by Erik Dolson

“You have to make a choice,” I told my daughter again, acutely aware of how many times I’d told her already, as if by sheer repetition the message might overwhelm whatever fear or reluctance that was holding her back.

“You need to have a plan,” I said. Again. She didn’t need another college degree, she needed a job. To jump into the river and become part of life’s flow toward whatever her future held.

“More school by itself is not a plan.” She’d heard that before, but thankfully did not roll her eyes. She’s such a good person, and so capable, I did not doubt that future would be bright. I just needed to convince her.

“I’ll help in any way that I can, but I won’t help you stay stuck in Central Oregon. I wouldn’t be doing my job,” I said, not for the first time. We’d just moved her sister to a house in Portland, she and her mother and her sister and I. From there I headed north toward the boat, with a stop in Port Townsend, always one of my favorite towns.

It was cold and windy, though, and walking about was hard in the chill off the water. After an expensive night’s sleep on the top floor of a Victorian era hotel where I slept in a room named after Miss Pearl, a prostitute who lived and loved a hundred years ago, I drove on to Anacortes and took a ferry to Friday Harbor where I’d left Foxy almost two weeks before.

When I woke on the boat on Sunday, the day was surprisingly benign. I checked the weather online, listened to the NOAA broadcast and made a quick decision to head down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria that morning, instead of waiting out the next storm due on Monday, which had been my plan.

The boat came together easily, so I cast off at about 10 am for a calm three and a half motor/sail to Victoria.  Foxy and I were well on the way out of Friday Harbor on the ebb tide, doing almost 10 knots down San Juan Channel to the turn at Cattle Point into the strait.

It was a bright and lovely day, little to do but look out for logs and watch for orca. I took a “project inventory” of what had been done on Foxy over the winter, and what remains to be done. It had been a productive, if expensive, winter.

There’s a new house on the boat. It improves life even more than I thought it would, providing another living area that is dry and bright, important up here in the Pacific Northwest. In southern waters, should I ever get there, the walls will come off and it will provide plenty of shade.

I’d just had a new fuel filter system installed in Anacortes. One wouldn’t think much technology goes into a fuel filter, a can of pleated paper, but new designs make changing them easier, with much less mess in the bilge and potentially in the environment.

I had the engine flushed at the same time; the silicate had dropped out of the coolant and collected in the bottom of the catch bottle. I realized it had been a few years and the previous job was only a partial flush because it’s hard to get a diesel engine up to operating temperature on the dock, heat necessary for the flush to do a full job..

I’d built the framework where the solar panels now hang, 1,080 watts of power to charge the batteries, and now the panels are properly wired. There’s a new wireless radar on the mast that works just as advertised, and the old one that shaded the solar panels has been sold, albeit for a pittance. The dinghy motor runs after the winter lay-up. Love them two-strokes.

The automated identification system (AIS) is installed and operational. I knew I needed one when, coming south from Alaska two summers ago, Irish and I hit that storm off the coast and a trawler suddenly appeared that I couldn’t identify and did not know if it was dragging long lines across my course.

Now I post my AIS location on Facebook when I take off from someplace, not so much because I think anyone cares that I’m out and about as to give authorities a place to start looking if I don’t show up. That’s assuming someone would be expecting me. I may need to work on that system.

There’s a new and yet another battery monitor that works with the solar panels and also gives me more information about, and maybe some control over, my batteries.

I wish I was a better electrician, but I’ve changed out the fluorescent lights in the galley and head (bathroom) for more pleasant LEDs that sip far less electricity; added a light to the pantry so my old eyes can see the difference between oats and brown rice, each in a container with a green lid, and avoid unpleasant surpises before coffee in the morning, and I added another light to the engine room so I don’t have to juggle a flashlight with my teeth to check the oil and water.

I own one LED not yet installed for the master stateroom and three more for corners in the engine room. I need two more after that, one for the closet where the life jackets hang and another for the aft stateroom. That should be good enough. We’ll see. It’s a boat.

Still not done is replacement of the propane system. That’s the last of this winter’s major projects. The hose that runs from  tanks in the stern locker is 30 years old and cloth covered, and the plumbing of that, like most of the other plumbing on the boat that I’ve removed, redesigned and reinstalled, was not done very well.

I have to change the position of the solenoid that, with a switch in the cabin, cuts off the gas. While I’m at it, I should probably swap out the old pressure regulator and old pressure gauge.

