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.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Quite a day

Monday was an amazingly challenging day. Almost a comedy of errors.

A crew came down with a backhoe to dig out some rocks around the ramps. This is great, it'll mean that we can land the boat at higher river levels, and stay open longer when the water's rising. It was nice to have company. My boss came down soon after to talk to the crew about what he wanted and where. About 10 minutes before the boss came down, the low water line, the cable that runs underwater, snapped. I had landed a bit harder than usual, but nothing unusual. It was bizarre. I noticed it before I took off again, thank goodness, so I pulled the cable out of the fairleads, where it runs through rollers attached to the boat. From there on out, my landings were TERRIBLE! There was a north wind, plus the current at the east landing always pushes the boat north. The combination was awful. I'd come in for a landing, and as I'm slowing down and trying to feather the boat in, and the wind would shove the tail of the boat about 20 feet into the trees. At one point, I actually had to climb onto the top of the cabin to toss the tree limbs into the water. It was so stressful.

I was grateful that my boss showed up to help me with the situation. First he spent about a half hour with me helping me land, and while I was gnashing my teeth in frustration at the landings, he told me that he probably couldn't land much better than I already was, it was just a challenging day. That actually helped.

Finally he started fixing the cable. Since there wasn't a spare cable in the shops, pulled the cable out with the truck, and set up to re-string it. We were lucky that the cable snapped far up near the end. There was enough cable left to string it across the river and attach it to the other side. To string the cable, we let out every bit of spare line we had, so that the cable would make it across the river and also be loose, so we could attach it.

Before the cable is attached to the other side, we have it attached to the tow hitch of a pickup. The cable was too tight, so the boss had me make a trip across the river, as the cable loosened up quite a bit when I was in the middle of the river. I landed on the other side, let the cars off, and was ready to head back to the boss, when the boat wouldn't go. The downstream motor wouldn't work--at all. And it made a freaky noise. One of the guys on the backhoe crew came down to help, and the cable had gotten wrapped around the propeller. Ugh! If it's tangled bad, you have to unstring the cable and start all over. I handed the backhoe guy, Chuck, the pike pole (9 ft pole with a hook on the end), and he manually turned the prop, slowly releasing the cable. Great!

I headed back across the river, let off cars, picked up cars, while meantime, the boss had hooked the cable to the landing securely. When I landed back on the other side, with the intention of walking up the hill and tightening the cable, suddenly the cable got caught in the prop...again! I was so ticked off! It's a good 10-15 minute operation of frustration to get it untangled. We untangled the cable again, laying the cable across a catwalk so it would stay fully out of the water, and I went to get the boss.

He helped me tighten the cable up, so it wouldn't get tangled in the prop anymore (cause twice is more than enough for one day!), and took a break. I dipped my toes in the water, and downed a quart of water instantly. It was a very very hot day, and I'd been struggling with everything since about 10 am.

Finally, we head over to pick up the boss's truck, which is on the wrong side of the river. Just as I'm coming in to the landing, the cable, the same cable that's given me nothing but heartburn all day, slipped out of the very secure clamps that were holding it to the landing. I literally stomped my feet and yelled in frustration. So did the boss. It was 5:15, I was hot, tired, hungry and frustrated, and the cable needs to be restrung AGAIN. GRRRRRRRRR.

Luckily, we managed to reattach it, much tighter this time, without much extra stress. I sent the boss on his way home, and sat down for a break. And very luckily, about 5 minutes later, my parents pulled onto the boat, with a giant bag of deliciousness from Burgerville. I downed the blackberry lemonade in mere seconds. It was great, and exactly what I needed after a day like that.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Levity and Brevity

Life has been a bit challenging lately, lots of big things, so I felt like I could use a humorous post. Pretty frequently, something will happen on the boat, someone will come across, that's just odd or hilarious, or memorable. I often write up a quick line or two as a Facebook status update, or a tweet (follow me @CapnJennyB). These are all from the last two months: 

Just watched a woman take her dentures out, check them for cleanliness, and put them back in. Reminds me of my grandfather.

A barefoot man wearing nothing but overalls. And maybe 4 teeth.
And of course, the comments turned into all the reasons I was hot for him. SOOOOOO not true. I took a pic, but I think it's too mean to put someone's picture up like that, so I deleted it.

Just took a guy across the river super fast! He's a falconer and his juvenile falcon got free and is heading due west at a fast speed. He was sticking a radio antenna out the window to keep following the bird.
He never came back across, so I don't know if he got his bird.

Knitters!! A guy just came across with the bed of his truck full of bags of freshly shorn suri alpaca and he gave me like 3 lbs of it!! I guess the universe is telling me I need to learn to spin! :)
This sort of blew my mind. I don't think he really understood what he had. Suri alpaca is extremely soft, and the spun yarn is often really expensive. I haven't done anything with it yet, and I don't know if or when I will. It's full of dust, and needs a lot of work.

At some point I need to make a list of all the various tools, machines, and random crap I'm now comfortable operating. Grinders, machetes, weed whacker, outboard motor boat, ferry boat, pressure washer, etc. Some of them are handy. this morning I was using a fire axe.
The fire axe was to hack at the algae I mentioned in my previous post. Sometimes the machete just won't whack through it. The weight behind the fire ax can usually do the trick, it's just super hard to swing. And a bit scary.

In today's case of What The Hell Were They Thinking, two teens put their pool floaties in the river in Albany, intending to float to Salem. That's at least 30 river miles and their single oar looked like an oversized ping pong paddle. They took out at the ferry to call for their parents to rescue them.
When the parents showed up, you could hear them being yelled at for being so stupid. It took me 5 hours to kayak 12 river miles, and that wasn't in a pool floatie, which would slow you down even further. 

My last car of the day and the guy has an angry birds tattoo on his arm.
Just imagine, in 2 years, nobody will have any memory of what the hell angry birds was.

Today is made of stupid with a side of dumbassery.

Today of all days, why are the binoculars missing?? There's a naked guy swimming on the other side of the river! I just watched him strip down.
Evidently, he works for one of the farms near the ferry landing. They have a irrigation pump in the river, and occasionally, he'll have to get in the water and clear the intake. The previous operators were quite familiar with him.

