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Friday, January 27, 2012

Goodbye Rhododenron Part 2 -- more photos of the ferry boat M/V RHODODENDRON, including vintage postcards

Behind every news story, the personal stories full of human emotion and memories wait to be discovered, and I heard and sensed some of those this week. The response to my previous blog post about the fate of the historic Washington State ferry M/V Rhododendron, still coming to me in the form of e-mails, phone calls, and in person, made me decide to share more of my photos of this beloved boat. But as a bonus, I also want to share some vintage postcard images sent to me by  Steve Pickens, the man behind the website Evergreen Fleet, mentioned in my original post, and author of "Ferries of Puget Sound." He is helping to  preserve our local maritime history, an effort for which we should all be grateful.

 Postcard of M/V Rhododendron  from the 1950s, courtesy of Steve Pickens

Pickens, a native of western Washington, was born in Seattle and grew up on the Kitsap peninsula. "Ferries have always been a part of my life," he told me in an e-mail. "I got interested in ferries through the Kalakala, first getting into her history and then branching out from there."

He became involved, conducting tours on Kalakala and serving as a volunteer archivist, for a time. "I had really been previously interested in the old Atlantic liners, but the interest turned a little more local after the Kalakala came home," he said.

Vintage postcard of M/V Rhododendron courtesy of Steve Pickens
I asked Pickens how long his site, Evergreen Fleet, has existed and how he came across all his fascinating material. 

"The website has been around over a decade now. A lot of my research came from books on the subject to a certain point. The final 'what happened to' a lot of the old retirees involved sending FOIA requests to the Coast Guard or emailing the last known company/owner of said vessel."

Vintage postcard image courtesy of Steve Pickens

"People have been incredibly generous sharing their personal memories and photos in many cases.," Pickens said. "There's a certain fondness for the old boats--particularly the old wooden ferries. I'd have to say the San Mateo and Vashon are, hands down, the most fondly remembered."

And now for a few taken from the Tacoma side.

Copyright 2012 by Candace Brown  

April evening 2009, off Point Defiance
Copyright 2012 by Candace Brown   May not be used without permission.

The following four photos were taken at Point Defiance on a cool, misty morning in the otherwise hot July of 2008. Please see the blog post they relate to: Breath of Life: Marine Air in the Morning.

I've never met Steve Pickens but I can tell that, like so many of us, he loves our rich maritime history and out maritime environment too. Please be sure to look at Evergreen Fleet. You'll be glad you did.

Thank you for joining me on this little two-part tribute to the Washington State Ferry Rhododendron. And many thanks to Steve Pickens for sharing the postcard images of life on Puget Sound.

All text and photos in this post, with the exception of those provided by Steve Pickens, are copyrighted by Candace Brown and cannot be used without permission. See  Evergreen Fleet concerning the postcard images. 

Copyright 2012 Candace Brown

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Goodbye, Rhododendron — Historic Washington State Ferry's last day on the run between Vashon Island and Point Defiance (video included)

When I awoke to a downpour this morning, I thought about Monday's remarkable sunshine and the odd way it arrived just in time for an event that was both sad and largely ignored. My husband and I appreciated the meager warmth as we leaned against a railing on the Point Defiance waterfront and watched history being made. We witnessed the 64-year-old ferry Rhododendron making its last run between the Talequah landing on Vashon Island and Point Defiance in Tacoma, before being retired. On a rainy day, it would have felt even more depressing to say goodbye.

View of Chetzemoka from North Tacoma
We had been in Tacoma's Proctor District and headed north from there to go down to the Point Defiance Park because I wanted to take some photos in the sunshine. But as we reached the bluff, we saw how opportune our decision had been. There was the replacement ferry, M/V Chetzemoka, sailing past Maury Island in a spot where no ferry belonged. Until we saw it, we didn't realize the day had come, the day the Rhododendron would sail off forever. We headed straight for a vantage point above the ferry landing. By the time we arrived, the new ferry was pulling in.

The Chetzemoka approaches the ferry landing at Point Defiance

Built at Todd Shipyard in Seattle at the cost of  $79.4 million, the Chetzemoka caused all kinds of fanfare when it arrived in Port Townsend to serve the Port Townsend/Coupeville run. That was only a little over a year ago. (You can read about the whole expensive and probably misguided saga in this article from the Port Townsend Leader.) This ferry was meant for Port Townsend and named for a Native American leader from that area. The passenger cabin even features artwork portraying historic Port Townsend. Now we have it here in Tacoma, and they don't.

Maybe I'll get used to the Chetzemoka, but it might take a long time. Right now, it doesn't feel like it belongs here. With a gross tonnage of 4,623 and horsepower of 6,000—compared to the Rhododendron's gross tonnage of 937 and horsepower of 2,172 it will obviously use far, far more fuel for the 1.5 mile, 10-minute trip. How much shorter does a 10-minute trip need to be? And so what if it has a galley? Who has time to buy food and consume it during this short trip? Here is a comparison of the two vessels: M/V Rhododendron and M/V Chetzemoka

The Rhododendron heads for the Point Defiance dock with the Chetzemoka waiting in the background.
After what seemed like some kind of test, the Chetzemoka pulled out, heading toward the passage on Vashon's west side, then made a surprisingly quick maneuver, turning around and positioning itself for another approach to the dock, even as the older boat headed for Point Defiance. At that moment, I felt the sadness of what was happening. It seemed like the 64-year-old Rhododendron, still beautiful—and in the opinion of many, still repairable—was leaving a long marriage against her will. And out there in the water, her much younger replacement watched and waited impatiently, to move in.  Here is a video of the Rhododendron's arrival.

