The Fishing Gene vs the Giant, Cross-eyed Flatfish


                From the picture windows along Port Townsend’s North Shore, the Saturday morning seascape must have resembled the Normandy Invasion… or, perhaps, the beaches of Dunkirk.

                It started at first light, with a dozen or so small boats scattered across the horizon about a mile offshore between Protection Island and Admiralty Inlet.  By 9 am, the fleet had grown to well over 75 and counting – flecks of white fiberglass set against a deep blue Strait of Juan de Fuca, with a hazy silhouette of Mount Baker as a backdrop.

                It was a motley fleet.  There were big white cabin cruisers and sleek speedboats and 18-foot aluminum skiffs and a couple of inflatable dingies.    Each carried at least a couple of Jefferson County souls – from grampas in overalls to 20-something Bubbas in Eddie Bauer parkas.  And then there was Cape George fisherman extraordinaire Jack Scherting, assisted by your waterfront correspondent. 

                We were all out there early on a Saturday morning for the same reason – the continuing quest for the ever-elusive, Giant Cross-eyed Flatfish.

                In case you missed it, halibut season is back again.  That’s the annual rite during which hundreds of us landlubbers set aside whatever else they’re doing and put to sea with an armful of fishing gear and a thermos of black coffee in hopes of snagging that  prized 150-pound slab of whitefish.

                This occurs in many places, but one of the favorites is off Port Townsend’s north shore, where  halibut are reputed to feed on a long, wide “halibut hump”, about 150 feet below the surface roughly parallel to the shoreline. 

                There is something a bit odd about the halibut mystique.    One can understand the appeal of Northwest salmon.  They’re sleek and silvery and quite pleasant on the eyes as well as the tastebuds. 

                But the halibut is ridiculously asymmetrical and, to put it bluntly, butt ugly   It is mottled brown on one side, white on the other, with a sideways mouth frozen into a permanent frown, and two beady eyes crammed onto one side that sort of stare at each other in disbelief.  Its lifestyle is even less romantic; it lives on the ocean bottom, blending with the detritus, waiting for something edible to swim past. 

                For years, halibut were caught almost exclusively by Norwegian fishermen in prosaic wooden boats, and sold for pennies per pound, mostly to other Norwegians.

                No more.    Today those ugly bottom-feeders have risen to the top of the Northwest seafood ladder.    Something called Individual Fishing Quotas have made a few commercial halibut fishermen very wealthy.  And your local fishmonger sells halibut filets for upwards of $15 a pound – more than salmon or ahi tuna or, for that matter, the gourmet steak at the other end of the supermarket case.  

                Last year, some 65 million pounds of halibut were caught on the Northwest Coast , mostly by commercial boats using miles of longline gear.   Most of that was in Alaskan waters, but local fishermen reported about 2,500 halibut, averaging about 25 pounds each. 

                How halibut get ugly is an interesting tale.   Hatched in the depths of the Pacific, they begin life like any other fish.  But at some point, as they approach maturity, a very strange thing happens.  The halibut turns on its side and spends the rest of its life hugging the sea bottom.  Since the lower eye is now useless, it undertakes an anatomical journey, migrating across the snout to the other side of the head, where it takes up residence alongside the upper eye. The result ain’t pretty.

                Fishermen have grown to like them because, while the typical halibut comes in at about 25 to 30 pounds, there are stories of halibut weighing 150 pounds or more.   My friend Jack caught one of those just off North Beach a couple of years ago.  I once watched a couple of fishermen land a 250-pounder in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

           And, of course, when it comes to fishing, size matters a great deal.

                The fish is solid muscle and a fierce fighter.  There are legends of commercial fishermen being battered to death by oversized halibut that kept fighting long after being pulled on deck.

                But something else was at work on the Strait the other day.  It’s been a long winter, marked by ugly, wind-whipped seas and no fishing.    Eavesdropping on the marine radio channels, one sensed a throbbing  pent-up demand, an urgent need to satisfy the needs of the fishing gene.  This is the gene that drives otherwise-rational people to spend great sums of money and time on boats and gear in order to drag themselves out of bed at 4 a.m. and spend more time and more money on the water trying to hook a fish that could be purchased for a fraction of that investment at the local QFC.

