Painful September: Recent roadtrips brushed against disaster areas


Early reports last week stated that the Goodpasture Covered Bridge had been destroyed by the fires. In fact, it still stands thanks to citizen volunteers who protected it.

It is sad to look at the news today. The beautiful little town of Detroit is no more. You may remember the storyline of Detroit Lake, and the picture of the lake and boats that accompanied it. So much of that story and the village of Detroit is in ashes.

I also mentioned rolling hills and fields in the backcountry of Linn County, and the village of Mill City. It is also severely impacted by the fire.

Several weeks ago Linda and I visited Sweet Cheeks Falls and trailhead. This story ran in The Chronicle last week. And a major fire broke out a few days ago in that area. Beautiful country.

I wrote about the Goodpasture Covered Bridge on the McKenzie – to learn today that fortunately it was spared from this terrible devastating fire in September.

The community of Blue River was severely impacted, with most of the community being wiped out. Vida has lost some homes, but others are spared. 


I start writing this story Sept. 11, as I am asked, from time to time – where were you on Sept. 11 (19 years ago)? 

Jean and I were in a motel in Everett, Wash., while on vacation, with plans of visiting lighthouses up and down the west coast. We had reservations on the International Ferry from Anacortes, Wash., to Sidney, B.C. Sidney is about 14 miles from Victoria, B.C., on Vancouver Island. 

We were going to spend three days on Vancouver Island, and tour the lighthouses on the west side of Victoria. The plan was to return to the States by the Black Ball Ferry Line from Victoria, B.C, to Port Angeles, Wash. I had a 6 a.m. wake-up call for the 11 o’clock ferry reservation.

The bedside radio was announcing one airplane that accidently had flown into the World Trade Center Tower. I immediately put the TV on, and witnessed the 2nd plane flying in to the 2nd tower. 

Needless to say – probably one of the greatest shocks of my life. As one who had lived through WWII, Korea, the building of the Berlin Wall, and Vietnam, this was devastating news.

Then we got word that a third plane had flown into the Pentagon. And rumor of a fourth one, somewhere. And the military had sent up jets to shoot it down.

This is all happening in an hour and a half.

I called the ferry system and cancelled the reservations.

During the TV broadcast, I called my son, an employee of the City of Everett. Of course, the word was out, and everyone was glued to the TV.

Jean and I went to breakfast. One of our favorite places is on the waterfront, next to the Everett Navy Base. I have visited the base several times, as that is where my home Rotary Club meets – in one of the Navy buildings inside the base.

As many readers know, the Everett Navy Base is home to the aircraft carrier Lincoln. When Lincoln is out on maneuvers, the aircraft carrier Nimitz would replace it at the base. Always, up until Sept. 11, 2001, there were one or two Navy Shore Patrols at the main gate – very low security.

As we drove by, going to breakfast, there were two heavy armament machine-gun mounted vehicles backing up regular gate personnel. I believe they were manned by Marines.

Later that day, we drove up to Woodby Island, which is west of Mt. Vernon. There is a very famous bridge – Deception Pass Bridge, that connects the island with the mainland. At the north end of that bridge were Washington State Patrol, and on the island end of the bridge was Marine Corps personnel.

Those readers who know the strategic military installations in the northwest will remember that the U.S. Navy Air Base at Oak Harbor is on the north end of Woodby Island and straight across Puget Sound from the Everett Navy Base. Following the water, Hoods Canal, from Oak Harbor Navy Base, Bangor, which is the home port of the west coast submarine fleet, is about 40 miles. Going east, Bangor, Bremerton Ship Harbor, and Indian Island. Continuing east, McCord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis Military Base.

My point here – I’ve seen that section of the northwest lock down within a very short time. 

After things settled down in a few days, Jean and I went up to the San Juans, and toured two lighthouses in that beautiful cluster of islands bordering the Canadian border. The border had been shut down. We did not have our passports. So we did not go to British Columbia.

Coming back, we crossed to Port Townsend. We picked up the tour of lighthouses again. There is a beautiful lighthouse across from Indian Island that is no longer operated by the Coast Guard. I think it is now operated by the county historical association. The lighthouse was closed to tourists, as they had tours scheduled one day a week. I talked with the curator at the museum. They called the keeper of the light, a retired Coast Guard commander, who was gracious enough to come out and open it up for us, and stamp Jean’s lighthouse passport.

Incidentally, all lighthouses throughout the world have an individual stamp. There are lighthouse pass books you can purchase, and as you visit a lighthouse, they stamp your book. I have recommended this for the carousels throughout the world.

The commander took us to the top of the light, and as he and I stood on the upper deck, he explained the water route from the ocean into Bremerton Navy Yards. Straight across is Indian Island, where warships coming in for repairs unloaded their munitions. 

We talked about the previous 10 days and the attack on the World Trade Centers. He told me that once a Coast Guard commander, always a Coast Guard commander. 

He and another retired captain are residents of Port Townsend, and they received the call on Sept. 11 in the morning to report to headquarters in Seattle. I asked his age – 82! But always a commander, if you are able-bodied.

He and the captain reported that morning on Sept. 11, 2001, to Coast Guard headquarters in Seattle. They were given a designated area of water to patrol, a boat, and a radio.

Jean and I worked our way down the coast, and were fortunate enough to get reservations at Heceta Lighthouse, and spent the night in the old light keepers’ quarters. It was a warm evening. Dense fog moved in. It was beautiful and eerie at the same time. We sat on the deck and watched the light revolve in the fog. And that completed a wonderful day, evening, and night at one of the most famous lighthouses on the west coast.

In the morning, guests are served a huge family-style breakfast.

For those readers who love oceans and lighthouses, this is well worthwhile. September brings many wonderful memories of vacations throughout the west. Grand Canyon, Tetons, Yellowstone, family reunions in Montana. But it also brings some heartache. Sept. 14 I lost my bride after 49½ years of marriage. Sept. 3, 2008, I lost a very dear friend and traveling companion. Now we deal with virus, smoke, and a hostile political campaign. But life goes on. Tomorrow will bring relief from smoke. Shortly we will have a vaccine. And the election will be over.  

In the meantime, we need to say our nightly prayers for the fire victims who have lost their homes to these terrible wildfires.



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