I wrote Two Crows Came more than 40 years ago. Jonni Dolan was my name then. To read the story of my name change click here: https://gracegloria.com/2016/11/14/the-lord-knows-my-name/
Recently I put up a display in our store here at Grace Harbor Farms.
The display shows four generations in my family of books published:
My mom’s book “Help Me Be a Good Girl, Amen”
Mine, “Two Crows Came”
My Daughter Jasona Brown’s “Stone by Stone”
And My Granddaughter, Ryleigh, age 14, illustrated a children’s book called “Tristan, Dylan and the Dream Machine.
I have started writing again. Eventually, I hope, there will be four “books” of my life Faith Walking.
- 1971-1974—The Two Crows Came story of my first four years fishing in Alaska
- 1976-1996—My first 20 Years as a Christian
- 1997-present—My marriage to Tim and the Grace Harbor Farms story
As I work on the re-write of Two Crows Came, I would like to share it on this blog.
Two Crows Came
“Harley’s here, Bob,” I called to my husband as I watched the lank figure scurry across the yard. Harley Dolan stomped up the porch. I watched him shake like a dog coming out of the water. He darted in and slammed the door as if to blockade the cold driving rain behind him. He peeled his black frame glasses from his face by the wire replacing the bow on one side, then he set the glasses on the kitchen table with the care it required to handle them in their fragile state. As he crossed his arms to pull his wet sweater over his head, I noticed both of his elbows sticking through the sleeves. The neckband raveled away from his throat. He sent water all over the room as he shook the sweater right side out, then hung it over a chair and poked his plaid shirt into his pants.
“Got any coffee, Mama san?” he asked, reaching for the pot. Harley’s thick black hair stood out from his head at cross angles. With one swipe he knocked it down while taking his mug from the rack. He brought the cup half-full to the table. I asked him once why he drank only half cups of coffee. He explained that a full cup would spill on a tossing boat.
Harley un-wadded a gray handkerchief and began to wipe his glasses, easing his skeletal frame into a wooden chair. He wiped and wiped as if he could change the wet scene outside by drying his lenses. Finally satisfied, he propped the good side of his glasses on his left ear, wrapped the frame over the bridge of his narrow nose, and coiled the wire side around his right ear.
“It sure is wet around her in February,” he said. “You know, a fellow ought to be in Arizona or Hawaii in winter.” Bob came around the corner to join us. “Grab me a can of milk there, will you, Bobby?”
Bob’s trim, muscular build and easy charm had made him “Most Desirable” in high school. He had been the upperclassman athlete all the younger girls had had a crush on. As he took a can of milk from the cupboard and handed it to his uncle, a white smile slashed over his mouth and through his blue eyes.
“How’s it going, Harley?” he asked.
“Not too bad, considering this lousy weather. Seems I never get out of the rain. I get rain all summer and all winter, too.” A pocketknife appeared in Harley’s hand. He poked one hole in the can and pumped quirts of milk into his coffee. He shivered.
“I’m a Cancer, you know. Cancers like to be warm and dry.” His chest receded as he huddled around the cracked mug.
Harley had high cheekbones, a pointed chin, and a bushy black mustache that hid his bad teeth. By looking at his elfish face I would not have been able to guess his age, though I knew him to be thirty-nine. The black stubble of his beard contrasted sharply with his winter-white skin. Deep set and dark, eyes were quick and penetrating. I sometimes felt that they could read my thoughts before I thought them. But the sharpness of his glare carried a light, a sparkle projecting from the inner knowledge that irony would ultimately prevail.
“When do you leave, Harley?” I asked, watching rivulets race each other down the pane.
“Oh, not till June first or so.” He fumbled through his pockets for his cigarettes. Finding them, he plucked one from the side of mutilated pack, dangled it from his mouth, and snapped a match head with his thumbnail. He didn’t like paper matches. He said his finders were too clumsy to use them, so he carried wooded matches loose in his shirt pocket.
