A McKenzie River Legend

by Bruno Seraphin, Folklore Graduate Student

McKenzie River Fishing Guide and storyteller Robin Alexander relayed this story to me. The central character here is a fellow who lived by the McKenzie in the late 1800’s and claimed to be the “real” Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain’s famous book. There are a number of outlandish stories about this eccentric man. This one tells how “Finn Rock” came to be so named.

Robin Alexander:

“He claimed that the rock was laying sideways in the wagon road. And he tied a whole bunch of cables and ropes to it, and he took a mule train across the river. And what he did was, he took those mules and pulled that rock up straight off the wagon road and stood it up right, where it exists now in the river.

And what happened was, the mules, right before it could go completely up straight, the mules were stopped because they were up against the mountain. So, what he had to do was pour water on the leather strappings. And from the sun, the leather dried and drew that rock up the rest of the way straight where it wouldn’t fall back, and that’s where it is today.

And there’s always a saying, if you look real close you can find cable marks on that rock. So, anybody that wants to can go look for those.”

Two Fisher Poets in Eugene

by Adrienne Decker, Folklore Graduate Student

On May Day, two fisherpoets arrived in Eugene to introduce our community to songs, stories, and poems about the lives of the men and women working in the commercial fishing industry. Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman, both organizers of the annual FisherPoets Gathering, lead a poetry workshop and evening of performance at Cozmic Pizza. During this fundraiser for the Oregon Folklife Network, Jon and Jay performed a variety of songs for the crowd, trading jokes and sharing anecdotes with the enthusiastic crowd of community members, folklorists, and family and friends.

The following day, the duo brought their stories to the Many Nations Longhouse for a more informal workshop with University of Oregon students. The two shared many of their poems and stories but also engaged in a dialogue about the struggles and joys of commercial fishing.

Jon emphasized the value of the self-reliant fisherman lifestyle and the creativity of the fishing community. He shared many stories about his sons and their forays into the trade, affirming that fishing is as much about family as it is the love of the work and the sea.  This vibrant community has found creative expression through the annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon, a three-day event that includes performances, storytelling, and many reunions of old friends. Having served as organizers for the event for over a decade, Jon and Jay noted that the stories and experiences shared at the Gathering—sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, but always passionately articulated—are highly inspirational and always push them to become better writers and performers. For those interested in the unique communities of the Pacific Northwest as well as lovers of a tale well told, fisher poetry offers much to learn and appreciate.

Folklife Survey of Southeastern Oregon: Harney and Malheur Counties

by Adrienne Decker, Folklore Graduate Student

While many in Western Oregon don’t often have much opportunity to venture east of the Cascades, the high desert of Oregon is full of a rich cultural and historical heritage that should be of interest to our local lovers of artistic and homesteading traditions.

As we learned on our visit to Burns and surroundings to shadow folklorist Douglas Manger for a couple days of his NEA-funded folklife survey of Harney County, Oregon has a high concentration of tradition keepers, artisans, and performers.

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Words Washed in with the Tide: FisherPoet Fieldwork in Port Townsend

by Julie Meyer, Folklore Graduate Student

On a drizzly Thursday afternoon in March, I threw my camping gear into my car and headed north towards Port Townsend, Washington, with my dog and my recorder in tow. During the long car ride I could feel the adrenaline of conducting my first solo fieldwork expedition motivating me.Only a month earlier I had been in Astoria, Oregon, attending the annual FisherPoets Gathering as a student fieldworker representing the Oregon Folklife Network. After building rapport with a few of the women FisherPoets in Astoria, I was invited to attend the She Tells Sea Tales event in Port Townsend, Washington. This event was hosted in support of the Girls Boat Project, an organization created to support the young women of the community in their pursuit of the seas.

As the event kicked off to a start in the Northwest Maritime Center, I was able to hear sea shanties sung, stories told, poetry read, and prose performed. The range of performances included both original folk art and traditional folklore from women and girls from across the Pacific Northwest.

The day after the event I was able to meet with Erin Friestad for an hour long interview in a café in the city center, and she shared with me stories of her time working at sea as well as her work as a poet. While I had originally hoped to pull more interviews from my time in Port Townsend, I was able to establish deeper relationships with the fisherwomen I have come to admire for their strength and perseverance.