely.

After awhile, the couple walked onto the ferry and went back across to the other side. I assumed they found something to fish with, as they climbed down the bank to where a creek meets the river, a favorite fishing spot. They were there all evening, they were really patient and obviously REALLY wanted to catch a fish! After the couple had been fishing for over an hour, a good looking young man walked across the ferry and up to the pickup truck next to mine. The next time the boat was parked on that shore, he hollered down to me asking me if I saw anyone hanging out around his truck. I immediately looked behind me, and yes, the couple was still there, in plain sight, persevering in their desire for a fish. I walked up to talk to the man, and explained that the couple had seemed weird--possibly drugged from the odd mannerisms, and had commented on the fishing gear and tools in his truck. I was very angry that they'd rifled through his truck right under my nose. He couldn't tell if anything had actually been taken, but I assumed so, since it was after they were up at the truck that they suddenly "found" something to fish with. I pointed them out to him, and because I felt bad, gave him a free ride across the ferry to confront them.

As I drifted off the shore, I could hear this handsome young man with rage in his voice, as he hollered at the couple, "HEY YOU SORRY SONS OF BITCHES!"


So on my very last day working for Marion County, I was told to go down to the Buena Vista ferry and do some weed whacking. Lovely. My very last day, it's 90 degrees, and I'm going to be covered in blackberry brambles, weeds and sweat. The operator that day was a good guy, someone I really enjoyed talking to, so I probably did more of that than any actual work. Eventually though, I did get to work trying to whack back the thick, dense blackberry brambles. I had my ipod blasting and my earbuds in, more to drown out the insessent roar of the motor than anything else. Traffic was typically slow on the BV, to the point that I'd usually look up when the ferry landed near me. The ferry landed on my side, and I looked up, since out of the corner of my eye, I couldn't see any vehicles on board--maybe the operator wanted something?

What I saw made my jaw drop. Instead of a car, or even a spandex clad bicyclist, there was a man wearing tweed shorts, and a matching vest with a watch chain and fob across the front. He had an old newsboy style cap on his head. More astounding was his vehicle. He had an old fashioned, all black, penny-farthing. A penny-farthing, to refresh your memory, is one of these:

My mind? totally blown. The young, earnest looking man silently pushed his penny-farthing up the ferry ramp, nodded in my direction, then quickly mounted the velocipede and peddled away.

I still have more stories. The baby raccoons,  my last day and the combines, and more. Eventually, I'll tell them all.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Big News

It's finally happened. After over two years working on the ferries, I have found a job in Land Use again. For over a year, I had stopped looking for work, needing the benefits and proximity that the ferries allowed, to be closer to my step-dad as he went downhill and passed away in December. As soon as I returned to work in January, I began my job search with a vengeance. I had several interviews in the last 6 months that surprised me and raised my hopes, but no job offers. Finally, last Tuesday, I interviewed for a position with a county in the Portland area. They were looking for an associate planner for a 6 month position. The interview went so well, and by Wednesday afternoon, they had called to offer me a job! I'm so excited. The job has great potential to turn permanent, and even if it doesn't, it puts Land Use at the top of my resume, gets me off the ferry, and will change my life for the better. 

That led me to the question of what to do with my blog. When I was writing regularly, I really enjoyed it. In the last few months, I've had so many random and interesting occurrences on the boat. Strange or funny people, goofy conversations, gorgeous sunsets. I've wanted to share them with you. It's almost as if I'm out of practice. 

I don't want my blog to end. I've still got ferry stories I'm going to share. And honestly, I like writing, and hopefully you like reading what I write. I have no idea what I'll write about. Goofy things do happen in government offices, you know... We'll see. 

For now, I had a wonderfully goofy experience last night, and I wrote it up as soon as I could. I only wish I could have snapped a secret picture of the guy to share with you. 


Yesterday evening around 8, as as dusk was just beginning to wash the colors out of the world, I looked up to see a very ugly car pull onto the boat. It was bright orange. As I glanced at it again, I realized it had been custom painted OSU Beavers orange. 

I was distracted enough by the color of the car that as I walked toward it to take toll, I almost missed the best part. The woman in the drivers seat was dressed normally. The husband, in the passenger seat, was not. First I noticed something gold around his head. It had leaves, and I noticed some small wings off each side of the headband. Then his outfit came into focus. While he was seated, I could see his loose top that looked like it could have been made from a sheet. It was pinned at each shoulder with scroll and heart shaped pins. 

I took their toll with a smile, saying nothing, and walked back into the cabin. When I turned back, he was standing outside the car, his dress was gathered at the waist and fell to knee length. He wore, as all Oregonians do, Birkenstock sandals (I'm kidding, we all wear keens now). He and his wife both stretched, then swapped positions, so that he would drive and she was the passenger. As he walked around the ugly orange car, it almost seemed that he walked so lightly, there must have been wings to hold him aloft. His arms swung freely, almost as if they were wings, or as if they wanted to reach out and touch and see everything. 

He made me grin and i felt charmed by his surprise appearance. Was he Cupid? Eros? I think there must be some mythological being with wings on the sides of the head. Who? I much prefer thinking of him as a ethereal being, rather than a mere mortal with a milquetoast wife who wouldn't dress up for the costume party. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Guest blogger, Captain Bruce!

I know I haven't written in months. Michael died, and life got hard. Then I was transferred to the Wheatland ferry, and honestly, it's often hard for me to find pleasure here. It's very different from the BV. 

To start out anew, I'm letting my coworker, Bruce, share a story. He told me about this one afternoon when I got to work, and I was laughing so hard I asked him to write it up for me to share. Here's his tale:

It was towards the end of my shift on a stifling, hot spring day. I take toll from all of the cars before I can shut the gate and drive the ferry across the river. It’s a matter of a few short minutes, since we run a maximum of nine cars per load. That’s three lanes of three cars each.
I was working my way to the end of the middle lane – a bright yellow jeep with no doors. Usually I take toll from the driver, but in this case I was on the passenger side and the passenger – a slightly rotund young man – was handing me the couple of dollars in fare. He seemed adamant about telling me that “she” – apparently the driver – “worked hard for this money.”
At first I didn’t get it. The passenger repeated that “She worked hard for that money.”
Under the impression that this was one of those tests where the customer uses humor to test your compassion for their great monetary sacrifice on your behalf, I deftly parried with “I work hard for this money, too;” i.e. ‘I validate your sacrifice through my own blood, sweat and tears.’
Not to be upstaged – clearly I wasn’t getting it – both passenger and driver reiterated that the driver worked hard for this money, adding that “she” – the driver – worked as a stripper. I eyed the driver – a long, thin young girl with multiple piercings and peach-fuzz on her recently shaven head.
“Uh huh,” I said. Okay.” There didn’t seem to be a way to end the conversation on a high enough note to satisfy the couple. Clearly they were looking for some response closer to incredulousness than I felt I could muster. I was meant to be impressed. And yet – I confess – I was not.
I took the dollars from the passenger and turned around – directly behind me – to the driver in the next lane, who was handing me a five dollar bill.
As I peeled off the ones just given to me by the stripper and her friend, I watched the face of the femaledriver I was now serving melt into a sort of slack disgust. Her hands reluctantly reached for the money as a kind of grunt/groan gurgled from her throat. Clearly she had also been a party to the conversation with the denizens of the jeep.
I finished taking toll and retreated to the wheelhouse of the ferry, raising the gate. As the engines’ props reversed and began to dig into the algae-green water of the river, I reached for one of the many bottles of hand-sanitizer scattered about me.
Yes, these are the moments I cherish.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Last Saturday night, December 1st, my stepdad, one of the most influential people in my life, lost his battle with heart failure, kidney failure, and pancreatic cancer. Seven hours later, my 91 year old grandfather also died. The past few weeks have been some of the hardest and saddest of my life. I'm not sure how people ever get over this. Do they? I feel like my life will never be the same, and never be as good, ever again. That something crucial to happiness and normality is gone forever. 

Michael's obituary was published in the local paper the other day, as well as in the newspapers where he lived most of his life. I'm proud of what we wrote, I feel like the love really shows. 

Michael Allan L’Heureux died on Dec. 1, 2012, at home, surrounded by his loving family.
He died at the home he and his wife, Margot Roth, cherished as the family home in Corvallis, after a long battle with heart and kidney failure and a short battle with cancer.
Our loving Michael was born to the late Aldor and Lucille L’Heureux on Dec. 13, 1950, in Woonsocket, R.I. He loved learning, and graduated from Woonsocket High School in 1969; earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., in 1973, and a Master of Arts degree in geography from Western Kentucky University in 1975. He married the love of his life, Margot Anne Roth, on Aug. 22, 2000, in Barre, Mass.
Following work and a desire to be closer to family on the West Coast, they moved to Austin, Texas, before settling in Corvallis. Michael loved his work as a hydrogeologist and environmental geographer for GES in Ludlow, Mass., for five years, and for Tighe & Bond in Worcester for seven years. He also shared his passion for geography by teaching the subject at Fitchburg State College for more than 20 years.
He strongly believed in community service, and served in Douglas, Mass., on the planning commission and conservation commission, and in Corvallis on the housing and community development commission, as well as acting as a volunteer mediator for Linn-Benton Mediation Services. He believed in living generously and was devoted to the New York Yankees, baseball and spending time with his friends and family.
His nephew, Zachary Chambers, of Port Townsend, Wash., preceded Michael in death. Michael is survived by his beloved wife, Margot; their two daughters, Sarah Brown of Carlton, Wash., and Jennifer Brown of Salem; his brother, Timothy L’Heureux of East Longmeadow, Mass., and Woonsocket; his sisters, Lynette Chartier of Woonsocket, and Jane Dolbec of West Yarmouth, Mass.; eight nieces and nephews; two grandchildren; and a large extended family.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


It's 2:49 pm as I'm writing this. My last car was at 12:43. Over two hours without a vehicle. The river's come up in the last few days, actually it went up a foot overnight. That means the riverbank I like to walk along is submerged. I've walked a bunch of laps around the boat today, and up and down the ramp a few times. Earlier today, I was singing and dancing in the cabin to one of my favorite songs, when a car snuck down onto the boat without me noticing, until I turned around and found them grinning at my dance moves.

When it's slow like this, I do start to get a bit stir crazy. The last two days, I've watched a season and a half of 30 Rock, until my iPad data plan decided I'd had enough and made me cough up more money. Cause I've got to have internet down here. I truly don't know how I managed the first few months on the boat before the iPad. I started a sock on Sunday, and finished it this morning. I played through all of the levels on Plants vs. Zombies and most of the bonus games.

I think I'm trying to keep myself busy so I can escape my own brain a bit. Life has taken a really sad turn, with a beloved close family member diagnosed with terminal cancer. I wonder how I'll survive it, how my whole family will, and what life will be like on the other side. I can't fathom it. I don't want to.

I think about my blog a lot, sometimes thinking in bloggable sentences. It's hard for me to write right now, I feel like so much of my life is sad and depressing, and I've always wanted this place to be somewhere to describe the fun, interesting and goofy things that happen here. I do love and value the fact that I have people that care about me, and about what I right, and I hope when I come through this all, I'll still have people wanting to read.

To try to lighten the mood, or at least pull it up a few knotches, here's some random ferry going's on. Nothing super entertaining lately, but just....stuff.

-Evidently the other night a huge tree lodged against the low water line. The next morning, the operator had to call for assistance to get the line free. The tree is probably 20 feet downstream of the boat. It's intimidating to pass by it, like the boat might just jerk in that direction and we'd slam into it (we won't though, I know this ferry).

-There's high water coming. The 10 day river forcast shows the river level jumping to at least 16 feet. That'll be really interesting, actually. This summer, we re-graded the banks, with the goal of making it much easier to land in high water. I'm pretty confident that we can operate until 16 feet river levels or so. Last year we closed between 12 and 14 feet.

-I'm so much more confident on the boat this fall. 16 feet river levels don't terrify me, though I know I'll be rather anxious trying to navigate through it. Last year I wanted to close as soon as we hit 12 feet, I was just scared of the river and of the boat. I know this boat, I know this river, and I can control this boat extremely well. Funny to have gained all these skills, most of which I'll probably never utilize once I get a different job.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Life got hard there for awhile. It still is hard. I feel like I was tossed into a bottomless pit of depression. And just when I feel like I can start to claw my way out of it, someone presses their foot against my forehead and I fall deeper and deeper into it. I still feel this way, sometimes. My family is going through some issues that are so monumental, sad and upsetting. On top of that, my dear sweet cat, Ashland, had to be put down. Ashland was one of those cats who is simply smarter than most of the people she met. She loved attention, and would see someone walking by, sit in the middle of the sidewalk, then, just as they were approaching, languidly roll onto her back with her furry belly just begging to be pet. She also had an odd habit of licking plastic grocery bags. When I would use them as garbage bags, she would go to extreme effort to lick a perfect line around the edge of the bag. Once she had made a full circle, she would look at the bag disdainfully, it had nothing left to offer.

Another challenge, which has been so much harder than I expected, was that I hit the realization that I think it's almost certain that I will be spending this coming winter, here on the boat. It's so easy in the summer sunshine, to get through a work day. I may be sweaty, exhausted and hungry by the time I get home, but I've spent 12 hours in the sun, staring at a beautiful view. Now, I leave for work in the morning looking up at the night sky full of stars. And when I head for home, the sky is almost as dark as in the morning. Our first fall rainstorm hit this last weekend, and as I look out over the river now, the dark heavy clouds look menacing, ready to pounce.

Ok. Enough. I didn't start this blog so I could have somewhere to moan and complain. I felt like I needed an explanation for not having updated my blog since late August.

The osprey got more and more interesting once all of the young learned to fly. There is a snag hanging horizontally, out over the river, about 30 feet downstream from the ferry landing. The young osprey loved to hang out there. They'd eat their fish there, cry at each other, and practice their landings from the snag. By the time both nests fledged, there were at least nine osprey living within sight of the ferry. They were a huge part of my daily life. I would watch them all the time, flying, swooping, diving into the river, and struggling to fly off with a fish. I came to work last sunday to an eerie silence. Before I even had the door to the cabin unlocked, I knew they were gone. The cacophony of cries from that many birds started long before dawn. And suddenly, silence. They've headed south, to overwinter in Mexico. Not a bad life, if you ask me.

And as you can imagine, it's gorgeous down here. We've had perfect fall weather to produce amazing color. Warm days and nights near freezing have made the trees just explode with reds, yellows, and oranges. When the cabin door is open, you can hear the trees. The leaves have all gotten drier, and you can hear even the slightest breeze rustle the leaves.

I came to work this morning to a nice surprise. On wednesday, a large weld had broken, leaving an important tension cable dangling. Not safe at all, and I closed around noon. When I came to work this morning, I discovered that not only was the cable fixed, but that the aprons were also fixed. Since May, the aprons haven't moved up and down, like they usually do. It was challenging, in the summer, when large trucks would get the ferry stuck hard to the ramp. Now, with the flip of a switch, I can raise the apron, and we merrily float off the ramp.

Did I tell you that someone caught an 8 foot sturgeon here? I didn't see him catch the fish, but I saw as he stood in the water, struggling to hold the fish up, so a friend could take pictures. It looked like a monster! I'm amazed that fish that large live around here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In The Middle of The Night

I overslept this morning. I woke up at 5:44, not at 5:16, as I should have, since I need to leave for work at 6:15 at the latest. I woke with a start, not to the sound of my alarm. I'm not sure what woke me up, the cats, a train, but I seem to have woken up while standing, pounding at my alarms to turn them off, though there was no sound. I assumed I had turned them off (two on the alarm clock, one on my phone) in my sleep.

Disoriented, I grabbed my towel, glanced at the window to make sure it was still dark (dark is good if I'm running late, helps orient me to what time it is, compared to how light it is when I leave for work), and raced into the shower. I turned the radio on in the shower as I furiously shampooed my hair, and was a wee bit unnerved that the the BBC was still on NPR, it should have been playing Weekend Edition. Hmmm. I started thinking as I washed my face. It was dark out, but REALLY dark, not that predawn darkness. Is it really that dark in the mornings now?

Slowly, I started to put the pieces together. When I got out of the shower, I looked out the bathroom window to double check how dark it was. Super dark. No predawn birds singing. Nothing. I dried off quickly, and walked into my room with a feeling of dread. I looked at the clock. No, it wasn't 5:44. I had woken up, furiously late for work, at 12:44 in the morning. I ran a comb through my hair, climbed into bed, turned off the light, and was back asleep within a minute.

When I did wake up right on time at 5:16, my hair was absolutly insane. I loaded it up with hair stuff, hoping to tame it, so now I have slightly sticky helmet hair for the day. Plus it reminded me why I can't get away with showering at night. My hair is just too oily. The rest of my morning went quite well. I didn't need to shower, so I had plenty of time to pack my lunch, give my cat her pills, and wander aimlessly through the house, cracking up at myself.