Yesterday was the first time I've ever come home from work and thrown away my shirt and shorts.
I worked a 16 hour day trying to get the WL Ferry back in the water. I was covered in paint, grease, river water, grime, sweat, and who the heck knows what else. It was a very long day.

One tandem bike plus tag-along and heavy bags, the second bike with a trailer of stuff. Parents and their two young kids heading from portland to eugene to baker city. I'm amazingly impressed.
I'm still really impressed when I think about this family. Baker City is on the eastern edge of the state, over a huge chunk of mountains followed by scorching hot desert. 

Dumb idea: landing you canoe in the middle of the ramp (where I land the ferry). Absolutly fucking nuts idea: yelling at the ferry operator when I come across the river to get a car forcing you to move your precious boat. Assholes.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. There are signs stating "Ferry landing not for recreational use," but for the past 50 years, it had been ok to land boats there. Even so, I make a point of being really chill when I tell people to move, so I'm always extra pissed when they yell at me. Especially when they're drunk.

‎"how'd you get this job? It's a mans job." are you freaking kidding me?????
This guy pissed me off so much! He kept trying to talk to me, and he wasn't kidding at all. Finally I just turned and went into the cabin. 

A bike rider just paid me with a dollar bill that was tucked under his skin tight shorts. It was soaking wet. I almost gagged. He's also wearing a helmet that looks like a golf ball.
The dollar was tucked under the inner thigh end of his skin tight shorts. So it was ball sweat money. ick.

my life: running fingers through my hair, pulling out bits of seaweed.

Did the whole world take extra stupid pills today? Someone almost drove into the river at 30 mph. Dude, the road ENDS.
This happens with some frequency. Even though there are about 20 signs saying there's a ferry coming, people come roaring down the road not really looking, and stop with a screech just before the water's edge. It's pretty scary, actually.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Axes, Machetes and Weed Whackers, Oh My!

Every summer, a particular kind of algae (I don't know the name of it) blooms in the Willamette. I know that it's an invasive species, and that there's a heck of a lot of it. It forms these long hairlike tendrils, probably more than 3 feet long. It blooms, then floats downstream. As it floats downstream, a lot of it gets caught on the low water line--the cable that runs across the river underwater.

Because of that, the first trip across the river in the morning is a solid arobic workout. I've got it down to a science now, but the first few days after it started to get bad, it was a mess, and took almost a half hour to cross a river that should take 3 minutes! The good technique is to put the boat in motion, and walk out right away with the machete. As soon as the algae starts coming up where I can reach it, I start whacking at it. It builds up faster than I can whack, and pretty soon there's at least a foot thick ball of algae wrapped around the cable. It's wrapped so tight that it actually stops the boat. It's clogged up a channel where the cable runs through a fairlead so tightly, that even with both engines on full power, I'm stuck. I sit there, stuck, for a few minutes more, whacking like crazy at the giant ball of algae. Then I head into the cabin, back the boat up a bit, then go forward, hoping the momentum breaks the algae off the line. Some mornings, I have to go back and forth several times. A good day is when I can head slowly across, never having to back up. I've had one day like that. My best time is 8 minutes. 8 minutes to cross the river that should take 3 minutes.

When the algae first got bad, the boss didn't like the idea of us using the machetes. Maybe it was cause we're girls? I dunno. I kept telling him we just needed a sharpener, so we could whack through the algae with less force and a sharp blade. It was getting so bad that occasionally, I'd have to grab the fire ax. Seriously. I'd be standing out there on the edge of the boat, using a super heavy ax to whack at algae. I tell ya, my life is crazy.

Before bringing us a sharpener, the boss decided to try a weed whacker. It's a nice idea in theory. You could just stand there, not leaning over, in a much safer position and location, and just let the whacker cut away at the algae. Except the weed whacker took three times as long, and covered everything, including the user, with a thick layer of green algae fur. It just didn't do the job. Finally we got a sharpener and the machete usually works just fine. The other morning though, there was a small tree branch wrapped around the cable, as well as all the algae that had attached to the branch. I will admit, I used the ax for that one.

Once you've gotten across the river, you're not done, at least not for the whole day. Usually once or twice throughout the day, you've got to walk over to where that cable comes out of the water and attaches to the ramps. Right there is where all the rest of the algae that is caught up throughout the day gets shoved to. You've got to go whack it off, then drag all of the algae that's been cut back into the water. Cause drying and dried algae is a really disgusting smell. It smells like something rotting on the beach, and it's full of bugs galore.

So that's my story. Most mornings, even before 7 am, I've been swinging a machete for 10 or 15 minutes. Then later in the day, it's back to the machete and a pitchfork, to move the cut up algae around. But usually I wait until after I've had my coffee for that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Name That Bird

The BV reopened this morning, after being closed for dredging for the last few weeks. It's nice to be back, to have my space back, and to know what a day is going to bring, instead of not knowing what I'll be doing from one moment to the next.

I noticed a new bird today. A BIG bird, larger than a duck, the size of a goose almost. There are two of them, obviously a male and a female. I looked through a bird book and my bird book app, and I have no clue what these two are! Any ideas?

They have webbed feet, are awkward fliers, and have a hoarse honk for a call. They hung out on shore, not very scared of people, all day, sleeping out in the open. I really want to know what they are!

In other news, last thursday, I helped get the WL Ferry into the water. If you remember, the ferry was pulled out of the water for it's every-5-year check by the Coast Guard, where we also did a huge amount of repairs. It was pretty incredible watching such a huge ferry be manhandled by two heavy duty bulldozers. And the noises it made! The ferry is sitting on steel beams, which were sitting on steel plates, which sat on the concrete or dirt. The ground 30 feet away where I stood shook when it moved.

The bulldozers, as you can see in that video, picked up the steel beams, and pushed them forward, shoving the ferry along with it. At one point when they stopped, I was stunned to see how much weight and pressure was on the 'dozer tires:

I took several steps backwards when I saw that front tire.