He drew deeply on the cigarette, then exhaled the smacked and words, “Yeah, and Bobby, you should go, too.”
“Shoot, Harley. I’d like to, but I can’t run all that way. My boat is just too small. I can’t even carry enough fuel for more than a day.”
Harley pursed his mouth and picked a speck of tobacco from his lip. Studying it, he said, “I could tow you up there.”
Bob flopped back in his chair. He pushed the white fisherman’s cap back. He ran his hand over his forehead. For one of the few times in his life, Bob was speechless.
I was speechless. I could hardly believe what I had just heard. Each spring Harley headed north to fish in Southeast Alaska. Bob had fished up there with him as a teenager before he had been drafted. Bob and I got married while he was in the Army and had just returned to our home town of Blaine, Washington—with our baby daughter and Bob’s dreams of fishing again.
A tiny border town, Blaine is huddled in the corner to the continental United States blocked in place by the waters of Puget Sound and the Canadian border. Many of the Alaskan fisherman spend the winters in Blaine.
“Wow, Harley, I hardly know what to say.”
“I’ve thought about Mama san and baby, too,” Harley said, stroking his mustache. “I know of an abandoned cabin at Point Baker. I’m sure they could stay there while we’re fishing. We could check it out when we get there and then they could fly up and join us. You interested?”
“You bet I’m interested!” Bob said.
Since I had known Bob, clothing could excite him more than to talk, think and plan about fishing “up north”. His life’s dream was to become an Alaskan fisherman on his own boat.
We talked far into the night. I heard again the stories I knew so well of the places with the fascinating names—Hole-in-the-Wall, The Eye Opener, Cape Decision, God’s Pocket—and the people—Hard Rod, Flea, Z, and Smokehouse George. The Harley told a story I hadn’t heard before, one that would return to me years later as I thought about Harley.
“There is this guy up there name Bill Love, “Harley began. His exaggerated gestures indicated that he was moving into his element—late night. Harley rarely got up before sunset and slipped back to bed before dawn. He was nocturnal, like owls and certain other predators.
“Fine guy, Bill,” Harley continued. “Well one day he was sitting there on his boat when this crow flew in to land on the float and missed it. Crazy bird thought the scum build up next to the float was solid. He was flopping and splashing and would have drowned, but Bill took pity on him and pulled him out. The bird hopped a few times, then just sat there. You wouldn’t believe what happened then. Right while Bill stood there watching that crow, the whole sky filled up with crows, hundreds of them. The screamed in and landed all over—on the dock, on Bill’s boat, on the other boats, everywhere. They were all screaming and yelling and carrying on, with Bill and the wet crow right in the middle of it! Bill started in to hollering back at them. ‘Hey, go on! What’d I do? I only tried to help! Shut up, now!’ Then that wet crow just fell over dead. As soon he did, the other crows flew away. Dead! Can beat that? Bill said he reckoned those crows just pain sentenced that crow to death, so he died. Bill said he was mighty glad the crows didn’t pass judgement on him!”
As the night wore on and the talk continued, I excused myself to go to bed. What do crows have to do with living and dying, I wondered. Strange that one should die like that. I let the thought pass as I prepared for bed, my mind whirling with the impact of Harley’s invitation.
“I lay in bed listening to Bob and Harley talking in the other room. I wondered how I had come to this. As a child growing up in California, I had wanted to be a horse rancher or a vet. But now, a fisherman’s wife? Old Mr. Higgins, my high school counselor, would have swallowed his teeth if I’d written “Fishwife” as my life’s ambition.
This new life promised primitive conditions, wilderness, bad weather, and hard work. Was southeast Alaska the place for a young mother and her child? The spirit of adventure planted in me by my missionary grandparents, and my mother, who had been raised in China. It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t go. I was twenty-one and nothing couldn’t be done. I had no way of knowing what would happen in the years to come—the bonanzas and disasters, the torrents and the droughts, the breakdowns and the successes, the births and the deaths, but that first spring, I was ready for whatever adventure lay ahead. I felt kinship with the gold miners, explorers and misfits who had been drawn to Alaska before me.