                My friend, Jack, carries this gene.  When the state and the seas are favorable, he is out fishing for salmon or halibut or crab.  When he’s not fishing, he’s dragging his bride out to the ocean beaches to go clamming.  When he takes a vacation, it is to the Baja, where he fishes for tuna and swordfish and brings it home to the freezer – except when he heads north to Alaska or British Columbia to fish for king salmon, or halibut.

                I do not carry this gene.   Each year, I faithfully buy my fishing license, which I consider a charitable contribution to the governor.  Now and then, I venture out with Jack.  But the fish know me, and laugh at me.  Mostly I take notes, trying to figure out the nature of a subculture I still don’t fully understand.

                But most of the people floating on the straits for the season opener were carriers.    You could tell by listening to the radio.  “God, it’s great to be out here….. Not a bite yet, just a couple of dogfish, but it’s worth it just to be out here….   Nothing biting here either, but that’s okay….”  And so forth.

                So went the day.   The fishing gene consumed hundreds of gallons of fuel, approximately 100 jugs of black coffee, 200 frozen herring, and countless sea stories of dubious credibility.   All this for half a dozen Middlin’-Sized, Cross-eyed Flatfish, none of which landed on our boat.

                I don’t get it.  I called Jack to ask what it was all about.  But he was gone fishing.


Whither the Beleaguered Times: Go Weekly?

    (News item: The Seattle Times announces some 200 layoffs, including dozens in news and other editorial departments.) 

    I made two excellent decisions during my 30-year newspaper career. The first was to go into daily newspapering in 1970 – just before the Watergate scandal launched newspapers into one last glory period of prosperity and professional prestige. The second was to bail  out in 2001 and move to Port Townsend – so I would not have to stay and watch them die.
     The death spiral at the Seattle Times and other metro dailies carries an air of inevitability. But it’s worth noting the economics of some 7,000 American newspapers, mostly small town weeklies, which are doing just fine. Take, for example, the weekly Port Townsend Leader, where I write a now-and-then column. Each week, the Leader sells 8,400 papers in a county of 30,000 people and 12,000 households – an amazing market penetration of 70 percent. And it makes money.
    Maybe the economic grim reaper is taking a little longer to find us out here in the provinces. Or perhaps weeklies are providing something not found in metro dailies, nor the Internet. Weeklies, after all, face the same competition. Most of us out here in the boonies now have cable TV and computers with high-speed Internet. Many of us get a Seattle daily or the New York Times delivered as well. So why pay six bits a week for the local weekly?
    Because weekly newspapers understand that journalism, like politics, starts at home. The Leader offers no national or world news; that we get from NPR, CNN, or online. But it makes itself indispensible by printing the information people need – high school sports and movie times, agendas for this week’s school board and city council meetings, ferry schedules and tide tables, calendars of upcoming lectures and charity auctions and upcoming night classes on diesel maintenance or Internet marketing.
    And then there are the ads. The dailies are not losing readers nearly as fast as they lose advertisers. This is because metro dailies long ago raised ad rates beyond the reach of most local merchants, relying instead on national advertisers; now they’re losing those national ads as well. But community papers like the Leader still rely on stacks of ads for local hardware and feed stores, barber shops and realtors.
   What’s the lesson here for the Seattle Times and other metro dailies? Think local.   Most readers already know who won last night’s ballgame, or the Pennsylvania primary. But who will tell me what the Seattle City Council is up to? Or how the port is spending all those easy tax dollars? Or why the state ferry system is in disarray?
    The greater challenge is, of course, how to lure back those ads. Can dailies break up their product into packages that can be priced within reach of local merchants?   Years ago, The Times tried going local with zoned editions north, south and east. Alas, zone staffers are at the top of this week’s list of layoffs.
     Somehow, an organization that has been trying to think big and regional, has to think small and local. And maybe that simply is not do-able, unless you are already small and local, and you’ve learned to like it.

