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1: Soggers Gap

The sea is rife with fish and fools
Some in groups and some in schools
Some alone and some in troops
Some in nets and some in sloops
Some thrash and splash displaying their mettle
Some land in the water ass-over-teakettle

Ass over teakettleFools and Sea have always carried on a rowdy relationship with each other. Shore, locked into permanently refereeing their disputes, might reasonably be expected to delineate the space where this dangerous fascination should judiciously terminate, but Sea is not generally considered to be reasonable, and Fools are—well—they’re fools.

     An accidentally immersed Fool is quickly made aware that cold salt water is better left to Fish, and that survival in this non-directional element now depends mostly on time and luck, accompanied by a fervent hope that neither runs out too soon, and that one of its companions on boat or wharf from which it fell will now notice empty space where it once stood and bring help quickly if its own efforts to save itself are floundering.

     Fish is more fortunate in this liquid environment, Sea being both home and ally. Although time and luck are still very essential in the action, Fish can resort to flight when danger comes near and be reasonably certain of outstripping net, hungry neighbour or any other threat if it fins off fast and soon enough.

     Hesitation and confusion in such a situation should be avoided totally, as any young salmon which has escaped a hungry seal or a zealous fisherman will tell you if you ever happen to have the interesting opportunity to question one. Obedience to the instincts of its kind is also helpful, as when an entire school of fish moves as one to avoid disaster.

Sounding from sunwarmed surface waters, a shoal of fingerlings shot down like a single entity, slanting into safety of depth, moving to escape the glossy new keel of HAPPY OURS as the boat moved shoreward. This was the second invasion of their feeding grounds that afternoon, and their retreat now was as swift and immediate as the first had been, although the rowboat had been treated as less threatening.

     A stranger to the coast she was cruising on her maiden voyage, the fifty foot sloop was motoring at half speed with all sail lowered in quiet air while her skipper, also new to the area, gave his attention to the rum he was pouring into two glasses.

     Pride of possession and performance pleased his young mind, and just now he felt as though he himself should take sole credit for the way the boat had responded to its handling, designer and builder having been simple transient tools in her shaping to his purpose.

     For ten days he’d been shaking her down, although the weather had made itself so benign that nothing aboard had really taken any undue strain except the crew, which had suffered the usual nervous stress of a first, extended cruise in an unknown and untried boat sailing unfamiliar waters.

     Excitement and expectation had given zest to the undertaking at the outset, but now the four aboard had begun to relax as they had let doubts and anxieties slide away, setting aside their overly cautious watchfulness, becoming nonchalant and, having been tried and proven, even displaying a little jaunty carelessness.

     A short while before, the navigator had run into unforeseen complications when their electronics system had gone out on them for no apparent reason. No radar, GPS or depth sounder—and then a fog bank had appeared off to port where he had every right to believe there should be land. His chart had indicated, when he’d glanced at it earlier, that there would be land. There should have been a peninsula and, beyond that, farther down the coast, a little village called Shalisa Creek with a safe bay and a public wharf. He’d planned for HAPPY OURS to have her next stop at that village, figuring they could replenish provisions and maybe visit the pub, which he’d heard was a lively one.

     He wished the fog had chosen some other place to play around.

     This caprice of nature hadn’t caused him too much concern though, because he’d already taken a good fix on their direction as they’d sailed away from their anchorage that morning. He knew where he was going. He didn’t need a GPS. He could read paper charts and he actually knew how to handle a sextant. He owned a beautiful old brass-bound one which had belonged to his grandfather. This alone had prompted him to learn the art of shooting the sun and of this he was very proud, although his grandfather had always said that ‘pride cometh before a fall’.

     He was determined that he would not fall.

     As he took the helm he assured the skipper that if they just kept the fog to port and followed their chosen course, they’d round the point of the alleged peninsula they were tracking, sail down it’s length, and it would be just a matter of time before they’d reach the harbour his chart had told him was there, farther down from where the as yet unseen finger of land fastened itself firmly to the rest of the world.