It took a week to get hold of the man I’d hope would do this work, but he’s has to fix an expensive boat that hit a log crosswise at 25 knots, damaging a whole lot below the waterline. So I’ll probably do this one myself. It may be propane, but it’s just plumbing, right?

I dropped the old lifelines off at my chandlery to be remade, tough new stainless lines around the deck to replace old vinyl covered ones that had at least a few cracks where corrosion was seeping through the covering. Lifelines are not something you want to fail when you put your weight against them, intntionally or because you lost your footing.

Oh, as soon as the weather warms a bit and I can sit comfortably on the foredeck, I have to polish the cones on the anchor windlass so the anchor falls to the bottom at a controllable rate. And install my wireless windlass control, so I can put the anchor down under power or pull it back up while I’m at the helm in back, with steering and throttle controls. That’s a consideration when single-handing a boat out in the bays and anchorages.

This is all part of the plan: Prepare the boat for this summer, and maybe next winter, too. After March surprised Central Oregon with 30 inches of snow in three days, I do NOT want to spend another winter there. No. Just no.  Maybe Mexico.

When I pulled into Victoria, docking was bit tricky. The wind pushed me away from the dock, and when neighbors came to help, I gave very poor instructions. It’s different looking down at the lines than standing on the dock looking at the boat, and I communicated poorly.

There was no damage, it was all good, but I hate being incompetent and had to give thanks and make some apologies for asking the impossible. This being Canada, apologies were gracefully accepted.  I still need to come up with a better plan, and maybe shorter lines, for docking in difficult conditions.

Afterwards, when I was sitting back with coffee, I checked in with Irish to make sure she was okay after traveling back from her dance contest in Indiana. She surprised me with news that she was getting another dog the next day, a puppy.

It was an arrow well placed. I hate it when significant news is kept from me, even when it doesn’t directly affect me. A little hangover from an unpredictable childhood, I suppose, but I had no right to question her decision, and Irish pointed this out. And that caused me to ask, what the hell, why is this an issue for me?

It took an hour or two. Her desire for a dog has been deep and long standing. Keeping her from getting a dog was a major guilt of mine last summer, when we were still together. She brought it up often, but a dog, and those responsibilities, weren’t part of the plan.

It wasn’t the tipping point in our breakup, certainly, my guilt not the dog, but it was a factor. It was something she wanted so badly, and she’d suffered so much. And I wanted a dog pretty badly myself, since I’d lost mine in the divorce, but I’d made a choice and had a boat, instead.

Her being able to get the dog she wanted should have brought me joy, but instead made me feel lonely, small and selfish, because it highlighted, or underlined, the fact that she’s not here in Victoria, and I haven’t had a dog in a good long time, either. Now that I write this, I think my childish reaction came from the realization that by acquiring this dog, she is finally ready to move on, as I have urged her to do often enough. Now I am proud of her, happy for her, but still miss her, too. I’m allowed my contradictions.

Decades ago, when I was chasing adventure around the world for a couple of years, I wrote my father that “Loneliness is the price of freedom.” Sometimes the choices are not easy, even the ones we put off as long as we can. We still choose. That’s what I’m trying to tell my daughter, we choose even when we don’t, even when we hide from the consequences.

It’s all good, I told myself after a day or two.  I’ll get the propane locker plumbed and the tank refilled, and I’ll fix the BBQ while I’m at it, install the new lifelines, and then I may just take off. That’s a decision I can make, after all.

There’s no reason to overstay in Victoria, as much as I love this place, when there are places I haven’t yet been. As I used to say, what seems like long ago, it’s time to Rock and Roll.


by Erik Dolson

Lars was leaning on the rail at the top of the ramp, gazing out at the water below. Bandit, a small and alert Australian Shepherd lay at his feet watching another dog approach from the parking lot above, a larger dog at the end of a leash held by a woman carrying groceries.

“You look like you’re trying to decide something,” said a man dressed all in black who came from the direction of town, a backpack on his shoulders. The man with the pack bent down and rubbed Bandit’s ears.

“Hi, Bandit,” he said. The dog stood at mention of his name by this man he had seemingly met before, but didn’t take his eyes off the other dog that was sniffing rocks where dogs peed on their way to and from boats packed side by side in their berths.

“Wondering if I should go to Alaska,” said Lars, his face rudy and unshaven, his hair thick, reddish and gray, the beard long and sparse. “Get me some kings.”

