We visited Astoria today in a daytrip from my parents’ house. I like Astoria. Like most sea places, it is a great convergence of people who live on the outskirts, people who have looked death in the face at least once, who are not attached to the establishment, who have escaped or walked away or rejected it. Like the sea itself, her people imitate her, sometimes placid and kind as a lamb, sometimes a drunken brawler, sometimes a fury of hatred and unappeasable anger.  You see the toothless woman wobbling down the road on her bike and bearded men clapping each other on their backs and wily, crafty people who scrabble to survive — dripping with efficiency and intuition and guts. I like Astoria’s inhabitants — people who live according to their own terms. Freedom, though it has its evil side, is appreciated and appropriated.

We climbed the column and gazed at the rivers and marveled at the most dangerous bar in the Pacific. We walked along the waterfront. The kids climbed over anchors and admired ships in the mighty Columbia. The weather was warm and mild. We caught the trolley and considered stories of Shanghaid men conscripted for boats to China, of towns built over the water and the fires that burnt them down, and fish, and fish oil, and canneries, and livelihoods, and the rivers and mouths and waters and the seas, of romance, and sailors, and whales and harpoons, of anchors and chains and floating worlds of drama and chaos and order. Of years bobbing on the waters, years spent and years gone, lives lost, looking for longitude, of stars and the noble art of navigation. Of Nathaniel Bowditch and the sailor’s Bible and of sailors, though often horrible sinners, most repentant deep in the belly of a raging squall.

I considered all these things and was happy to have the thoughts flow through my mind, to recall memories I’ve never had, and to remember stories I never lived, and to string patterns together to learn about the world and feed my soul with it.

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