     He did a little loose mental calculating, figured out about how long it should take to go the distance he’d estimated, and told everyone to relax for a couple of hours. They’d get there somewhat before sunset, and probably the fog would clear by then—because the weather report said so.

     Having large amounts of confidence in his ability, but not wanting him to feel superior, his friends began making jokes to the effect that there was no peninsula off to port at all and if they hung a ninety degree turn they’d sail right through the fog bank into sunny water on the other side, just like the sunshine they were in now. The skipper even took the helm and tried this for some distance, but finding unnerving damp fog was not really amusing because it quickly disoriented him, he laughed anyway to reassure himself, turned the boat back onto her set course, handed the helm over to the navigator again, and left the insubstantial grey barrier safely off to port again.

     The navigator set his jaw. He didn’t like to tell his friend to get his insensitive paws off the helm before things got screwed up as usual when the skipper messed around, so he put up with this piece of foolishness from Command and they sailed on, waiting for the fog bank to dissipate and show them the expected landfall.

     Sure enough, both things occurred as predicted and, somewhat before sunset, a small bay became visible a little beyond the end of the misty mass the boat was skirting. They gazed through binoculars, saw the distant shape of small buildings ashore and wispy masts at anchor, and came to the obvious conclusion that here was Shalisa Creek Village.

     The other three people aboard congratulated their navigator on his skill, which assuaged the irritation he’d been feeling from being the butt of so many jokes, as well as relieving him of some hidden doubts he’d been suffering himself as time went on and no land had appeared. Trying to make a landfall without a sighting wasn’t his idea of fun, even though he knew he could do it. He’d expected to be on the water a little longer than this, but here was the landfall.

     Reassured by the praise warming his ears he went triumphantly below for a chart of the area, threw it playfully at his friend’s back and turned the job of bringing the boat in over to him. The chart hit the skipper between the shoulder-blades, and he booted it across the cockpit to the navigator’s feet who then laughingly kicked it below decks as he went forward to join his companion on the foredeck, ready to relax and enjoy Sunshine which now seemed to be chasing fog away from shore.

     Under her skipper’s directions the young woman at the wheel, browned by sun and fanned blush-peach from wind which their progress created, rounded the bank of fog and began closing the boat with the shoreline of the bay they had just sighted and decided to overnight in.

     Beached there on a reedy spit was a large, work-scarred, well-worn transport barge which caught their attention, topped as it was with a weathered structure of unusual and fanciful form somewhat resembling a castle, although walls, turrets and spire were made totally of wood and it had a certain contemporary look about it.

     As they came closer they could see flowers spilling over the sides of its decks from large containers around its perimeter, and trailing from upper window boxes, giving it an aspect of lighthearted mystery which invited investigation, for it seemed theatrically out of place in this coastline of solitude.

     Off to port, waving its brine-pickled pilings in gentle ripples, staggered a disreputable old wharf of indeterminate age and solidity, to which were tied some boats, all of them large, so this skipper figured there would be no problem finding enough water close by to easily handle the deep draught of his own vessel. As well, his navigator had told him in the morning that the Shalisa Creek Village wharf had lots of water under it, so not to worry—it was a safe anchorage.

     Tide was well out and still receding with slackened energy as it left the bay in late afternoon sun which shone hot and bright, igniting little liquid sparks from ruffled water, sending reflected light glancing across the couple who were lounging comfortably on the foredeck enjoying their favourite sundowner of whisky and orange juice.

     As he turned his gaze toward shoreline, making a casual surveillance of their course, the navigator forward suddenly called out,

      “Hey Skipper, there’s a rowboat way ahead and there’s an old guy in it waving at us.”

      “So wave back,” came the unconcerned reply.

      “Yeah, but I think he’s waving us away,” persisted the lookout. “Can you hear what he’s yelling?”

     “No. Can you?”

     “So why do you think I asked? I can’t hear over the sound of the engine.”

     The foredeck observer now raised himself on one knee.

     “I think he’s hollering ‘get lost’ or ‘keep away’, or something.”

Man in rowboat

     “Yeah, some of these old beach bums up here think they own the shore just because they’ve lived on it for awhile,” came the comment from aft as ice was added to the two glasses which were getting most of the attention in the cockpit. “Well, it belongs to all of us, and I don’t see any ‘Private Wharf’ signs. When we get closer tell him to go sink himself. Head for that old barge-house over there, honey. That should be a good place to anchor and maybe we can row over and take a look at it later.”

     “Do you think a wicked witch or a dark spirit lives there?” enquired the woman at the helm, laughing speculatively as she viewed the colourful tresses of flowers which waved enticingly in the breeze where they fell from the window-boxes of the miniature turrets they adorned, “And she’s trying to con us in with false appearances so she can eat us for dinner?”

     “Just get with it Gretel,” grinned her companion as he handed her a glass. “Hansel here will look after you.”

     Long hair moving like the windblown flowers on the barge, she adjusted course to comply with her skipper’s instructions while the antics of the rowboat occupant became even more agitated as he swung his arms back and forth across each other in the well-known signal used to warn people off.

     Then everyone aboard began to laugh when, a moment later, he took one oar and waved it over his head in a wide arc, as though threatening to hold off the intruders with that ineffective little weapon, almost upsetting his rowboat by his frantic action as the sloop bore down on him, and his shouted words became distinct and clear.

     “Turn off! Reeeef! REEF!”

     Two startled, unused seconds later the keel of HAPPY OURS struck the submerged rock formation with a violent screeching impact which sent everything loose on board hurtling forward, including her crew of four, glasses still in hand.

     As the engine roared, gulping air, the snagged bow pivotted her around and she swung sideways, grinding and tearing, until she keeled over onto her starboard side, complaining in pain, and there she hung at a rakish angle of heel, exposing a large section of her well-tended bottom to the sky while confused and excited shouts from those who had run her aground set gulls ashore to screaming back unhelpful and insulting suggestions.

     With his oar back in its lock now, the man in the rowboat shook his head, muttering in disgust, “Bloody fools!”, as he started rowing swiftly toward the stranded sailboat, while the rocks of Soggers Gap chortled throatily, exulting in the collection of yet another delicious victim in their jagged teeth.

     On board the unfortunate sloop her skipper made a frantic leap below decks to get at his array of equipment, most of which hadn’t been working up to this point and still didn’t. Radar and depth sounder were of no use now anyway, and it was the cell phone he charged for.

     Jarred from their place by the impact when the boat struck, and papering the cabin sole with vital, unused information was a welter of neatly rolled charts which he trampled in his haste. Underfoot lay the one his navigator had thrown at him earlier and which the young boat owner should have taken the trouble to glance at, as well as the pilot book no one had read, before setting a course into an unknown anchorage.

     From these he would have learned that he had not reached Shalisa Creek Village, but Shalisa Creek Bay, and common local knowledge dictated that he align his boat carefully with a natural rock marker ashore, choosing a high tide, before attempting passage through dangerous Soggers Gap in either direction. Their carelessness and the earlier capricious behaviour of the skipper had brought them up short of the village which was farther down the coast, and the Gap had exacted its usual tribute for such lax behaviour.

     Those whose forebears had used the bay through past centuries needed no charts. They knew that a spirit did dwell in those waters, and made her home there at the narrow opening into the peaceful bay, luring the unwary with a promise of safe harbour, but granting it only to those who had learned to deal with her unforgiving habits.

     For people living along that coast, the peninsula and its surrounds had always been a source of conversation about spirits and magic. Even some who were inclined to ridicule such things as silly superstition had to admit that the place did seem to have its own way of doing things. A few mariners who had occasionally been that way swore there was no such peninsula because they’d never seen it. They had seen only Fog. As for the bay, they knew it by reputation and avoided it, usually with a shudder, as they recalled the latest stories of wrecked watercraft.

     For the indigenous inhabitants of Bay and Peninsula there was no fear—only fondness. Their home had traditionally been full of spells and fascinating happenings which gave living there an extra dimension. It was part of life to speak with Tree, Sky and Water. Here, objects considered by most outsiders to be inanimate were invested with the quality of being and, if listened to with appropriate interest and concern, would express their person fully.

     No one had ever considered it unusual to hear someone saying good-morning to Rock or holding discussions with Boat. It had always been found wise to heed information gained from this interaction with such knowledgeable friends. It was an inheritance of trust which came from countless generations of families living and dying there and passing on this harmony with everything around them until all things breathed life.

     Those same inhabitants also held the opinion that a stranger or anything else entering into the circle of the community’s activities could be absorbed into its unusual milieu if a willingness to learn was evident and Spirits felt the subject was worthy of the honour.

     For those attuned to it, this was a benevolent and reciprocal relationship with their surroundings, and the Guardian of the Bay was given every encouragement in her efforts to protect them from unwelcome visitors.

     For those who were unaware of the potential for such interaction, the Gap was simply a pain in a painful place.

Reef’s reputation was well known in that district, and most informed casual boaters avoided Peninsula and passed by Gap and Bay, preferring to anchor in a less sheltered place rather than take the risk of losing their vessel to the insatiable embrace of the rocky ring and its attendant Spirit who guarded the lovely waters of Shalisa Creek Bay so diligently.

     Creek itself had fashioned its own bed from vertical rock as it crashed headlong from precipice to ledge, cart-wheeling in eagerly anticipated union with Sea, studding its perpendicular course with roaring, spectacular falls which hurtled down in mad, rainbow-flickering delight as it shouted in unbridled leaps from bare heights of air, down to green, cool, ancient forests of fir, cedar, salal and fern, through swamps of reeds, horsetail and yellow arum, out to salt water, foaming at its mouth into the long, curving bay, where it ran riotously into the waiting receptive arms of its laughing lover.

     Both of those arms which welcomed Creek’s freshness so lustily, towered with steep cliffs at their extremities, sheltering the waters within their reach from another devil to be dealt with by shipping in that region—Southeaster—but this benefit was offset with a difficult approach by sea. The rocky arms continued out from their bases, sloping under water to close an almost complete circle formed by Beach, Cliffs and Reef, leaving only a limited gap, a missing tooth in the formidable jaw, for navigable water.

     Through this narrow opening Tide thrust in and out with powerful, intense surges, brought to such turmoil by the passionate grip of the resident Spirit who met him in his twice daily enamoured visits to and from Shore, demanding her own toll for through passage and releasing him seaward at last as a spent and sated force.

     Only during extremely low neaps were the unyielding tips of the dangerous fangs left slightly awash, becoming barely visible perhaps once or twice a year, exposing the true intention of Spirit’s enticing welcome, which was to feed this ruthless maw with any and all waterborne craft her wiles could seduce into approaching.

     The rest of the time Rocks hid, and waited hungrily to eat unwary small boats which came their way in happy ignorance, only to fall under the spell of their formidable patroness.

     Their appetites were satisfied so often that word of their horrible hospitality soon spread, and only local skippers and those with business there ever approached, leaving the rocks to starve except for occasional strangers who, unless the navigator read his charts well, wound up creating disasters from which resident boaters usually had to rescue them.

     Skill and caution were necessary aids to be used when clearing through that narrow entrance into the bay, called by the original inhabitants, The Old One’s Footprint, and referred to by more recent users as Soggers Gap. Charts of the area seemed to be rather ambiguous about the whole thing, and some of those who actually had to use this widely dispersed paper product of bureaucracy swore darkly to themselves that the purveyors of such stuff were all landsmen who never had and never would put to sea in small boats, and its conversion into metric measure only enhanced their convictions.

     Over the years marine cartographers, working on their large sheets of paper from an inland distance, had dealt with this menace of the entrance by marking the area around it with some small dotted circles, cramming the very lowest of primary numbers into the centres of these—indicating feet, not fathoms—scattering here and there a few crosses (ominous symbols in themselves) to mark the worst of the submerged rocks, and prescribing the use of some light blue ink as an overall wash for this fine work in which to float the tiny capitalised dirty-four-letter-word, ‘Reef’, a little larger in type size than the numbers.

     The narrow Gap itself they treated to a more generous digit on a scale of one to nine—indicating fathoms, not feet—then added a couple of opposing arrows flanking a high number which combination was meant to convey the presence of a swift current.