Discovery Bay: Due for Rediscovery

     An unusual phenomenon appeared on the surface of Discovery Bay the other day -- Boats.   Not just one or two, but a veritable fleet of a dozen or so sailboats, their sails framed by the forested shores and snowy Olympic peaks.
   They weren’t exactly racing yachts, but a rather motley assemblage of local sailors who turned out for the first-ever Cape George Regatta. But that was still more sails at one time than anybody has seen on Discovery Bay in a very long time. This happened weeks ago, and people here still talk about it.
   Fact is, not much happens out here on Disco Bay.  There are homes and barns scattered along 16 miles of shoreline, from Cape George down to old Port Discovery and back to Diamond Point.  Highway 101 skirts its southern shores.  And there’s that fellow at the south end who likes to blow things up now and then.
   But most of the time, the closest thing to excitement out here are the seagulls and pigeon guillemots who show up each spring to nest on Protection Island. Compared to big cities like Port Townsend, Discovery Bay is something of a backwater. It’s a deep, glacial fjord between forested walls, extending eight miles to the foothills of the Olympic Mountains, its entrance guarded by Protection Island.
   Every year, thousands of boaters cruise through Admiralty Inlet, just five miles to the east. But few venture into the bay. We’re just a bit out of the way and, when boats do pass nearby, they’re usually in a hurry to get somewhere else before the weather turns.
   This wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, Discovery Bay was more or less the Center of the Puget Sound Universe. This is because, in the spring of 1792,  George Vancouver and his sea-weary crew sailed off the Pacific into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, making their way along the starboard shore until, on May 2, they anchored in a deep, broad harbor that he named Port Discovery, for his trusty ship.
    “A picture so pleasing could not fail to call to our remembrance certain delightful and beloved situations in Old England,” he wrote in his journal. “A variety of stately forest trees pleasingly clothed its eminences and chequered the valleys, presenting extensive spaces that wore the appearance of having been cleared by art.”
    He was particularly impressed by the strategic placement of the island. “Had this insular production of nature been designed by the most able engineer, it could not have been placed more happily.”
    For nearly three weeks the ship remained at anchor near Carr Point, halfway down the bay. While much of the crew worked at repairing sails and spars, the skipper and others set out in small boats, exploring Port Townsend, Hood Canal and beyond. Still others set up camp at the mouth of a stream, taking celestial sightings and brewing “spruce beer,” a concoction of fir needles, water, molasses and yeast.
    Eventually, of course, they sailed on. But Vancouver’s published journals and maps placed the world’s spotlight on what became Discovery Bay, which offered safe anchorage and ample timber and steep shores that enabled giant logs to be moved down to the water. By the 1850s, there was a major mill at Port Discovery, with scores of workers, saloons and more. In one year, that mill produced some 18 million board feet of fir and cedar, most of it bound for the Bay Area, where old San Francisco was framed with our timber.
    In time, however, the trees were gone and the loggers moved on.   In the 1890s, the government built a quarantine station at Diamond Point, which was the subject of recurring rumors of escaped lepers orbubonic plague. That station continued to inspect arriving ships well into the 1920s.
Then things got very quiet.
   For those of us who live here, that’s fine. Even at the height of boating season, this “picture so pleasing” is all ours. But, for the record, boaters are welcome. There is decent holding ground in about 30 feet of water along the western shores, next to a small and under-used boat ramp at Gardiner; or on the eastern shore in the lee of Beckett Point. These are fair-weather anchorages, because either spot is prone to stiff southerlies. There is good beachcombing at low tide, especially at extreme low tides, when folks make their way out to “Glass Beach,” the old city dump near McCurdy Point.
     While here, you’ll want to circumnavigate Protection Island. It’s strictly off-limits to visitors, but the adjacent waters are rich with whimsical puffins and rhinoceros auklets, harbor seals and the occasional elephant seal. Keep an eye out for the rustic cabin perched atop the southwest bluff, where Marty Bluewater holds out as the last resident of an island otherwise restored to Mother Nature. But be aware: There is virtually no public shoreline here. The tiny Cape George Marina is strictly private, and its entrance is dangerously shallow at low tides. There is no fuel, no restaurant, no pub to be found.
     So why come at all? Because it’s here, and nobody else is. And because, with the aid of Vancouver’s journals, a voyage into Discovery Bay is a journey in time. Vancouver and company anchored here longer than any other spot on Puget Sound, and the journals offer detailed descriptions of the land and seascape as it looked for untold thousands of years before we started to change it.
    Archibald Menzies, the Scottish naturalist who sailed with Vancouver, explored the shoreline and forest floor, and offered the first descriptions of the Douglas fir, madrona, Olympic oyster and scores more plants and animals. His descriptions, and those of Vancouver, offer a sort of biological baseline by which to assess the impacts of two centuries of development that have profoundly changed most of Puget Sound….
     But not Discovery Bay.