We worked an extremely long day on Thursday. Once the ferry was actually in the water, we still had to hook up the baloney, steering cables and low water line. Plus we had to make sure everything worked, get the tools back on board, and everything in it's place as much as possible.

UPDATE! Almost as soon as I posted, a friend suggested that the birds are Muscovy Ducks. Which, after looking at several pictures of the various colors of Muscovies, I think she's right! So cool! Thanks Karen!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Heat Stroke Sucks

Right now, both boats are closed. I closed the BV about 2 weeks ago for low water. Since then, they've had to finish dredging at the WL, then haul everything down to the BV and dredge there, which isn't yet finished. I took all of last week off, and had a wonderful time visiting my sister, brother in law, and super wonderful niece and nephew.

This week, I've been helping out in the final push to get the WL in the water. If you remember from a previous post, the WL was hauled out of the water for an every 5 year inspection by the coast guard. While it's out of the river, both motors were rebuilt, the aprons got some serious repair work, and the whole boat was cleaned and painted. This week, on Thursday, the boat is going to be pushed back into the river, with the goal of reopening by Friday. So there's a big push to get everything finished. I spent most of the day today and yesterday painting. The boat as a whole has been painted, but there's a lot of touch up to do. In addition to that, I'm helping out wherever else I can.

This afternoon, we were painting on this very thick, asphalt-like non-slip material that makes up the entire deck. It's the same stuff that's on the BV, and I love it. I didn't slip or lose my footing once all winter, no matter the ice or rain. Throughout the day today, I hadn't realized that I was getting a sunburn. I had reapplied sunscreen around lunch, but managed to miss my shoulders, most of my face, back of legs, and back of hands. The non-slip paint dried very quickly, so we were in a rush and working fast and hard. We were painting metal which was reflecting the hot sunshine right back up at us. It was a bad combination.

Suddenly I realized I was too hot, too sweaty, too exhausted. I told my coworkers, and went and sat in the shade. I was really dizzy. I drank the last of my pop, which by that point was warm. My water bottle, also next to me, was empty. My coworkers kept coming by to check on me, since my face was very red. I stopped sweating, even though I was super hot. My pulse was racing. Someone refilled my water bottle, and I poured some on my head and drank the rest. I felt like I was going to pass out or vomit, or both. My fingers were tingly and my hands were shaking, and I realized I was breathing so rapidly I was hyperventilating. It was really scary. My coworkers realized what was going on before I did, and were very protective and helpful. After about 15 or 20 scary minutes, I felt well enough to stand up without too much dizziness, and at the demand of a coworker (who has had heat stroke before), took my shoes and socks off and waded up to my knees in the river, and splashed water on my arms and neck. That made a huge difference.

I left the WL earlier than my coworkers, who decided to stay a bit late to finish painting the non-slip texture so it would be dry by morning. It was a very slow drive back to the shops, and then home. First off, I took a long shower, to really cool me down. Even when the water was quite warm, it was weird, I got full body shivers. The heat stroke happened around 4, and I don't think I really felt like myself until close to 9pm.

I'm really fortunate that it wasn't more severe heat stroke. I'm very lucky to have coworkers who were looking out for me. This could have been so much worse. Heat stroke is serious business. I learned a big lesson today.

And I'm very grateful that I'll be in the shops tomorrow, not out in the sun.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Very Hungry Osprey

Wednesday was a wonderfully warm day. I wore a tshirt and capris and was still warm. I didn't turn the AC on in the cabin since there was a great breeze. Everyone was happy and friendly since it was warm and sunny. (Of course now, two days later, it's only 60 degrees and pouring rain. Sigh.)

Late in the afternoon, I looked over at a snag that's very close to the ramp on the east side. There was an osprey sitting on a very low spot of the branch, almost in the water. A closer glance, then looking at it through the binoculars, and I realized he had caught a huge fish. (I shared the binoculars with a bicyclist who came aboard. That was a mistake. He'd been riding for 20 miles already. He put the binoculars up to his eyes, looked, then handed them back to me. When I put them up to my eyes, the rubber around the lenses were wet with his sweat, which then made rings around my own eyes. SO GROSS!) I'm guessing the fish was at least 14 inches long. Most likely, he caught the fish, and it was too heavy to fly up to the nest, so he stopped in a low spot, somewhere he could reach. (click on any picture to view it larger)

I could see that he was doing his best to eat the fish, most likely to make it light enough to fly it up to the nest. You can see him testing the weight and trying to take off. He did this frequently.

He sat there, all told, for at least 45 minutes eating his fish. At one point, a crow got very interested.

Until finally the osprey made a noise toward the crow and it flew away.

On my next trip back to that side of the river, I could really see that the osprey had eaten at least half of the fish. One whole side had the skin and a good deal of flesh taken off.

A few minutes later, the osprey flew off, taking the fish with him, back to his chicks in the nest.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Random Musings

I haven't posted in awhile. I came down with a terrible cold that turned into a terrible sinus infection. I think I was sicker with this cold than I've been in years. I actually took time off work, which can sometimes be a big deal. To call in sick on short notice (the week of is short notice), you first call the supervisor and let him know, then you call the pager phone. There's a handful of people who don't work full time on the ferries, but have their licenses and work elsewhere for Public Works. They're Relief Ferry Operators. Some work on the bridge crew, other on road crews. They rotate who has the pager phone, and when they have it, they're on call and if needed, stop what they're doing and head to the boats. Or come in on their days off. By the time I got off the phone with my supervisor, had a coughing fit and blew my nose, he'd already called the relief on call. So when I called the relief, he answered the phone, "Hey sickie!" He had no problem coming in, which was great. Some people make a bigger deal out of it, usually because the commute can be pretty long, especially down to this boat. But now I'm mostly all better and am back at work. I think the osprey eggs have hatched. I was looking through the binoculars, and I'm pretty sure I saw two grey fuzzy heads poke above the nest when a parent landed with some food. I can't wait until they fledge. It's hard to see them when they're still so small. Even though the nest is so close to the ferry ramp, it's up a 30 foot pole, so I can't see into the nest. The best view is from the other side of the river, looking through binoculars. Yesterday, my sister drove down with her kids, ages 5 and 2, to spend the week with family. They made it to the boat a mere 15 minutes before I closed for the night, which was perfect. My nephew helped me close up, by pushing closed the gate, carrying the flag, and wrapping the chain. It was great fun, and my niece ran along with us. I love it when kids I know come on board, there's so much fun stuff to show them. My nephew and I climbed down into the machinery room to turn off a machine for the night, but while we were down there, the air compressor was on, which makes a huge roar. I think he liked that, it felt very industrial. Today, a guy from the sign shop came down to the boat. I was so happy to see him. When they originally placed the signs for the ferry, they didn't get them all right. On the west side of the river, the stop sign is up so far that if a car stops there, I can't see them at all if I'm across the river. So a car will come to the ferry, stop at the sign, like they should, and sit there, not knowing I have no idea they're over there! So that sign will be moved down, closer to the ramp, so I can actually see them. On the other side of the river, we've got a big problem with semi trucks following their GPS and thinking they can come across the river. The problem is that there's nowhere for them to turn around. If a semi comes down, it'll have to be backed up a quarter mile, and around a sharp corner. Not fun. I've gotten into very heated arguments with truckers about that, when they try to insist they'll fit on the ferry just so they don't have to back up. I think I recall actually saying to a trucker once, "I am the captain of this vessel and what I say goes!" Shut him up quick! I wish I was more familiar with bird songs. There's a bird that sings right when I show up in the morning. It's loud and sweet. I would love to know who's singing to me! Sunday this week was crazy busy. Wings of Wonder, a butterfly garden in the little community here, closed its' doors and Sunday was it's last day. On top of that, it was Father's day, a sunny day, plus, it was graduation day at OSU, 20 minutes away, and Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker. I didn't have a break in cars at all between 9:30 am and 6 pm. At one point, I was struggling to come with a few spare moments to use the bathroom! I've been seeing a lot of heavy tractors this week. I took one tractor across, that was pulling a plowing thing or seeder or something, that could plow 24 rows at once. Right now, as I'm writing this, I'm carrying a large truck with a large tank on the bed, and the truck is towing a trailer that takes up both rows of traffic. On the trailer is a tractor that looks like it's a sprayer, for fertilizing fields. Big tanks, narrow wheels and long arms that swing out on each side. The driver just had to climb up onto the tractor to bring one of the arms back in, it'd managed to swing out. Hmmm, I'm sure I can come up with more random things I've seen or dealt with in the last few weeks, but I'll stop here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Odd car stuff

Wednesday was a day of odd car happenings. Around noon, I look up the hill on the west side, and a small pickup truck rolled down the hill, and looked as if it was going to park next to my car, where there's a small gravel area, space enough for about 3 cars. Instead of parking there, the car tried to park on the edge of the gravel, right where a deep ditch starts. As I watch, the car seemed to park just slightly in the ditch, then rolled slowly forward, until one of it's back wheels was off the ground and it was fully in the ditch. What on earth!? The driver eventually got out, and stood there scratching his head, before wandering down to the boat and asking if we had a phone book so he could call a tow truck. Instead of offering him that, I suggested that he walk up to the first house on the hill, and as if they could help. The family at that first house seems to have a plethora of cars in various stages of repair, plus plenty of machinery. The ditched driver seemed a bit ashamed to go ask for help, but within 5 minutes, he and the neighbor came down in a big pickup, tied a chain to the truck and yanked him out. It was pretty remarkable that he got himself out of the ditch so quickly. It also made me very happy to have ferry neighbors like that, people I can call on for help whenever I or someone else needs it.

Late in the afternoon, about 15 minutes before closing, a motorcycle rolls on board, with it's power off. That's not super unusual, it's a steep enough hill that it's easy to coast. The rider was very friendly, and we gossiped for a few minutes before he said that he thinks his battery was dead. It was a new to him bike, and he had a feeling the battery was getting old. He had a nifty little charger that plugged into any outlet. Because of the size of the plug, it wouldn't fit into the outdoor outlets on the boat, so he rolled his bike up to the front door of the cabin, and the cord reached the outlet in there. So he and I sat and chatted for the last 10 minutes or so before the boat closed, I closed up, we went across and by then, his battery was charged enough to start, and away he rolled.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hauled Out

Last weekend, I got word that the ferry was closed, again. In fact, it was closed for the same reason it was closed the last time. The computers that work the drives (which work the motors which work the propellers) were faulty. Last time it was the upstream drive, this time it was the downstream. The electricians told us they'd have the part by Tuesday, so we were closed until then. As usual when the boat is closed, I took Sunday off, cause a 4 day weekend is pretty great. On Monday, I showed up at the shops, and knew I'd end up working up at the WL ferry, since it's been hauled out of the water for the Coast Guard 5 year inspection, and a lot of maintenance. It was so very strange looking. The whole ferry, up the ramp and on blocks on solid ground. It suddenly seemed way huger than it looks in the water.

I spent the day at various odd cleaning and painting tasks. I took down ceiling tiles and painted them. As I took them down, thousands of tiny dead spiders rained down on my head. After painting the tiles, I cleaned the roof of the cabin, getting more dirt, grime and dead bugs in my hair and on my face. I was happy to find a face mask to wear for the cleaning. It was disgusting.

While several of us were puttering on the boat, painting and cleaning, some of the guys were setting up the barge to dredge, since the river was low and they were already kicking up rock before they closed.

Of course, the following three days, the river went up two or three feet, making it impossible to dredge. I'm not sure if they can dredge even now. Supposedly, once they eventually finish at the WL, they'll come down to the BV and dredge there too. I have no idea how that'll work out, whether they'll dredge at night, close the boat or what. I'm also curious what my participation will be. A coworker who was running the boat, which you can see to the left of the backhoe, said it wasn't that hard to do, and actually a bit boring. That'd work maybe.

