Des Moines Creek Ghost Story
Along the sleepy banks of Poverty Bay, I wouldn’t know that it was so. Russian and Vietnamese men fished for squid from the pier, and I walked into the rehabilitated forest, dripping and silent under the occasional squall of an airplane headed toward Sea Tac airport. I had been taking this walk since the park reopened a few years ago. I found the forest peaceful. Mushrooms and moss grew from the sides of the trees. Much of the forest had grown back from the initial logging. It was perhaps second or third growth. My brother asked me once, why do you always say, “second growth,” and I said because the forest is not virgin growth. It has been cut. And he didn’t get this. But the trees are there. They are standing. But you can see the stumps among the trees, I said, and this seeing the stumps among the trees, was the salient fact of a forest in the lowlands where I grew up. All forests not only had stumps but everywhere I looked, there was the accumulation and waste of the process the original pillagers of the forest had used to get rid of the trees. There were piles of rotting limbs, mounds of dirt and moss. I could find grades cut into the side of muddy hills where temporary tracks had been laid so that small steam engines called mules could hull the trees out of the forest. There were moldering trestles, and discarded metal objects rusted to sheets of flaky russet metal. The image elsewhere of Seattle’s rainy paradise was that the area was pure and wild. This image was false. The term second growth for me captured the essential nature of the degradation of my homeland. Everything I saw everywhere in my homeland was the leftovers, the sloppy remains of cutters, diggers, and shippers. Seattle presented itself, traumatized, yet wearing a North Face fleece and drinking a cup of herbal tea sweetened with honey as a kind of high tech, pure, and at heart moral and upstanding place. The reality, though, was this was a region of depredation and systematic and even recent violence. The natural order of the Pacific Northwest was the company town with the veneer of middle-class life on Main-street, the company run comfort stations above street level, and the threat of violence against anyone who disturbed the peace of this cheap lacquer. Seattle, the company town of the Boeing Airplane Company has been handed on from company to company: Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, and whatever is next. At the heart of Seattle’s prosperity is the same culture as any little mine town in Idaho.
This fundamental artificial and small-mindedness of the company town the company store the company funded entertainment is lost on many people in this company town. I suppose at the root, every city in America is a company town. But some companies are industries such as the company towns of LA or the various networks of industries in New York City.
I was wounded in industry. I worked as a mechanist at Boeing and a few years ago – was it eleven years ago now? – I slipped on lubricant that had been incorrectly loaded into the metal cutter used to cut a specific alloy used for a container plane. I slipped against the cutter and if the cutter hadn’t been equipped with guards and a pressure-sensitive mechanism I would likely have lost my life. I am unsure how I hit the machine, but I suffered a head injury and multiple fractures in my shoulder and arm. I cannot lift my arm above my head to this day. I have an occasional period of headaches and for three dark winters, I could hardly form words. I had thoughts and was very active mentally, but it was as if I was attempting to make phone calls with over a fault line and the words that would come out would be different words than I had attempted to say, or they were just random noises. After nearly three years of full-time work with a therapist I could speak again, but it was not as if I suddenly regained the ability to speak and I spoke clearly. Rather incrementally I spoke so that people could understand me. I don’t expect to ever regain the ability to speak in a way that doesn’t return the response, “Excuse me?”
When people cannot understand you, they assume you are a mental defective. They raise their voice. They perform a listen carefully face while not hearing a thing.
I am so grateful for the rise of the Internet and the digital world. I communicate with my family through emails mostly; they have almost forgotten about my accident and my life has settled into a familiar routine for myself that does not involve the factory or really the working life of most of the people in this world.
Instead, I spend my days reading, going to the library to listen to the murmur of human voices, my coffee shops, visiting used bookstores. I enjoy buying books online, but for me the accident of discovery is important to finding books and I need to look at a shelf of books to know what I am in for: surfing for books on a website does not accommodate this thirst for discovery.
I would like to say that I am over my accident, but in fact, the memory of the event and the struggle of recovery – and I would say it was the recovery far more than the event itself that has provided the difficulty – the distress of the recovery has stayed with me. I do not expect it will ever leave me. It has become who I am. I can’t conceive of my life now without the near silence of my public life, without the knowledge that one arm will never find itself above my head. I have a modest income from the settlement and disability. At first, I had the idea that once I got better, I would get off the disability and find something else to do, but I am a fifty-three-year-old man lamed by an industrial accident. It was the best job I could find when I got it, and now I am looking at far worse things to do. I went through the anger, the denial, the whole nine yards of accepting my fate, and now I am grateful for the life I have.
Well almost completely grateful. The fact is, I have a hunger or a need to restore myself somehow. I have this vision of myself becoming whole again. Yet I am whole as I am now. I exist in two states: whole and not whole like a flickering florescent light is both off and on.
The first time I encountered the ghost on the trail, I didn’t know he was a ghost. He appeared to be some local guy in his faded blue jeans and cheery baseball hat with some salmon on it. I’m uncertain how I can make this reading or distinction, except you can often sense a person is from here or is not from here. It isn’t a sense of belonging because in Seattle no one belongs. It is the haircut, the clothes they wear, even their manner of standing, and this man was just a Pacific Northwest man. He was marveling at the trail. “What is this place?” he asked me.
I dread question in public from people who do not know about my difficulty speaking. A million things raced through my mind when he said this. I had so much to say about this place, and all that came out, “This is the new … trail.”
“It hasn’t always been here?” he asked.
“How far does it go?” he asked.
“As long as that?” he said. He kept walking and we were both walking in the same direction. I wanted to keep talking to him, but I didn’t want to risk something coming out of my mouth different from I what I meant to say, so I said nothing.
I somehow got ahead of him and turned a corner and was going to ask him a question and then he had gone off somewhere. One of us was a ghost.