Cape George: Life with the Seniors

    Okay, I'll say it: life's good out here with the old folks. It's taken a couple of years to admit it, but there it is.
    Last year my wife and I, both of sound mind and body and still a few years shy of 60, willfully sold our home in a very nice Seattle neighborhood and moved to a senior enclave a few miles outside Port Townsend.    Cape George Colony, our new neighborhood, is not exclusive; a few forty and fifty somethings do live here, and some actually appear to have day jobs. There's no minimum age, no rule against kids or baggy pants or spiky haircuts.

   But there are no spiky haircuts here, and the closest things to baggy pants are Sears overalls with pockets full of screwdrivers. Port Townsend is gray and getting grayer; nearly a quarter of its population is over 65, twice Seattle's senior quotient. The figure for Cape George must be at least 75 percent. 
    What possessed us to make a premature transition to senior citizenship? Economics, for starters. Thirty years of newspaper work were lots of fun but not very lucrative. We faced a choice: keep working to support that big old house, or sell the monster, downsize and reinvent ourselves on a budget.
     So we were out of there - but on to where? I'd been drawn to Port Townsend for some 35 years. Initially it had to do with those charming Victorians on Water Street. But the more I visited, the more I learned there was soul behind the brick facades - a town of fewer than 10,000 that supports two good movie theaters, a dozen decent restaurants, blues and country music festivals, a damned good local newspaper, a lovely city park, two brewpubs and three excellent bookstores. 
    Nothing happened until Mary and I visited an old friend, a college prof who had built her retirement cottage at Cape George. Our first impression was of a 1960s development: middle-class ranch houses on quarter-acre lots strewn along winding streets and cul-de-sacs. Definitely not our style.
     But then there were the "amenities": the full-size indoor pool and exercise room, the little marina where I keep my old Monk motor cruiser for a fraction of the cost of a Seattle slip. There are greenbelts and two miles of community-owned beach overlooking Discovery Bay and Protection Island. Mary could have ample room to garden in the middle of the Olympic rain shadow, with twice the sunshine and half the rainfall of Seattle.

   So we took the plunge, bought a lot and built a three-bedroom shingled cottage with a broad deck and a filtered view of the water-all for about one-quarter of what we got for our Madrona house.
    There are downsides. When we asked permission to exceed the building height limit by a few feet, I found myself facing a grim panel of elders who would have none of my nonsense. We witnessed a gurgling community fight over trees and views, and heard the usual elderly worries about security. Every neighborhood has its cranks and whiners, but seniors seem to have more to be cranky about and more time to whine about it.
     Still, we're a diverse group of people living diverse lives. Take our street: a retired airline pilot, a former history professor, a nurse-turned-part-time gardener, a software engineer, a retired physics professor who runs a small technology company in town, a couple of ex-schoolteachers, and Mary and me. One of my friends is a former Fulbright Scholar who's written a novel about revolutionary China. Another spent 30 years building Boeing airplanes.
     Some of us have PhDs, and others barely got out of high school; I forget which is which, because it really doesn't matter anymore. Some have plenty of money; others don't. Conventional wisdom has it that aging gracefully depends on income, but life at Cape George suggests otherwise. You need to pay the bills, but beyond that income seems irrelevant Quality of life hinges on more important matters; how people work and play, how they treat each other and how they cooperate. Cape George is a community of about 480 homes and good people run almost completely by volunteers from the board of directors to the marina committee and block watch captains.
    After just six months as full-time Cape George residents, we already know our neighbors better here than we ever knew them in Seattle. We have keys to their houses, and vice versa. We meet them for impromptu barbecues and pilgrimages to the brewpub for $2 pints. When Home Depot delivered a truckload of drywall to my back door, three neighbors showed up unsolicited to help
    We have seen the future, and it is grayer. Get used to it. Keep building those 401K accounts. Find yourself a good financial planner. But most important, find a community of people you'd want as neighbors.

The Chief Seattle Speech that Wasn't

   Yes, there was a Chief Seattle. And, by all reports, he was a very fine fellow indeed. But, no,he did not say: "The earth is our mother."
    In fact, the earth-mother quote is just one of many ecological observations, widely attributed to Chief Seattle, that are pure, unadulterated myth - and relatively recent myth at that. Try these:
   * "We are a part of the earth and it is part of us." Chief Seattle might have believed this, but there is no evidence he ever said it.
   * "Contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste." Yuk! No Way. 
   * "I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train." Get serious. Chief Seattle never left Puget Sound, so he never saw a railroad, nor a buffalo - dead or alive.
   For at least a generation, local historians and Native Americans have been trying to correct these and other myths surrounding the native patriarch who gave Seattle its name. But myth dies hard. Especially a myth that serves the ends of a vibrant environmental movement.
   Here, according to Seattle’s Museum of Science and Industry, is what is known: In 1854, an aging Chief Seattle attended a reception for territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens, who was trying to buy Puget Sound lands from the Indians. The chief, who spoke no English, delivered a speech, which supposedly was translated by pioneer Dr. Henry A. Smith. And in 1887, Smith published the speech in a Seattle newspaper.
    "There was a time when our people covered the whole land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea covers its shell-paved floor," Seattle was reported to have said in his native Duwamish language.     "But that time has long since passed away...I will not mourn over our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers for hastening it, for we too may have been somewhat to blame...
   "Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely-hearted living, and often return to visit and comfort them...
   "Every part of this country is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory."
   And so forth. Nice speech. But even that translation is questionable, at best. Smith claimed to speak Duwamish, but it’s a difficult language and he had only been in the Northwest for a year. So his fluency was dubious.

   Still, Smith's has been the authorized version, accepted by local historians from Clarence Bagley to Roger Sale.
   Then, some 20 years ago, comes the "green" version, with Chief Seattle waxing eloquent, and at great length, about the earth mother and the buffalo and contaminating one's bed. Sometimes it is a letter from the Great White Father, who happened to be Franklin Pierce. Sometimes it is a poem.

    In 1974, the speech droned from the mouth of a Chief Seattle statue at the Spokane World's Fair. It has been reprinted hundreds, perhaps thousands of times in books, films posters and brochures, published by groups ranging from Friends of the Earth to the Southern Baptists.
   Skeptics cried foul. In 1975, Janice Krenmayr wrote an article for The Seattle Times, warning that "Chief Seattle must be turning over in his grave." Bill Holm, curator at the Burke Museum, pleaded for environmentalists to step forward and admit they had made it up.
    But myth is more resilient than history. It persists. Where did it come from? It took a West German historian named Rudolph Kaiser to figure that out. A student of the American Indian, Kaiser tracked it down to an environmental film documentary that was aired on national television in 1971. The script had been written by Ted Perry, an East Coast scriptwriter who composed the new version, composed that soupy prose about rotting buffalo, and attributed it all to Chief Seattle.
   So what's the difference? The unauthorized version is a passionate call to ecological responsibility, a plea to halt the slaughter of an animal Chief Seattle had never seen. It reads like it was written by a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club - which it was.
   The original speech was something else again. Chief Seattle was a strong and well-respected leader who helped smooth the transition in Puget Sound from native control to Western control. Unfortunately, he did that by accepting promises of compensation – promises made by people who didn't keep promises very well.
   Chief Seattle valued the land not because it was inherently sacred, but because it was the dwelling place of his ancestors, MOHAI says. His speech was essentially a surrender to the advance of Western civilization, an invasion his people could no longer resist.

Historylink: Seattle's Memory

(Note: This profile, published in 2001, focuses on the late Seattle writer and popular historian Walt Crowley. Walt died of cancer in 2007, and this writer hopes this piece contributes to a community’s appreciation of what has been lost…)