I had met Bob the summer after my junior year in high school when my family had come to Blaine to visit my grandparents. Bob was different from other boys I had known. At eighteen he had foresight, imagination, and energy. After a couple of weeks of dating him, I decided to stay in Blaine for my last year of school.
The following summer he began to teach me what life would be like as the wife of a fireman—I went fishing with him. His boat was a gillnetter. In Washington state the gillnetters fish only at night, so the first time I went out we left the Blaine harbor in the early evening, prepared to fish until dawn.
Bob’s boat, the Jonni Ann, was a bow-picker. On a bow-picker the front deck is the work area. The net is placed in the water and picked out of the water over the bow. The house was in the stern. The house amounted to a box six feet long and wide and three feet high. In the front of this box, a hole large enough to crawl through served as the entry. Inside, the engine clanked and smoked, completely exposed. This is where I was to spend the night while Bob caught fist outside.
“Hey, Bob. Isn’t this rather dangerous will all these belts and things spinning in here?” I was afraid that one pitch of the boat would throw me into the engine to be mangled.
“Sure, it’s dangerous,” he assured me. “Just stay away from it.”
Stay away from it! How far away from a marine engine can you get inside a six-by-six box?
Bob cast off and out to sea we went. I had never been on a boat at night, and being a non-swimmer, I was nervous. That water looked so black, deep, and cold. After an hour at top speed, about fifteen knots, we reached the fishing grounds. There Bob strung the eighteen-hundred-foot net into the water, a process called “setting.” After he had finished setting, he shut off the engine.
“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to sound more casual than I felt.
“Now we drift,” he said.
“Oh.” I had no idea what “drifting” was, but I soon learned that we “drifted” until it was “time to pick.” Somehow, according to the tide, wind, and whatever else he attended to, Bob knew when it was “time to pick.” Then he drummed the net back onto the large reel in the front of the boat.
The night passed quickly. Between setting and picking we talked while Bob kept track of our position. He impressed me with his confident seamanship and amazed me because he seemed to need no sleep. Early in the morning I curled up as far from the engine as possible and thought about my helpless position on a tiny boat in the black of the night. But then, Bob was the reason I had stayed in Blaine and I was anxious to show him that I would live in his world. Somehow I knew that we had a future together.
Eventually I must have fallen asleep because I awoke to hear him yelling, “Jonni! Hey, Jonni! Get up. The wind’s come up. Jeez, it’s really blowing!”
Sleepy-eyed, I stuck my head out of the crawl hole and got slammed by a face-full of seawater. Waves and spray crashed over the boat each time we pounded into another sea. Bob stood at helm and lowered his head for each wave as it washed over him. “Sit in the doorway!” he yelled. “You’re going to have to block the water from the engine.”
Since the crawl hole had no door, he was right-the water could wash over the exposed engine and drown it. Even with my limited knowledge, I knew that without an engine, we would be in trouble, drifting without power in the storm. I dutifully took my place at the hole, sitting on the box that held the fish we had caught, to act as a wave-breaking device to protect the engine. All the long way back to port as we bucked into the wind and waves, I blocked the door, lowering my head for each wave, my body making the sacrifice and taking the punishment the engine could not endure.
My first experience with gillnetting found me coming into the harbor cold, wet, hungry and tired. I could have been scared off of this life, but Bob was the man who had wanted me. I was willing to do anything to keep his attention. It worked. We were married a few months later. The year was 1967. I had just graduated from high school. Bob had been drafted. We had a quick wedding in Blaine between boot camp and his assignment in Virginia.
Bob spent his whole tour of duty in Virginia. I joined him there. Our daughter, Jasona, was born there about a year before Bob was discharged.
As soon as he was out, Bob started getting ready to go fishing in Alaska with his uncle Harley.
