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It started with an ordinary night out to eat at one of the very few restaurants in tiny Rainier. I stepped out of the Jeep in the parking lot, and was awash in the sounds of barking, growling, and moaning. Sometimes I can hear sea lions barking while standing on my porch, several miles away, but this sounded more impressive. Before going into the restaurant, I walked down to the beach in the dark, following the sounds, and came to the Rainier Marina. I could barely see the docks, but I could hear that they were occupied. I took this video for the sounds. Even after hearing it twenty times, it makes me smile!
The next morning was partially sunny, so I took my camera back down the hill to see what the scene looked like in daylight.
Hey! Remember I had camera problems starting during my trip to Chile? At a camera store, before sending it off for repairs, the technician suggested a couple of ways to trouble shoot. One of his suggestions was to try a different lens. I had been almost exclusively using the Tamron lens because it can use the autofocus on the Nikon, and it goes from 35mm to 270mm! So convenient. I tried the 18-35, and also the 70-300, and viola! Problem fixed. It means my Tamron is dead, but not the camera. Yay!
I chatted up one of the men in a truck, who turned out to be a local fisherman. He was very unhappy about the sea lion situation. He explained that the local fishermen view them as a menace because they eat the fish. Smelt populations wax and wane, but since the year 2000 their numbers have been so low they were added to the Endangered Species list as a threatened population. The huge sea creatures were gobbling up a lot of what is available, leaving even less for the humans. This is also a problem during salmon runs, with salmon populations already threatened by human activity like dams on the river. From an anthropologist’s perspective, I see it as a way that the fishermen respect the wild animals, and I think the rivalry is almost touching. People curse the seals and sea lions as though they are equal rivals for a limited resource, and it draws them together and highlights what they have in common. I recognize that I have the luxury of using this perspective because I don’t depend on fishing for food or for income.
Still, I had to bite down to keep from commenting to the fisherman in his truck, that while he professed to hate the sea lions, here he was, among other crusty old fishermen on the hill, having his lunch break with his windows down, listening to and watching them.
Rainier sits on the Columbia River right across from the mouth of the Cowlitz River. This year, like last year, a one-day, five-hour net fishing season was open on February 25th. People stand on the riverbank with nets and scoop them up. Reports are that no one got a fish this year on the Cowlitz. I imagine there will be even more cursing about sea lions now.
There are enough smelt to bring their wild hunters 45 miles inland from the sea, however.
In hopes of protecting our Marina, workers went out in January to build barriers to keep the beasts off the docks. The combined weight of hundreds of massive sea lions will sink the docks. Wooden fences were constructed, and lined with bright orange plastic netting, to make the fence seem more intimidating. The sea lions said a collective “Whatevs,” and pushed the fences aside and lounged on the docks anyway. I’m afraid the already-poor city of Rainier will have to build new docks, or at least do some significant repairs, when all is said and done.
The other thing I saw down there were the signs of commerce and industry. I know it’s factories and massive machinery and big dirty ships, but I have a childlike joy when I see it all. The lights at night (as you can see in the video at the top) are nothing short of beautiful to behold. The exhaust from the pulp mill is like a scene from a science fiction movie. Everything is huge! The factory towers, the ships, the bridge, the enormous docks across the river at the Port of Longview, in Washington. All of it delights me.
For comparison, I took a second video with my phone, to give you a better sense of the whole view.
A couple weeks ago I attended the Rainier tree-lighting ceremony. It was a small affair. My new community of Rainier is pretty tiny. Its heyday was when the Trojan Nuclear Facility was running, which lasted until the plant was closed in 1993. Rumor has it that the TV show The Simpsons modeled their nuclear plant after this one, which makes sense, since so many Simpsons characters are named after streets in Portland. When the nuclear plant shut down, the town of Rainier slowly began to disintegrate. It still exists because of the logging industry, with multiple mills on the Longview, Washington side of the Columbia River (two largest employers there are Weyerhaeuser and Kapstone, timber/paper companies). But it’s not enough to keep a town thriving, so my home of Rainier is understated and I can almost see it shrinking.
The indefatigable citizens organized a caroling event and tree-lighting on the steps of the impressive City Hall building. It’s the only impressive building in town. The tree appears newly planted, and is about 8 feet high and not quite grown into its oversized decorations. About 30 of us stood on the sidewalk along Highway 30 in the rain, and listened to Christmas carols.
Soon the city fire engine pulled up next to us, and Santa himself climbed out. The kids all broke into a rousing version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, and Santa helped sing. When the song was over, Santa led us in a countdown, and the lights of the tree came on at our command.
Then everyone hurried inside and out of the rain. Kids got in line to talk to Santa, grownups grabbed hot cocoa and cookies to wait for the kids. There was a long table piled with donated goods from local businesses. Each person who walked through the door got a raffle ticket and so everyone stayed to see if they won anything good.
This waiting around took a long time, and I entertained myself by wandering the main hall of the City Hall. There are historic photos on the walls and I was delighted to discover that one of the largest original industries in the town was the Rainier Soap Factory, providing critical employment for women as well as men.
Finally, Santa was done talking to the kids and assisted with the raffle. I won a little basket with a stuffed animal and some Christmas dishes, but traded it with the next door neighbor girl for a squirrel magnet. Squirrels are my favourite.
I also found an old photo of the City Hall (not very good, so I didn’t include it here) with interesting bits from the back of the photo posted beside it on the wall. “The new City Hall. The American Legion post here was given the privilege of obtaining two cannons, which in a moment of enthusiasm they decided would be fine placed at either side of the entrance to City Hall. It didn’t seem like such a good idea after they were installed, so they were moved to the grounds of the new High School on Nob Hill (1926).
“In the building, provisions were made for a hall above for the American Legion. Also for the library on the east side.
“Bord Kegh, carpenter, built the fire bell tower to the south east side of the building (1922). On Sunday morning, young Robert McKinley (1925) begged the janitor of the Methodist Church across the street for special permission to ring the church bell for Sunday School. In his youthful enthusiasm, he rang it with such vim and vigour that he called out the fire department – the bell tones were similar.”
My first question about those notes from the back of the photo is “Why was it a bad idea to have cannons at City Hall, but a better idea to have the cannons at the High School?” I’m also curious about the timeline, since it appears that the fire bell tower was built in 1922, but the cannons weren’t removed till 1926. Apparently it took years for the bad idea to be discovered. And finally, look at that vigour: Americans in the 1920s also used the British spellings, just like me. Maybe I’m channeling my inner frontierswoman.
It wasn’t the flashiest Christmas party I’ve ever been to, but it was a good night because I visited my City Hall and learned some great little tidbits about the building and my town’s history. These are the kinds of things to make a person feel more connected to her home.