     Perhaps for the sake of economising on space they had ordered that all of this data should be printed on the charts in the very smallest type available, which might just possibly be readable in the dark in the rain in a gale in an emergency in a dangerously heeled bathtub afloat in twenty foot waves—just barely.

     They must have done this in the happy and charitable belief that all mariners knew where they were going and how to get there before they set out, were total strangers to trouble, never get lost or mistook one landing for another, and rarely if ever consulted their charts while underway.

     Unfortunately, in that latter belief, they were all too often correct, which might account for why so many boats attempted to sail over reefs, rocks, islands and breakwaters instead of around them.

     It could also have been contended that bathtubs had no business being out at sea in bad weather, pretending to be boats. Such shams were meant to be tied securely to a friendly wharf while skipper and crew enjoyed the partying they’d set out to enjoy after gently motoring across gentle waters, with or without sail aloft.

     Human nature being what it is, they were out there—with or without charts.

     Apparently ‘Reef’, along with its entrance, didn’t even deserve being officially named by the government under whose jurisdiction it had fallen. Perhaps no politician wanted to find his place in history perpetuated by having a boat-eating ring of rocks dedicated to him, and to call it ‘The Old One’s Footprint’ perhaps required too much space for printers to handle, or maybe it would have indicated an official acceptance of myth, which officials couldn’t stomach.

     Around the turn of the century—more on that side than this—such patrician disdain had been rectified, at least locally and temporarily, when a group of seagoing gentlemen who used the bay for risky but profitable purposes of a dubious nature, termed smuggling by the law, gave the narrow passage the nickname of ‘Gussie’s Girdle’.

     The name this collection of high-spirited reckless men chose alluded to a popular and well-patronised lady and her lacy unmentionables which were mentioned more often than not when the fellows got together over a potent mug or two intended to up spirits on chilly evenings. They were of the unanimous opinion that dealing with Gussie and her underpinnings was just as demanding and difficult a squeezing as getting in and out of Shalisa Creek Bay, but the manoeuvre provided something of the same diabolically delightful feeling of accomplishment and relief which the lady’s customers received once the feat was completed.

     The Guardian of the Bay and the bay’s permanent residents had found it prudent not to notice such activities being carried on in their vicinity. The moral attitudes of other people were not their affair unless such behaviour interfered with them, and laws other than their own were neglected to the point of extinction wherever possible, so seamen and shore people had an amicable relationship. The boat operators used only the bay shore and never set foot on the peninsula, so the peninsularians never set foot on the boats.

     The bay, which was close to the junction of mainland and peninsula, was considered reasonably available to both, if the newcomers were reasonable. The permanent inhabitants of the bay also knew what the correct name of the entrance to their waterfront property was and they didn’t care what anybody else called it, as long as nobody invited them to join in such heresy.

     With the passing of time and Augusta though, the temporary and colourful appellation had disappeared, and later seamen seemed inclined to worry more about their capital investment and less about enjoying themselves. The waters within and around the reef became a booming ground, and they cursed the task of muscling through the reef with more vehemence and less humour. Since the entrance to the bay seemed to co-operate more often with the elements and the discards of the lumber industry rather than with them, it received a new name more suitable to these hectic times, and its appropriateness was indicated by its wide acceptance.

Partly submerged sogger      This less romantic but widely prevalent tag of ‘Soggers Gap’ was derived from the numerous submerged, saltwater-soaked logs which amounted to an infestation around the reef. These large-sized wooden rogues were generally dubbed ‘deadheads’ by those who worked in the logging trade, and ‘soggers’ by local seamen faced with the choice of fending them off from the hulls of their boats or using evasive tactics to avoid collision, at which times they were called a few other more pithy and succinct names as well, especially if they weren’t sighted in sufficient time to be completely circumvented.

     Some people claimed the vicious nuisances followed set and determined courses which deliberately sought out and intersected with any boat in their vicinity, catching travellers unaware even in fine, clear, calm weather, and often just as a skipper had let up on his vigilance a bit, thinking he was safely in harbour.

     They were a legacy the surrounding sea had inherited from logging, that branch of commerce which had once been a thriving industry up along the coast there, and still went on sporadically as the market demand for wood products rose or fell.

     Floating at an oblique or acute angle to the surface, and leaving little or nothing of their dangerous bulk showing above water, these culled and abandoned logs, which had been deemed useless for all monetary purposes, bumped their soggy lengths against the rocky circle of the Gap and were sucked in or out of the bay, according to which direction the tide carried them, thereby succeeding in making more hazardous a channel already capable of provoking nightmares and thoughts of living ashore in the mariners—mostly fishermen looking for shelter from angry Mother Nature—who used it under the difficult conditions of darkness or stormy weather, or sometimes both, and who occasionally got angry enough to write letters demanding the construction of warning markers at the place, and a program for cleaning up the débris left by an industry they considered to be a threat to their own livelihood.

     History and politics refused to oblige.

     The bay, peninsula, and surrounds were disputed territory, having been claimed by its inhabitants on the grounds of unbroken ownership stretching back for uncounted centuries, but it was not on those grounds alone that they defended their ownership.

     There was a parchment to prove it.

This document had been validated long ago by some surprisingly benevolent members of a crown corporation after they’d stumbled on The Old One’s Footprint in a storm, and whose lives had been saved by those on shore. Having escaped from the wrath of the bay Guardian by this intervention, their immediate gratitude had prompted them to quite vehemently and sincerely assure their hosts, who seemed somewhat suspicious of their guests’ motives, that—in return for safe passage back to the mainland—no claim was being made to this inhospitable finger of rocky ground, and that none ever would be—at least not by them.

     They never wanted to see it again.

     Before the shipwrecked party was taken overland, however, the people they were treating with had determined by council not to have any more such idiotic adventurers blocking their seaway with wrecked shipping. This was the third such incident within living memory, and it was hard work getting all that shattered and scattered wood and cargo out of the way before they could go fishing again, even if some of it did become useful stuff later on. This place was theirs and they wanted their property rights respected like any other law abiding citizens. They wanted to be left alone to enjoy their lives and real estate in peace and quiet.

     They finally decided to get such consideration agreed to in writing.

     This diplomatic move developed a glitch as the contract signing proceeded. A problem with communications arose. Neither delegation understood the other too well. The nervous visitors misinterpreted this reasonable request and thought they were being threatened with annihilation if no signatures were forthcoming because they’d been suspected of trying to take over the territory.

     That sort of unintended leverage greatly sweetened the deal on behalf of the professed owners, a lot more than the intruders cared to admit to each other. The stranded officials quickly repeated their oath that the land, along with its seaway, was not theirs, and they promised never to return, unto which agreement they set their sign and seal on the parchment presented to them by the Leader of this single-minded collection of negotiators.

     They had no idea how big the piece of property involved was, and they didn’t care.

     The small matter of not being able to read what the contract set forth in plain and graceful ochre-coloured graphics didn’t hinder them either. In their minds they hadn’t said the property belonged to the inhabitants, they’d just made the wily agreement that it didn’t belong to themselves, and they were all quite resolved that they most certainly would never return, themselves, if they could help it. What others who followed might do was pure speculation. They didn’t hesitate to sign and get out, believing that doing so under what they perceived to be duress negated the whole thing anyway.

     The fact that one of the signatories was an impressive dignitary of the Crown and as such was bound to honour his action was not questioned by his colleagues. Ignoring such pacts was more the norm with them, and they left their indelible imprints on the fine parchment for time and the law to sort through, considering their lives more important than any future argument over a wretched piece of inhospitable land.

     While succeeding residents of the bay had taken a more relaxed attitude toward strangers, they still wanted no impingement on their rights to enjoy the peace and quiet they’d bargained for. A marker would have indicated submission to authority other than their own. Besides, it would have been an insult to their watchful Spirit. They had previously needed no protection in those waters except hers and they had welcomed no visitors but those who knew her well. This flag of friendship was always recognised by their Guardian Spirit, who knew very well which shipping was Stranger and which was not, and her Rocks definitively settled any dispute as to authenticity.