I just realized as I wrote this post that I've now written 103 blog posts. I don't think I ever would have expected this blog to last 100 posts when I started!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Drive Home with Me

The commute home from work, from the other side of the river than I've been commuting for the past year, is wonderfully pretty. This evening, I tried to take tons of pictures of what I drive past.

This is my view after I lock the gate. Having looked at the flat river and bright sun all day, there's something wonderfully appealing about the hill and trees:

As I drive through the little community up the hill, there's a long driveway that leads to a historic cemetery, as well as a butterfly exhibit (which, holy cow, looks like it's closing in June! That's a shame):

Once I leave town, it's flat fields (mostly growing grass seed) with hills in the background:

I love this corner. Not only is the sign for Rogue Farms great (Rogue makes beer, and grows hops at the farm, as well as has a tasting room for beer and spirits!), but when I look at the house to the left, they have two small signs, which I like:

Can you see them? I love "Life is an Adventure," but I'm somewhat suspicious of "Beacon of Promise," it seems oddly religious in nature. The hardscrabble farm attached to the signs is fun to look at each night. The cows have free reign over the place, and I often see them in the driveway, munching grass, with nothing between them and the road.

Just past the house with the signs, is a lovely falling down barn. Neither picture is great, but I'll put them both up. I think it's the prettiest thing I past every evening.

Pretty soon, I come to the house where I get my eggs each week. I love having farm eggs to buy. $3 a dozen is great, and the eggs taste like sunshine and are deliciously fresh. Only as I took this picture, did I realize that their sign looks like they painted the headboard of a twin bed and hung it up as their sign:

Pretty soon I cross the bridge over the river. This is the same river I run the ferry across, only the river is much narrower here. Once over the river, I'm in flat farm fields for a bit:

As soon as the fields end, I'm in hills and twisty turny roads until I get into town. I drive under two train bridges, with extremely sharp curves and narrow road:

One of the first signs that I'm into town is this house, which is so huge it's just ugly. I'm so not a fan of huge new mansions like this.

Pretty soon I'm driving past suburbia:

And then I'm into town and home!

It feels so different, this commute. I'm on small roads, I pass people's houses the whole way. I drive more slowly because of the twisty road. My old commute, on the interstate and then flat, empty roads, made me feel like I was the only person on the road, that it was extremely early and that I was the only person awake. Now, on these surface roads and back hills, there are many more cars on the road, kids waiting for the school bus, people going to and fro. It's really a nice commute. I do worry about the roads if we keep the boat on this side year round. Those hills and twisty roads would be treacherous in the winter. Other than that, it's really quite nice.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Birds and Other Random

Every afternoon, tons of small birds, mostly swallows, I think, play around the river, swooping low to the water to catch bugs. They play on the boat too. I've been able to catch a few pictures of them lined up on various cables.

The first picture is a tree swallow. They're the most common. Their backs are a slightly shimmery dark green. I'm not totally sure what the birds are in the second picture. They have brownish red breasts and a dark gray or black back and wings. Here's another picture, a slightly better profile:

The ospreys are still building their nests like crazy. I don't know if I'll be able to tell if they've laid eggs yet, there is usually someone in the nest, but not always.

We had to replace a window on the boat. Frustratingly, they've temporarily put a plywood window in it's place. I demanded that we get a window in the plywood, and this is what was delivered:

The problem is, the window is located too high, high enough that I can't see what I need to for landing. Of course, I can figure out a different way of landing, but it's frustrating. Even worse than that, when I'm sitting at the desk when there are no cars, I can look through the window and see if there are cars on the other side. Now, with the plywood window, this is what I see when seated:

Hmmm, not very useful!

It's memorial day weekend right now. I work Sunday and Monday. I'm expecting a ton of traffic, though the weather isn't all that great, so I'm not sure if we'll get what I'm expecting. Even so, I get bonus pay for working on a national holiday on Monday, so that'll make for a great paycheck.

In other news, evidently the news magazine publishes transcripts of some of the interviews on The Story, which I was featured on last week. Last weekend, I got a message from a friend that she saw me on the front page of Salon! I went and looked, and lo and behold, there I was! I was flabbergasted! Their article is just a transcription of a portion of my interview, but regardless, I was stunned. And several friends made sure to inform me that my story was on the same page as an article about a vibrator museum! HA!!!!! I've placed a link to the article, as well as my interview on The Story, in the right hand column.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Change in Procedures

Because of some issues we've been having with after hour visitors down to the boat, we're now parking the boat on the opposite side of the river. Tomorrow morning is my first shift driving to the far side. I drove down there today on my way to see my parents, and it's about a ten minute longer drive, which means waking up 10 minutes earlier each morning (as in, 5:10 am). It's a pretty drive, and it'll be nice just to have something different to look at. Polk County, which I'll be driving through, has pretty rolling hillsides. I won't be driving on the interstate at all to get to work. It's all back highways and farm roads, which I vastly prefer. I'll be driving through the community that the ferry gets it's name from each day. I really like that. I know many people who live there, and it makes me feel safer knowing that they're there.

One thing I've been hoping to find ever since I lost my job in the Planning department is somewhere to get fresh eggs each week. We had a lovely lady (aka, the Egg Lady) who would deliver eggs to us each week, they were delicious and super fresh, and only $2 a dozen. I've missed those  Egg Lady eggs ever since I've been on the ferry. When I drove to the boat today, I was happy to see a large sign selling eggs, and a refrigerator full of eggs right there in their driveway. They're not as cheap of Egg Lady Eggs, these are $5 a dozen, but man oh man, farm fresh eggs are totally worth it! I'm very excited to have access to good eggs again.

I'm also hoping to see farm stands selling peaches or blueberries, which I also see growing alongside the road.

The other nice thing about ending my day on the Polk county side is that, if I want to go to my parents for dinner or to spend the night, I'm a good 15 minutes closer. I love that. A lot. It's rare for me to not talk to my mom almost every day, and I try to see them at least weekly. Sometimes my mom comes up with her knitting (or knitting problems!) and we sit and drink coffee and knit. My mom and stepdad usually stop by on their way home from Portland or points north, and my dad likes to swing by to hang out, often taking me by surprise. Last summer, Dad would bring his guitar and serenade the cars crossing the river. Surprised the heck out of people, but was so lovely to hear.

The main thing I'm bummed about is just the longer commute. It's hard enough getting up at 5:20 four days a week, now it'll be a bit earlier. Doesn't seem like much, but I'm usually so tired to begin with, I'm already a bit bitter about losing those ten minutes. I know I'll get used to it, and maybe I'll actually start forcing myself to get in bed earlier!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Summer Tease

It seems like every spring, we get a week or two of summer. Real summer. 80 or 90 degree weather, bright blue skies. Everyone's happy, they can't wait to be outside, tans and sunburns start appearing. And just as quickly, the sun and blue sky disappears, and people grab their sweaters for the next month.

I think that's what we just had. The last week or so has been utterly glorious. It's been amazing to sit outside on the ferry in the late afternoon, watching the lazy slow river amble by. Today, of course, it's dropped about 20 degrees. While the sun's still out, it's not nearly as warm. Still, though, it'll be coming back again soon.

I had a crazy busy Sunday, but Monday and Tuesday were pokey. About 50-60 cars each day. I keep a camping chair in the back of my car, and sat out on the deck of the boat, drinking iced tea, reading a great book (Paul Theroux's Happy Islands of Oceania), watching the river. It was that type of warm weather where you're happiest sitting still, just enjoying it. The river is the lowest it's been since early fall. Because the height of the river is down, the velocity and speed is down too. It's like giant sheets of glass placidly flowing by. It was wonderfully delightful.

Of course, it's supposed to rain all next week. I'll be back to hand-knit socks and a polarfleece instead of shorts and tank tops. But summer's on it's way no matter what.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm on the Radio!

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to my broadcast on The Story. I'm not horrified at how my voice sounds. I'm so excited, and when I sit back and try to forget it's me Dick Gordon is talking to, it's a darn good story.

To listen straight from the website, go to , and click "Listen Now" on the right. If you're on iTunes, you can also download the podcast.


I'm going to be on the radio TOMORROW!!! Thursday 17th. Absurdly stupid levels of excitement going on here. And mega nerves. I wasn't nervous before I was interviewed but I'm terrified to hear my voice and whatever the hell I managed to say. You can click here to see when and where it'll be broadcast in your area. You can also listen to it on the website, or download the podcast. Holy crap you guys!!!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Finally, for the first time in an extremely long time--maybe December?--I worked a regular week. 12 hour days for four days straight. And man oh man, I'm feeling it. But it's great to be back to a regular schedule.

Regardless, it's been a bit of an odd week. Some big stuff, lots of little stuff. Like:

A couple came across one way, scrounging for coins to pay the fare. I got 30 cents in pennies from them. They came back the other way about 20 minutes later, asking if I could break a $100 bill. When he opened his wallet, it seemed like he must have had at least $1000 in $100 bills. Hmmm. Rather suspect. My first thought was a drug deal…

I went across the river to get a minivan with an older couple in it. They had come from Portland, and were heading to Dallas. If you don't know the area, coming across the ferry was the long way--they came too far south, and would cross the river just to go north again. The wife, in the passenger seat, was insistent, and kept asking me, "Isn't this stupid? Don't you think this is stupid!? Our GPS sent us this way! It's SO STUPID! Don't you think this is Stupid?! My husband and I argued the whole time you came across the river over how STUPID it was." I was cracking up the whole time. I'm sure what happened is that they missed a turn north of Salem, and by the time they got through town, this was the route the GPS had re-calculated them onto. 

A car came on board, a big SUV with two couples, all in their 50s or 60s. As I was approaching the driver's window to get the toll, someone in the backseat rolled down the window, held up a big bulky life jacket, and said, "Do we need to put these on now?" I cracked up. Evidently, it was one of the guys playing a trick on everyone else, getting them to think they needed their own life jacket to cross the ferry. It's a great trick actually, something I could see my step-dad pulling off. The couples all got out and took pictures of each other in the life jackets. I was laughing SO HARD the entire time across the river, and snapped a picture of them too: 

On Monday morning, about a half hour after opening, I’d only carried three cars by that point. I’m going across the river empty, for my favorite place to sit when the boat’s empty. I flip the switch that raises and lowers the aprons…and nothing happens. What should happen is that the apron—which is the part of the boat that hangs out past the hull (the body of the boat) and is the part that actually touches shore—goes down, or up, according to what I tell it to do. You want it down when you land, otherwise, you slam the hull into shore. Not fun. So it wouldn’t move. This is something we’d all talked about happening in the past, and I didn’t really know what the solution was. So I called the boss, and he basically said to close up, close the gates, and he’ll come down and we can see if we could fix it.
Electricians came down, and couldn’t quite figure it out. We needed it fixed soon, so some guys from one of the crews came down, and we adjusted the height of the cables that held the aprons up, finally figuring the heights enough to be able to land the boat without lifting the aprons at all. It took about 8 hours, all told, and it was a long day of lifting, turning, pushing, and basically working my butt off.

It seems like ever since the boat has been open, we've had problems with the toilet. It seems like possibly, just maybe we've got a fix. The pipes are very small, and get clogged easily. So the new rule is that the toilet is now “Costa Rica Style.” When I first went to Costa Rica, I was surprised that you don’t flush the paper, you put it in a garbage next to the toilet. It was the same way in Belize. And now it’s the same on the boat.

Wednesday, late in the afternoon, I noticed a lady on one shore taking a heck of a lot of pictures. More than the usual tourist. Pictures of the towers, the parking area, the signs, the boat. Finally she came down, and told me that she’s scouting ferries for a car commercial shoot. How odd! But cool, regardless. I told her that my boat’s the cool boat, and they should film early in the week cause that’s my shift!

Wednesday, right before I closed, I got a van full of people who I swear, were all tweaked out on meth. The ran around the boat, jumping up and down, and even when they stood still, it seemed like every muscle in their bodies were tense, ready to run, fight, go crazy. I got them across the river as quickly as I could, and was happy to see them go.