    History unfolds in odd ways and unexpected places, such as the corner table at the Elephant and Castle pub in downtown Seattle. Thursday afternoons, a motley crew of Seattleites - a resurfaced underground artist, a former cop, a Boeing software engineer, a computer-game designer and more - gathers there to nurse a few beers while brainstorming their obsession with the history of Seattle and environs.
    "I'll take Ballard and Pioneer Square," says convener Walt Crowley at one recent session. "Who's taking Lake City?"
    "What about May 14?" somebody asks. "Is it possible that nothing has ever happened in Seattle on May 14!"
     "Did you realize that the Columbia Tower, at 910 feet, is less than one-third the height of the Vashon Glacier 14,000 years ago?"
     What sounds like trivia is, in fact, history in the making. These are the writers and Webmasters at History Ink, the Seattle nonprofit which produces the Web site HistoryLink is to local history what eBay is to online auctions. With countless millions of "hits" in its brief existence, this burgeoning site has made itself an indispensable resource to users ranging from seventh-grade essayists to Ph.D. candidates and, yes, more than the occasional Northwest journalist.
    Visitors who log on at are greeted by thousands of essays, nicely illustrated, on topics ranging from the Vashon Glacier to the Nisqually Earthquake. For the uninitiated, there is a 10-minute tour of Seattle history, or an interactive map that allows visitors to zoom in on their own block. There are thumbnail histories of key people, towns, neighborhoods and institutions. You can read Chief Seattle's famous speech, along with an essay questioning its authenticity. You can browse through photos and maps and documents and more - all linked by an efficient, electronic search engine.
   The site, which went online in 1998, gets rave reviews even from its more traditional competition. They're telling history in a way that is more accessible than ever," says Leonard Garfield, director of Seattle's Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). "The Web provides an amazing ability to flip back and forth and connect the dots in a way that allows one to see the bigger picture."
   And this site is also uniquely Seattle's. There are countless historical Web sites, ranging from to the Library of Congress site and more. But none approaches HistoryLink's focus on a single city and its environs.
   While the brainstorming occurs at the pub, the Webmastering occurs a block away, in a tiny seventh-story office crammed with second-hand desks, computers, wall maps, an overflowing bookcase, a 1950s fallout-shelter sign, a folded scooter and, at any given time, at least a couple of self-styled historians. Tucked in a corner closet is the server, the computer that actually stores the gigabytes of data that would fill a 15,000-page set of encyclopedias.
   Which was the original idea behind HistoryLink, according to the late founder Walt Crowley. "We were supposed to be a book."
    Crowley, who died in 2007, was a much-loved Seattle journalist and one-time bureaucrat perhaps best known for his seven years as a liberal sparring mate to conservative spokesman John Carlson on KIRO-TV News. He was an unlikely Webmaster. For years, he resisted using a computer for anything.
    Yet his personal biography reads like a synopsis of recent Seattle history. Crowley arrived in Seattle with his family in 1961 when his father took an engineering job at Boeing. Crowley thought he had "dropped off the edge of the Earth."
   Graduating from high school in 1965, he went on to the University of Washington, where he was "seduced into the underground press" - the weekly "Helix," founded by one Paul Dorpat. Instead of writing, Crowley drew the outrageous covers and cartoons that made Helix locally famous.

    After three years, he decided "there was not going to be a revolution," and defected to the establishment: Seattle City Hall. As an adviser to then-Mayor Wes Uhlman, Crowley worked on neighborhood and employment programs, where "we revolutionized city government."
   In 1979, he made an unsuccessful bid for City Council, then teamed up with his soon-to-be wife Marie McCaffrey to make a living from free-lance journalism and graphics. This, in turn, launched his journey into local history, when he agreed to write a history of the Seattle Municipal League "as a community service to pay off several years of unpaid parking tickets."
   "I got the bug," Crowley recalled many years later. "I thought I knew all about the Muny League. But then you learn: Everything is connected by history, and it's important to understand that hidden infrastructure of relationships and experiences and personalities."
   Meanwhile, he auditioned for the job of countering conservative Carlson on the KIRO evening news, a job that raised his profile while he attracted more history clients: the ultra-establishment Rainier Club, Seattle University, Metro Transit, Group Health and more.
    "Contract history has never been a problem for me," he said. "I've found that each client, whether it's the Rainier Club or Group Health, truly wants to know its own story. All history is interpretation. The writer has to protect the factual integrity of the information. And I suppose the interpretation is always open to discussion, but that has never been a problem."
   Meanwhile, he found time to deliver his own memoir of the 1960s, "Rites of Passage." For that project, he worked closely with Dorpat, his old "Helix" friend who already had established himself as a popular historian with his weekly "Now and Then" feature in Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Times Sunday magazine. "Seattle was just about to turn 150, and there was a need to lay down a new historical baseline," Crowley recalled. "The last comprehensive history of King County was written in the 1920s, so we kicked around the idea of a local encyclopedia."
   It was McCaffrey, his wife, who suggested in 1997 that a book was a quaint and perhaps anachronistic idea, that they should be constructing a Web site instead. So they did..
   HistoryLink became a nonprofit conceived as a one-stop source for local history that would be all "original content, nothing scammed from other sources," Crowley recalled. And, as a longtime free-lancer himself, he was determined to pay his writers real money - $30 an hour for work accepted for the site.