“It’s been a bad year for king salmon,” said the man dressed in black. “Even the Orca can’t find them.” The huge mammals that were totem for the western edge of Canada and the Pacific Northwest were starving. Nobody knew where the king salmon had gone, whether the absence was caused by dams, over fishing, global warming, foreign fleets depleting the resource far out at sea. Many theories, few answers. The story of a female that had carried her dead calf for 17 days made world wide news.

“Yeah, it’s been a bad one. The prices for a permit are down to half what they were just a couple of years ago. Lot of men have given up. Maybe I can get one cheap,” said Lars.

He moved his feet without standing or shifting his considerable weight from the rail. His right foot came forward to carry more of the load, his left foot went back to take some off. He switched hands, too. His hands were huge, reddish too and scarred, but looking as if they could grab and tie without effort the three-inch hawsers that held ferries in place at the landing.

“It’s a little late in the season,” said the man with the backpack.

“Well, yeah, not now. But later. I need to eat some kings. Get healthy.”

“You’re not healthy?”

“Was until six months ago. Felt great. Bought that boat,” Lars pointed by raising his chin toward a small troller tied to a dock where the bull rail was painted yellow, signifying that was not a place to tie up.

The dog with woman with groceries was about even with where the two men stood. Not making a sound, Bandit darted out toward the other dog but stopped after about two feet, well before the end of his own tether. The larger dog, startled, spun, barking with fear and aggression. He lunged, nearly pulling his owner down, but she retained both dog and grocery bag.

The woman, who had not seen Bandit’s feint, yanked hard at her dog’s leash, scolded him harshly and hauled him down the dock. Bandit, mission complete, had already turned to lie again at Lars’s feet before they’d taken five steps.

The man with the backpack laughed loudly. “Bandit, you set him up! You were just yankin’ that dog around!” he said to the Australian Shepherd, who looked for all the world like he was pleased as could be with his prank.

“So what happened six months ago?” the man asked Lars.

“Doctors said I had two strokes. And cancer. They tell me there’s not much they can do.”

“Aw, Lars. I’m sorry.”

“I just need to eat some kings, not all the garbage they sell in packages up at the store.”

The two men looked out over the harbor as a green and white ferry came in the harbor entrance, three decks high, the bottom lined with cars and motor homes and trucks. Bandit was looking the other way, as if for another victim.

“You have family?” asked the man with a pack.

“Not really,” said Lars.

“No kids?”

“Got a son. Lives in New York. He prefers city life.”

“Have you told him?”


“About the cancer.”

“Nah. He wouldn’t want to come back here. He was raised here, but he likes the city. He works in a restaurant, I don’t know. Wants to be a writer. He’s living with some woman whose uncle or something is into the publishing.”

“You don’t think he’d want to know?”

“I don’t know,” said Lars, dismissing that conversation. Minutes of silence followed.

“You know, before they told me about all this, the cancer and all, I felt great. Now they keep saying that I can’t do this and I can’t do that and I feel awful all the time, barely make it up the ramp some days. If they wouldn’t just say the same thing over and over again, I could get well maybe, and if I had something decent to eat.”

“Is there a food share in town? Something from the government or the churches?” the man asked.

“Oh yeah, there is, for those folks who need it. I’m not so good at asking for a hand out.”

“Maybe you need it just for a while, to get you by.”

“I don’t need much,” said Lars. “Not like I’m starving.” At that he leaned back a bit and nodded at his sizable belly pushing out beneath a faded and not too clean sweater. On top of that he wore a black quilted vest that would supply some warmth without binding the arms of a working man. He wore sweatpants, a concession to the difficulty he was having bending and moving around. On his feet, worn out work boots of high quality that he’d had as long as he could remember and would probably last forever.

“I don’t have any bills. I just need some good food. If I could get some kings, I think I’d get better. I lived on a farm once, on a creek not far from here. Kings would come up that creek and I could almost pick’em up with my hands. I didn’t take more than I needed, either.”

Lars seemed to be making his case to the God of Salmon that since he hadn’t taken more than his share, perhaps a little could be returned now in his time of need.

“How old are you,” asked the man dressed in black with a backpack and silver hair who wasn’t wearing a coat despite the chill air, and it looked like he’d just finished a run.

“Sixty-five,” said Lars, looking the man in the eye as if waiting for him to say that Lars looked pretty good for a man that age. He didn’t.