Leaning against that railing, surrounded by things I love—the gulls, the smell of the salt water, sounds of boats and waves, the sight of Vashon Island I thought about change and how many endings life brings. Ships, like people and places, can be taken for granted, there one day and then gone forever. I've seen many ferries come and go and I treasure childhood memories of some of the older ones. Even though the Rhododendron showed up on the Vashon-Point Defiance run many years after  my childhood, I've come to know it well. And my husband had worked on this ferry when it was in the dry dock. He loved it. Now it was leaving.     

M/V Rhododendron at the Point Defiance ferry landing.
I know my husband and I weren't the only ones who cared. I am sure the officers and crew did, along with the islanders who depended on and loved this vessel. I know that last Sunday a group of folks from Vashon took a farewell ride, described here in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber. But where was the press on Monday? Did the people sitting in Anthony's seaside restaurant pay attention? 
It seems that too often people quickly lose interest in the things that are part of our local history and every day livesand in this case our maritime heritagejust because they are old. Why must we always replace things with something newer and always far more expensive? Old buildings and old ships seem to lose their lustre in some people's eyes. Not mine or my husband's. He had worked doing repairs on the Rhododendron in the past.

So for all of you who will miss this great old ferry as much as we will, no matter how few your numbers, here's a gift. I discovered a wonderful website called "Evergreen Fleet" and on this page, ou can hear the Rhododendron's whistle blow once again, lest you should forget.

Note: Video recorded by Candace Brown. All text and photos in this blog post are the property of Candace Brown and cannot be used without permission. Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

Monday, January 16, 2012

Snowy Day Diversion: Amazing High Definition Videos of Hummingbirds

Here in my little home office in Tacoma, Washington, I'm trying to get some writing done, but the view out the window makes me feel as excited as a six-year-old. SNOW! One moment it's falling straight and the next it's like a blizzard, blowing horizontally. And it couldn't contrast more with what I'm about to share with you.

I am reminded of the day in January 2009, now three years ago, when I wrote a blog post called Hummingbirds at Home Through a Northwest Winter. I won't repeat it here, but I do have a delightful surprise to offer on this most wintry day.

 I just discovered a whole channel of high definition videos of hummingbirds. You can reach it through this link. (If the screen appears black, just scroll down.)

Close your eyes for a moment as you click on this example. If you, too, are living where it is snowing today, you are about to experience summer again.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Eating From My Hand (Part One) from Russ Thompson on Vimeo.

And here is another video about Rufus hummingbirds from the Northwest ending up in Ohio during the winter. If your feeders are still out, like mine, please remember to keep them thawed. You can read some great suggestions in the comments on my original blog post, here. Many thanks to all the readers who shared their ideas on feeding hummingbirds during these cold months.

Keep cozy, and thanks for visiting Good Life Northwest.

Winter Hummingbird from Wildlife Matters on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio Revives Happiness Along With Vintage Music

Just before five o'clock on a rainy Sunday evening, people of all ages crowd into the warm, aromatic atmosphere of a restaurant called Tutta Bella on Stone Way in Seattle, as anticipation builds. Do they anticipate the outstanding gourmet pizza? Well, partly. But already, band groupies fidget, giggle, chatter, and get as close as they can to a group of musicians, members of Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio, who are busy setting things up to play and sing three-part harmony on tunes written before World War II. 

L to R: Mike Daugherty (drums), Matt Weiner (bass), Casey MacGill (leader, piano, ukelele, and trumpet)
Photo by Chris Lee, courtesy of the Blue 4 Trio
The band is popular as far away as Europe and was just featured in an excellent  KSPS  television documentary called "Rumrunners' Paradise," about the Prohibition years in Washington State. But in this particular venue, many of the fans share an interesting characteristic; they're very short. Some can barely see over the bass drum, behind which drummer Mike Daugherty—wearing a vintage suit and bow tie—patiently listens to endless questions from the crowd of wiggly little fans ranging from about two to six years old. Short on height but long on enthusiam, they will all demostrate wild dance improvisations the second the music begins.

"Audiences tend to feel good after they hear our music," leader Casey MacGill says in a video on the band's website. That's an understatement I feel compelled to correct. People feel unexplainably happy, optimistic and lighthearted, like things have never been better. In spite of the name, there is nothing "blue" about this band and the unseen (but not unheard) fourth member is that living, pulsing life force called "swing." Casey MacGill's piano playing transports you to a 1930s speakeasy. He uses ukelele and trumpet too, with equal skill. Bass player Matt Weiner plucks and bows the low notes and sings the high ones while Mike Daugherty keeps perfect time and pitch.

Together, they create as much fun as a Prohibition era party before a raid by the cops. That's why the people behind "Rumrunners' Paradise" wisely chose the Blue 4 Trio to provide authentic music and flavor for their documentary, filmed in the old Masonic Temple in downtown Spokane, Washington, the perfect setting in MacGill's view.

"The room made a good backdrop for the music and subject matter of the film," he said. "We were called to do a two-day shoot. The first day was about 12 hours, a big schedule to get through of songs to record. The second day was filming and lasted 6-8 hours. It was a challenge and a lot of fun."

You can watch the documentary here.

Back at Tutta Bella, one tune ends, and before the next begins,a little girl—whose grandparents weren't even born when Shirley Temple sang "At the Codfish Ball"—runs up to the band and requests the tune. Other favorites among the younger set are "Potato Chips" and "Jeepers Creepers." Like all the parents who bring their kids to Tutta Bella on Sunday nights, hers can rest assured that the lyrics will all be suitable for young children. And so on it goes, as yet another generation discovers the music of America's great "Jazz Age."

If you haven't discovered Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio, let me introduce you. Here's the way to get happy: