Chapter five: The Tree Hugger


Hello, readers. I have been working hard on a long-form essay for you all. Meanwhile, I wanted to share a chapter from my upcoming memoir. It’s about an uncommon line of work I took up one winter after graduating from college, and the uncommon person I met while on the job. In this chapter (which is probably just a chapter segment, and at this point I have no idea if it’s actually #5), I land at the home of a quasi-relative to figure out what to do after all of my worldly possessions were lifted from me in Seattle. Enjoy.


I arrive at Grace’s in a whisper of rain. As usual, she’s sipping a bloody Mary, seated in a little chair approximately three feet away from her 75″ flatscreen.

My few remaining belongings fit easily into the bedroom closet next to Grace’s old bathrobes. She’s always glad to have younger visitors, for variety if nothing else. All I want is a space to figure out what to do with my life, and she’s at the end of hers, so we’re a good fit.

Sara donated her old Macbook to my pitiful cause, and though the hinge is so worn out that it takes considerable finger strength to pry it open, it runs reliably. To figure out what my next move in life will be, I do what everyone does: Head to Craigslist.

It’s 2009. I try looking for journalism jobs, of course, and there are none. All across the country, newsrooms are being thinned and magazines are cutting issues. The death of print journalism has been declared.

Somehow, there are also no openings for garden organizers, food educators, or help-wanted ads from folks who want me to take out their grass and plant vegetables. The local food movement is in full swing but that doesn’t change the fact that farming has not been a well paying profession in this country for a long time.

There is an Americorps position open for a Garden Educator, but the job doesn’t start until May. It’s still January. I browse local Oregon Coast listings.

That’s when I find it.

“Deckhand, m/f” is the title of the posting. What does “m/f” mean, I wonder? Other than the obvious expletive?

I click on it. There isn’t much more to read. The name of a crab fishing vessel out of Newport, and a number to call.

That night, I call my dad to tell him about the job I found.
“Why would you do a silly thing like that?” he asks.
“Why would it be such a silly thing?” He laughs, as if the answer is obvious.
“It’s men’s work, Tuula. You wouldn’t last a day.”
I suddenly understand what the ad was specifying with those two letters separated by a slash. Whoever posted it obviously does not agree with my father. I like people like that.

The next morning, I dig up a patch of Grace’s yard, right on the edge that drops off sharply to the Siletz River. I plant seeds for lettuce, peas, kale and chard, despite her admonitions about it being the middle of winter. Freezes are rare where the Pacific wraps her warm, misty arms around the land. I now have a victory garden.

After brushing the dirt from my fingers, I go back inside and call the number on the Craigslist ad. It goes directly to voicemail, and though I’m now doubtful that the job is legit, I leave a message.

That afternoon I get a call back. The voice on the other end is gruff and gravely. He says to meet him the next morning at Starbucks in Newport.

The drive to Newport takes about half an hour, and 101 hugs the coast the entire way. After big winter storms, it’s not uncommon for a chunk of the highway to fall into the ocean. Right now, it’s all in one piece, and RVs and log trucks lumber precariously along the narrow strip of pavement. There aren’t many passing lanes, and trying to get somewhere on time is always a gamble, between ongoing road repairs and vehicles the size of the blue whales always doing half the speed limit.

Depoe Bay is a good whale-watching stop, and tourists pull their cars aside to walk above the crashing, hungry waves with their binoculars and cameras. The town itself is a long strip mall of taffy shops and clam chowder joints. In another time, Depoe Bay was better known as the “World’s Smallest Harbor,” and the sign stating such still hangs amidst the fray of consumer pleasures. A 20-foot bridge is long enough to span the entrance, quietly stating its existence with two gentle bumps on the highway. If a traveler were to look down as they crossed, they would see the harbor itself, with its single dock and maybe one or two fishing boats moored there.

I don’t look as I drive by, not at the whales or the harbor. I have no reason to. I am nervous, I have a job interview, and I don’t want to be late.

Starbucks is half-full but I can tell who Captain Dave is right away. Short, with a scraggly white beard and a pot belly, he looks like he could be part barnacle. One eye is permanently closed. He gets up and sticks his hand out at me. I shake it as he looks me up and down.

“Yeah, you’ll do.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re tall. You look strong.” He reaches out and grabs my left bicep with a surprisingly firm grip. I should be more indignant, but I’m proud of the farming muscles I earned over the summer at Arrowvale, so I let it go.

We get coffee and sit at a small round table. He asks me if I drink, and if I have a boyfriend. The answers are: Occasionally, no.

His next question causes the deep breath I’m taking to change its mind and reverse directions.

“You’re not one of those tree-huggers, are you?”

Rural Oregonians and tree-huggers have a long-standing war. The reason the coastline is so littered with tourist traps — not to mention, a block or two off the charming main drags, dilapidated trailer homes — is that its two foundational industries have been regulated nearly out of existence. One is logging. The other is fishing.

I say no, and my Environmental Studies thesis advisor gasps in my head. I tell him, Quiet. I need the job and I’ll figure out the moral questions later.

“Good,” says Dave, and with that, I’m hired.



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