“You aren’t leaving for Alaska in November,” said the man.

“Nah. Well I could, head up the inside.” Inside is behind islands that guard the North American continent from the often violent northern Pacific sending storms that build all the way from Asia. Starting at Vancouver Island, one can get deep into Alaska with only a couple of stretches exposed to the open ocean.

One can wait for benign winds and water to cross those. But the bays and passages and channels are still lethal if things go wrong. Survival longer than five minutes is unlikely in the cold water.

“You could,” said the man, again bending down to rub Bandit behind the ears. The dog put his nose to the man’s nose and held it there, as if they were sharing whispers. The black of Bandit’s long healthy coat was the same black as the man’s sleeve; it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.

“You know, there might be a way,” said the man, standing.

“Way for what?” asked Lars, settled back on the rail as if he were merging with the wood.

“What do you need? Full tank of fuel, provisions for six months?”

“Not even six,” said Lars. “I’d catch kings to eat, crab and bottom fish, too if I couldn’t catch kings. I wouldn’t fish every day if I didn’t need to, but could if I did.”

“Yeah. If you needed to,” said the man. “We could set that up, you could leave in a few days. Write up what you need, I’ll bring it to the boat. We’ll fill your tanks with fuel, water. You can take off as soon as you want.”

Lars didn’t say anything, but he looked at the man who now had the backpack in his right hand, and who looked back and held Lars’ gaze.

“Why?” Lars asked.

“There’s a catch.”

“There always is.”

“You leave Bandit with me.”

Lars looked down at the dog at his feet. The dog looked back at him, into him, aware of his man’s deep distress though not a word had been said.

“Why that? You could get your own dog for a lot less.”

“Yes I could, Lars. But it’s not about just having a dog, or any dog.”

“What is it then?” His voice was quicker and louder than it had been at any point in the conversation, motivated either by opportunity or fear it was impossible to say.

“It’s because I don’t think you’ll make it, Lars. I think you’ll die out there somewhere, at night on the rocks in a storm, in your bed at anchor in some cove, slipping on some slick, bird shit covered dock in a nothing town on some forgotten shore. I don’t know. But I don’t think you’ll make it, and I don’t want Bandit to die that way too, or trapped while your body rots and soaks into your blankets.”

“You’re a cold bastard.”

“Yes, I am. It’s what I do.”

“What is that, exactly?”

“We must all move forward, Lars, but it’s easy to get stuck. I unstick people, help them make decisions or decide for them if they can’t.”

“You work for the state?” Lars asked, which caused the man to explode with laughter. He laughed so hard he couldn’t speak for a long time.

“I’m going to share that one with friends,” was all he said when finished.

Lars then gathered himself and stood, pushed himself up with his hands and arms, until his back was straight for the first time. At full height he stood easily a head and a half above the man with a backpack who was dressed in black. Lars looked every inch the son of the norsemen from whom he descended, a Viking, in rags but proud, blue eyes alive.



“No. I raised him. We’re together now, and will be until we can’t be.” Lars bent down and gently put his huge hand, it looked like it could wrap all the way around, on Bandit’s head. The dog stood immediately, knowing they were off together to wherever their journey might lead.

“What’s next, Lars?” asked the man.

“We’re going to get something to eat. Then I think I’ll call my son.”

Lars slowly made his way down the ramp, toward the small troller tied where it shouldn’t be at the dock. He was headed home. The man in black carrying a backpack smiled as Bandit frequently paused, waiting for Lars to take each difficult step.

Fear of Goodbye

Fear so often keeps us pinned inside lives we wish were different. So often, that fear is irrational, only an echo that sets wiring of brains vibrating, certain we will be set upon by wolves if we leave the ring of firelight.

How do we not fear pain? How do we not fear loss? How do we not fear being unloved, or not-now loved, by someone we love? How do we not fear that, back in the ring of firelight, they laugh and sing and did not notice we were gone?

Fear is hard-wired into the code of who we needed to become when we descended naked and defenseless from the trees. Fear is fed to us with mother’s milk, perhaps tainted by her abandonment, maybe spoiled by angry harsh words from her own father, or corrupted by neglect from the man she married. What’s to do with it now?

Sitting, watching a rising sun paint mountains pink then gold, I see goodbye for what it wants to be, an ogre too large when wrapped in a cloak of fear, instead of what really is, just a good bye. I miss you. That’s a good thing, not to be feared.