One night, right before closing, I saw a car on the other side pull up, stop, then park. I didn’t think anything of it, it’s closing time, they’re parked, no biggie. I walked up the hill and closed the gate, and when I walked back down, they were out of the car and standing on the ramp, down at the river. I closed up the boat and headed that way, where my car was parked. Halfway across the river, they walked quickly up the ramp, got in their van, and pulled the van up to the stop line to board. Oh dear. When I got to shore, they tried to come down and onto the boat. And when I told them I was closed, since it was now 7:06, they got really angry. They actually yelled at me, that they were here before 7. And they were, but I couldn’t tell that they wanted a ride based on them being parked out of sight. I do hate that, when people get to the boat just after 7 and I’m already locked up. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Summery Day

I had forgotten what a summer weekend day was like. Yesterday was a huge reminder. I had about 80 cars, 30 bikes and 20 motorcycles. 130 vehicles in all. It was hectic! By the end of the day my legs and feet were exhausted. But at the same time, it was great fun. I saw regulars I hadn't seen since last summer, talked to a ton of people who were happy because of the sunshine, and enjoyed the sunshine on my shoulders. Every Sunday, it seems that I forget something. My first work day of the week, I bring a full backpack and full food bag. I fill my backpack with entertainment (knitting, books, ipad, ipod, etc), and my food bag contains 4 lunches, fruit, snacks, drinks, silverware and dishes. Except that, of course, this week, I left all silverware at home. Fork, knife and spoon, all at home. I couldn't find anything on the boat, not even a spare gross plastic spoon that's usually behind the microwave. I ran up and scrounged through my car, hoping to find old used fast food plastic silverware. Nothing whatsoever. And I didn't have a lunch I could just eat with my fingers. I had stirfry. Rice with tons of veggies and chicken. Not the easiest of foods for finger food. I realized I'd have to improvise, and ended up finding two small branches and shaving one end of each down and making chopsticks. They were hilarious looking:
They worked pretty well. The larger branch was a bit curved, which was a pain, but I got my food from the dish to my mouth. Unfortunatly, the wood on both branches was green. I looked for old wood, but with all of the high water we've had, it's all been swept downstream. And new wood, when you take the bark off, has just about the most bitter taste ever. I ended up basically dropping the food into my mouth. Still, I managed to eat lunch. Of course, about a half hour after I ate, a dear friend, Jen, had seen my silverware complaint on Facebook and had driven over and gave me a baggie full of plastic sliverware. Awwwww. It was really sweet. I'm going to keep it all in my car, just in case. I think I'll also toss in a coffee mug, plate, and some other supplies. I realized this last weekend that it's now been a year since I started working on the ferries. Isn't that crazy? When I left my planning job, I felt like it was the end of the world. I felt like I was being exiled to some faraway place of torture. And now I've been here a year. Some days, it does feel like a torturous exile, but for the most part, it's decent. Still, not something I want to do for the rest of my life, but it's a job, it pays very well, and now we're coming in to summer, which is the best time to be down here. Right now, as the mercury slowly makes it's way up to 80 degrees today, I'm sitting here with the sun shining on me, I can hear at least 5 different kinds of birds, fish are jumping, the sky is stunningly blue, and I'm getting paid to sit here. Life could be a heck of a lot worse!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On the Radio

This morning, I drove up to Portland to the public radio studios, and sat in a studio for an interview with Dick Gordon, host of The Story. It was amazing. I had the radio technician take a picture of me in the studio with the headphones and mic, but the picture turned out terrible so it'll never see the light of day. I sat there, and the tech connected me with the host sitting in North Carolina. Maybe it's because I'm so used to listening to his voice, but I felt instantly at ease. We chatted a bit first, he said he was really glad I emailed in because it sounds like I have a really fun story. Which made me even happier. I swear, through almost the whole interview, I had a huge grin on my face.

At first, his questions had me walk through ending up on the ferry chronologically. He asked me what a planner does, what the budget cuts were like, and how I ended up on the ferry. My planning coworkers will be happy, I sung their praises. Cause really, they're awesome. He asked me what my first day was like, how intimidated I was, how hard it was to learn to land the ferry. He asked about how it was different operating in lower water and higher water. I talked about how much I've learned and gained from my year on the ferries. How I'm stronger, much more willing to fix broken things in my own house, can diagnose problems on the boat. How I'm not afraid to get dirty anymore, how I have a separate wardrobe of grungy clothes just for work.

I was amazed when suddenly we'd talked for over 45 minutes and it was all over. How was that 45 minutes? When I was waiting to start, I was nervous that all I had to look at was the screen over the microphone and the blank wall ahead of me. But suddenly he was thanking me, and his voice changed from the serious, mellow interview voice to a slightly more chipper mellow normal voice. He told me I was a great storyteller! Dick Gordon called me a great storyteller!!! I was wowed. I had such a great time, I wished the interview could have continued. I felt like I had so much more to say. More about operating the boat, more about the funny customers, more about the wildlife. I did tell him he could put a link to my blog on his website. That'll be fun.

He said that the producer will contact me and let me know when it'll be aired. Tentatively, it should be May 16th, which is Studs Terkel's 100th birthday, but that may change.

And of course, since I was already up in Portland, I took myself out to a great lunch, and bought two pairs of shoes. It was a very good day.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

High Water and Still Going

Every work day, and often on the weekends, I check the Willamette River monitoring website that shows the river levels. It gives a prediction of the levels for the next ten days, and the first 3 days are usually very reliable. Lately, the site keeps showing these swings, low water, high water, low water, high water. We opened last week on Monday, after being closed for 4 days. I was expecting that we'd close again on Wednesday or so, since the predictions showed the river being around 13.25 or 13.5 by Wednesday afternoon, and that's when we typically close.

But then last week, a backhoe came down and dug out a bunch of rock. And on Wednesday afternoon, E came down and really worked with me on using the steering cables and slowing the motors at certain times to land better. It made a huge difference. I operated on Wednesday to about 13.8 feet. The river was ferocious by that point. It looked so swollen, fast, and terrifying. Occasionally, huge logs would float by, but mostly it was just the force of the river itself that was crazy.