   They met with an experienced Web designer who assured them it would be feasible but very expensive, about $1 million for starters. They lighted on a domain name, and got a critical start-up grant from local philanthropist Patsy Bullitt Collins, who told them, "I've never even seen a Web site, but I love history and I respect you guys." In time this was followed by grants from the city of Seattle, King County and a long list of benefactors ranging from AT&T to the Gates Foundation. 

    Ninety percent of History Ink's income is used to pay the staff writers.
    That team is no ivory tower jammed with pointy-headed academics. In addition to Dorpat and McCaffrey, there is Chris Goodman, a twenty-something graphic artist who previously designed computer games; Cassandra Tate, another middle-aged baby-boomer who actually has a doctorate in history; and Alan Stein, a former Boeing software engineer with a passion for history and museums.
    "After 13 years at Boeing, I was ready to make less money doing something I love to do," says Stein. "I've never looked back."
    Meanwhile, Crowley kept his liberal politics off his Web site, says Carlson, his former conservative counterpart. "For Walt, history is a greater passion than politics," he says.
   But Crowley was sucked into an occasional turf battle. At one point, he complained publicly that Mayor Paul Schell was favoring MOHAI over HistoryLink, and downplaying Seattle's upcoming birthday.
   All this for a city which some believe is too young to have much of a history.
   Not so, Crowley argued. "The history of any American city is not much more than 150 years, because they are all creatures of the Industrial Revolution. We don't have that pre-industrial substrata of colonial rule. As far as recorded history, events begin in 1851 with a group of people who came out here with the specific intention of building a city."
     So what's next for HistoryLink? Expansion, of course. Crowley and company are gradually going statewide, determined to become the unofficial online historical source for Spokane and Walla Walla and Centralia and more. They've reserved the domain name "WashingtonLink," and they muse over the prospect of the "Linkabego," a traveling Internet room to introduce their site to schools and towns across the region, and to collect the personal stories of its people.
    All that will cost money. But then history suggests this is well within the realm of possibility.