After my initiation, the prospect of fishing in Alaska in the same tiny boat did not scare me. In fact, I was probably too willing because when Bob decided to build the new house for the Jonni Ann in our living room, I hardly noticed the shavings and the sawdust.
As he hurried to be ready to go by June first, Harley was always at hand. A procrastinator, he put off his own work, or avoided it altogether when he could. Instead, he harassed Bob. Harley did not like square corners or things that lined up straight. Fastidiousness drove him crazy. When Bob got ready to attach his license to the side of his newly painted cabin, Harley snatched it away from him and slapped the it on crooked. Laughing like a troll successful at a dirty trick, he danced off.
Early in May we visited Harley on his boat, the Hansena. In less than a month he had to leave. I really did not know how Bob could be ready by then. He had to prepare the nets, finish the inside of the little house, paint and repair the hull, and get the engine in top shape. Harley would be doing the same things, I assumed.
The Hansena was a conventional wood boat with work deck in the stern. She had a trunk cabin, which means that the living quarters were below decks with only a small pilothouse on the deck level. Harley was down below.
“Hey, Harley. What are you up to?” Bob called as we stepped aboard. Jasona, not yet two years old, held my hand. There was barely room for all of us in the pilothouse. We squatted to see below. Light struggled for entry through a single dirty-gray porthole.
“Oh, hey, Bobby. How’s it going? I’m trying to figure out how to cover this blasted engine. Darn thing sticks out two feet. You supposed you could build something around these pulleys for me?”
“Boy, I don’t know, Harley. I am really pressed for time. I’ve still got to cover my own engine and my nets aren’t hung yet either.”
My eyes adjusted to the light. As they talked and my vision cleared, I could see Harley sitting in the middle of his galley. His arm lay across the gas stove. He leaned against the sink where a cast-iron frying pan, coffee cups, and utensils collected green mold on whatever had remained on them since the last meal fall before. Next to him, on the floor, a garbage bag overflowed with paper plates, oil-soaked rags, cracker boxes, and apple cores. The locker he sat on had no lid. Inside it I could see rusted cans of condensed milk and other unidentifiable cans that had burst spreading their contents over the sides of the locker. Around the engine—across the pulleys where a person could lose a hand or a foot when the engine was running—and under the pilothouse floor was the bunk. Last year’s sleeping bag was still in it, soaked through to the foam rubber mat with rain and, I supposed, sea water that leaked freely through the deck above. The walls had been once been painted white, but engine oil and fish slime has splattered and sprayed them to a greasy gray.
My head began to swim—I had to get some fresh air. Taking Jasona on my arm, I retreated outside. The net had not been removed from the reel. Seaweed and scrap fish had been wound on with it. Debris littered the decks. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be some other piece of twine holding something else together.
This guy has got to be crazy, I thought. Nobody could clean up this place enough to live in. Clutching my young daughter so she would not be contaminated by I didn’t know what, my thoughts ran away with me. I wanted to ride up to Alaska on the boat with men, although I hadn’t told them that. But I sure didn’t want to tackle this mess! How could he ever be ready to go? And how could he expect to be able to tow us the six hundred miles to Alaska? This thing did not look as if it could get out of the harbor!
“Yeah, that’s great. I could do that,” Harley said as he and Bob came out on deck. He lit a cigarette, passed his pack to Bob, and rested his foot on the rail.
“Well, Mama san. Time’s getting short. You ready?”
“Ready? How’re you going to be ready to go? This place is a mess!” I answered.
Giggling his trollish, “Tee, hee, hee,” Harley said. “never could see cleaning up something I didn’t need right away. But I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready. Just you don’t worry yourself about that. But, let’s go get dinner. Then I can start.”
As we walked back up the floats, I turned to look again at the Hansena. I looked up at the mast to the maze of lines and stays I would come to know as “rigging”. There, upside down, dangled a featherless rubber chicken.