Over my weekend, the newest ferry operator, and now-regular BV operator, K had her first solo shifts. I think she did pretty damn awesome, considering the fact that the river went to 15 feet and the ferry stayed open the whole time! I drove across the ferry yesterday afternoon, when the river was at about 14.5 feet, and holy cow, that was crazy high water! I'm really excited to keep the boat open more. It means fewer shop days, fewer days in the winter where we're closed, and more time that the ferry can do it's job, and serve the locals.

Then, of course, I had to close the ferry this morning. It wasn't even the water level that did it at all! One of the motors, the one on the downstream side, kept kicking off. I'd be puttering across the river, and suddenly there'd be no power on the downstream side. Alarms would sound, and I'd race around trying to see if I can fix it. I know what breakers to flip, how long you need to wait, and the proper procedure to reset the drives, but once, it took a half hour to kick back on. I got stuck on the wrong shore (my car was on the opposite) for awhile, and it kicked off once when I was landing, once in the middle of the river. Thank goodness I was able to land using just the upstream motor.

It was hard to get ahold of people, bosses, electrician, dispatch, to get help or tell them I'm closed, but finally, several hours later, I'd talked to the people I needed to, the electrician will probably be coming down tomorrow, the road closed signs were closed, and dispatch had sent out announcements that the boat was closing. All in all, it wasn't that terrible. It was 1:30, warm weather, and I was heading home on a Sunday afternoon!

In other news, I don't think I've mentioned the amazing opportunity I get to experience this week. I am going to be interviewed for the NPR radio show "The Story". The Story is a really fantastic program where the host, Dick Gordon, spends a good deal of time simply interviewing interesting guests who have an interesting job, experience or life to share. I emailed them and submitted my story about how my life has changed since losing my Planning job and working on the ferry. They called me two days later! I'm going up to Portland where I'll sit in a studio and be connected with the host in North Carolina. The program will be broadcast on May 16th, I think. The theme of the program that day will be in honor of Studs Terkel's 100th birthday. I'm so honored. I get so nervous just thinking about the interview. I'm so glad it won't be broadcast live. But I'm so excited to tell my story, and even more excited that someone thinks I have a story worth sharing!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I think it's really spring

The last few days have been really warm. 80 degrees with brilliantly blue skies. The ferry was closed for high water through Sunday, so I took the day off, and worked yesterday. I wore shorts, a tshirt, and a sunhat. And I forgot my sunscreen! I tried to sit inside as much as possible, but I had several projects that left me standing in the sun for awhile. So my arms, neck and legs, both front and back, are burned. Most of the burning happened before noon even. Crazy how warm it was.

Today was much cooler. Probably less than 65 degrees and sprinkled on and off. The river is heading right back up. I was worried that we'd close for high water tomorrow morning, but instead, around 4ish, the boss came down and said that a backhoe was on it's way down. It dug a good deal of rock out of the area directly next to the ramp on the east side. Those rocks, we think, are the only real reason we can't operate at 16 feet, like the WL. With the rocks dug out, I was able to land pretty well, when before I would slam into the rocks, the boat would almost bounce over them and there would be a large gap between the ramp and the boat apron.

I think by the end of the day tomorrow, the river will have gone up over a foot and I'll be hitting the rocks again. But this is a great improvement, I'll be able to operate up to 14.5 instead of 13.5.

The ride to and from work has become a delight. I'm still surprised and happy when I leave the house at 6:15 in the morning and it's light out. One of the things I hated about working the winter was that I'd get to the ferry in the dark, and leave in the dark. The farms and fields I drive by every day were invisible in the darkness. I love watching the changes to the fields, seeing what's been planted, which flocks are in the fields, which birds are nesting where. Now, in spring, it's wonderful to watch the changes every day on my way too and from work.

This morning, I noticed that a field that had been green not long ago had turned gold and orange. I don't have any idea what's growing, it looks grassy or wheaty, but the color is amazing and sparkles in the light. A different huge field that rounds a sharp corner is a riot of bright yellow flowers. What is this plant?

The ospreys are still building their nest. The only reason I think they haven't laid eggs yet is that I often see both of them flying around, not on the nest. All sorts of smaller birds are swooping and flying around too.

Closing up the boat this evening, I realized how less tense work feels when it's not dark in the evening and I'm not freezing my butt off. I wandered around the boat, locking things up this evening, delightfully calm and peaceful, not racing around, dodging raindrops, trying to keep in as much heat as possible.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Closed, Open, Closed, Open

We closed the ferry Wednesday morning. K was down at the ferry training, since her first solo shift will be this coming Wednesday. She did great opening, and landed as well as can be expected in bad river conditions. The boss was at the dentist in the morning and had meetings the rest of the day. So he wasn't able to really help determine when to close. When I talked to him, he essentially said, "You're the operator, I can't be there. You have to make the call when to close." I agonized over this. Finally, I decided to close. We weren't at 13.5 feet yet, but we were heading in that direction, and it was impossible to land without really slamming into the rocks. So we closed. I went home and agonized over the decision for about 4 hours, then looked at the river levels and forecasts again, and quickly realized I'd made exactly the right decision. Such a relief. The ferry has been closed all weekend.

I texted with my boss yesterday, to determine that the boat would be closed today (therefore, I took a vacation day), and that we may be able to open in the morning tomorrow, but that it'll be later in the morning. I'll go down later than my usual 6:45 in the morning, and call him to determine when we're ready to open.

The river is going to go down this week, but then right back up to possibly close again next weekend. I am so tired of this. I just want my routine back. It's funny, according to my mom, when the ferry was closed, I complained about being in the shops, and when the ferry was open, I complained about being on the boat. Yeah, I know. I can't be pleased. So what!? :)

The weather this weekend has been amazing. I spent almost all day today gardening. I planted giant sunflowers along the front of my house. I hope they're giant, and that they'll provide some shade from the scorching sun this summer. It was wonderful being outside in 80 degree weather all day. Tomorrow should be the same. I'm looking forward to my typical summer morning activity at work of sitting out in my deck chair and drinking my coffee.