Rush and Me: How I missed my own moment of infamy

    Before the storm, there is that familiar, electronic "brrrrrring" that musically alerts me to e-mail.
I click on "Inbox," and find the top of a message from North Carolina. Subject: "Your paper is a liberal rag."
     Hmmmm. What's that about? I'll find out later. Back to the task at hand.
      Another musical "brrrring." Click. Subject: "Disgusting!"
      And another, this one from somebody who calls himself "Rightwinger." Subject: "You Commie Bastard!"
       Who could resist that one? Click on the icon. Full message: "You Commie Bastard!"
     Within minutes, my trusty computer is ringing like an old-time coffee percolator. I watch the messages pop up on my Inbox screen until I spot one from a familiar e-mail address - my older sister in Texas.
       "Gosh, little brother. I am soooooo impressed," she writes. "You made the Rush Limbaugh Show!"
      Wow! Your mild-mannered reporter makes the big time. Rush Limbaugh, King of Talk Radio, conservative "Doctor of Democracy," nationally syndicated Voice of Right-Thinking People.
I've listened to this guy, and he's very good at what he does. But how can I be on national radio and not know it?
     I tune to KVI radio. Rats. He's talking about something else. I've missed my own moment. But at least I'm figuring out what it's all about. Two days earlier, The Seattle Times published my story on Seattle's top-10 electricity-users - including the residential users. Based on information obtained from Seattle City Light, the top-10 residential consumers use up to 50 times the city's average household consumption. We named names.
      And Limbaugh didn't like it. His Web site calls it "probably one of the most outrageous articles I've seen on any subject in a long, long time."
     The wealthy homeowners in the "Soviet of Seattle" are portrayed "as though they're guilty of something for buying power," he says. "These people pay for every kilowatt they use. It's as though they're scofflaws who haven't paid their parking tickets for the past 10 years. We're told to blame the eeeeevil rich owners of big houses for this fix. We've got to string them up or send them to sensitivity seminars and make them feel guilty.
     "There's a real Soviet feel to this piece," he goes on. "And what really bothers me is that these people apologized for using electricity, as if they've committed some crime, for crying out loud. This illustrates just how successful the left's hate-the-rich propaganda has been."
    California's energy crisis, he says, was caused by "environmentalist wackos" who "have insisted that not a single new power plant be built."
     Then comes a link to The Times story and my e-mail address - the marvels of the Internet.
Speaking of which, the messages continue to crackle onto my computer screen. They come from across the nation, from California and Maine, Florida and Minnesota. A few actually come from Seattle.
      "Heard Rush talking about your rag today and your slanted/stupid/liberal (one and the same) article," writes my North Carolina correspondent. "Thank God for the Internet. Hopefully it will allow people more access to the truth and eventually we can eliminate papers like yours."
     They come in waves, apparently responding as the radio show is rebroadcast on different stations at different times.
      "These 10 people are also probably 10 of the biggest philanthropists in Seattle," writes another. "More power to them, and I could care less about their electric bill."
       Caleb, an 18-year-old college student from Texas, has just finished reading Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," and sizes me up as one of those "weak-minded people who are always supporting the actions of the weak minds in power, blaming the industrialists for everything."
    "What are you, a Nazi?" asks another e-mailer. "It is vermin-spewing socialists like you that will bring back the Vigilantes of the old West. May you choke on your Latte. ... Too bad your mom did not believe or have access to abortions. She would have done us all a favor."
    The response is impressive. By the end of the following day, my computer counts more than 300 e-mails, most of them unprintable in a family newspaper. Despite slight variations in the vulgarities, each reflects the guru's tone: These people paid for their power, and printing their names is a vicious, socialistic, left-wing device.
    I try responding to a few of my new friends.
    "The issue of privacy is legitimate, and we debated the issue before going to press," I write. "But we decided that the right to privacy was outweighed by the nature of our regional electricity shortage."
      Seattle owns its own electric utility, which provides clean hydro-power at the lowest rates in the nation. Alas, we are experiencing a drought. The reservoirs are dry, and there isn't enough hydro to run the generators. So City Light has to buy replacement power on the open market at 20, 40, sometimes 100 times the cost of our own hydro. So, when our neighbors waste electricity, we all share the costs of that replacement power. ... And so forth.
     "Anderson," responds Jerry from Texas. "Spoken like a true fascist.... I just love to see you socialist liberals foam at the mouth about private industry and individuals being in control of their lives. ... I know what side you are on and I am your enemy, buddy. You Left Coast intellectuals are going to get what you asked for."
      Sean, of Palo Alto, Calif., stands his ground. "I still think you should take issue with your elected officials," he says. "I have a difficult time believing this empty-reservoir problem came out of nowhere. Even a city the size of Seattle can't run through that much water overnight, can it?"
     Still, Sean says he's "frankly amazed" that I responded. "I also respect your point of view," he says.
     Caleb, the young Texan, is even more generous. "Thanks for a humbling lesson," he writes. "I guess a kid like me shouldn't be writing such vehement letters to people when we have heard only one side of the story."
     Thus emboldened, I fire off a one-pager to Limbaugh. Dear Rush: We have never met, but I am a now-and-then listener and, more to the point, the object of your wrath on March 20. ... The response was truly impressive.
      I walk through the argument - the Northwest energy crisis, the city-owned utility, the empty reservoirs, the costly replacement power, rights of the individual vs. rights of the community.... Nobody proposes to outlaw wasting electricity. But if people know that wasting electricity may lead to some embarrassing publicity, perhaps they'll look for ways to conserve. ...
     I urge him to visit our little "soviet." You'll find we walk and talk, love our kids, pay the mortgage, drink our beer from the bottle and see the world much the same way you do - except from the opposite coast.
    No response yet. But that's OK. As I told my new buddy Rush, I might have chosen another way to spend my 15 minutes of fame. But I'll take it as it comes.