     As for some later politicians, they figured that the few votes they might glean from pleasing a handful of cantankerous fishermen didn’t warrant the effort of taking on somebody’s alleged hereditary rights. That sort of ongoing battle aroused too much furious emotion and gave the opposition useful ammunition for a stand which they would perhaps soon enough abandon should voters put them into office next term.

     The Gap remained unmarked and the soggers banged in and out of the bay unmolested with no edict on the books for cleaning them up.

Through the years the term ‘Sogger’ had come to be applied not only to the floating dismantled trees around the bay, but to anyone in the area whose thoughts and opinions ran counter-clockwise or at some divergent angle to the general consensus, and to those who generally lived from what less adventurous residents considered to be an undetectable, unpredictable or unacceptable means of support along that stretch of coast.

     The type who fitted into this combination of thought and income category could usually be found embodied in one and the same person but, surprisingly, some of these independent thinkers had money and never used it. Some had none and never worried about it. Regardless of financial status, they all seemed to flourish from such an existence. They didn’t buy much and didn’t sell much and made a lot of their own things instead of relying on the local merchants to supply their needs, which didn’t go over too well with struggling enterprise.

     These other-minded citizens, many living close to the frontier of possessionless poverty, even had the effrontery to enjoy themselves while they were at it, as though they didn’t need all the things most other people deemed necessary to stay alive. They didn’t work regularly, if at all, and a few of them could almost always be found lounging around café or pub during the best part of a day when most other people were hard at work earning a living, at which times they were considered to be busy ‘sogging’.

     There had always been plenty of those who’d used mostly their wits and their hands to survive, and there still were some who had stayed clear of or worked their way out from the efficient maze of regulations and conformity which seemed bent on keeping populations obedient and productive while providing necessary funding for government incomes.

     They were covertly regarded with a tinge of envy by some, in much the same way that barnyard geese, with their guaranteed grain but shortened pinions, cock an eye skyward as their wild relatives fly a freewheeling course overhead, honking cheerful greetings while ignoring the congested artificial pond and heading for a splashdown in the nearby marshes full of lush, reedy growth.

     Such people were looked upon as the rejected logs of the system, like the wooden ones from which they had received their name, lolling their carefree way in and out with the tide of sometimes and in-between jobs and schemes they played with to keep themselves on the margin of society, much preferring that to living at its epicentre, and since there was no law which said they were not allowed to ignore the amenities of civilisation or that they must behave like the majority, they continued to do as they pleased in small villages and along the shores, shunning the blandishments of a more organised and ordered establishment the way boaters looked out for soggers.

Creek mouth      For years there had been little outside interest in the area of the peninsula or Soggers Gap after the logging which had been its contribution to progress had taken a drastic decline. It had been left in peace as promised to the original inhabitants, and to Soggers who had made their way there and had been accepted as residents, but now a sudden influx of traffic to the area and those waters was bringing an unexpected and unwanted problem to the people who called the bay home.

     The invaders had been lured there by tourist and real estate brochures which, although the terms used to describe the region didn’t exactly say so in as many words, held forth hidden promises of places not yet bulldozed and paved over, as pristine and serene as nature allowed for, still untouched by human folly.

     What these carefully calculated collections of alluring phrases hinted at was paradise, and what human being, forever yearning after that beautiful lost beginning, indignantly presumed to have been lost through no fault of theirs, wouldn’t go chasing after a piece of it.

     Until this, the only visitors who had reluctantly arrived in Shalisa Creek Bay had been forced there by an emergency when an engine broke down or when some stray craft which found itself outside home waters with the weather blowing up in a tirade had braved Soggers Gap as a preferable alternative to the fury of Sea.

     The old barge which rested inside the gigantic ring of stone, with its landward end firmly grounded ashore, holding aloft the rambling structure which grew on its deck, was part of the visible result of these storms which raked the channel from season to season—storms some residents of the bay looked forward to the way kids look forward to birthdays.

     That kind of rough weather always brought something good from local waters—boards which could be used for patching their own structures, pilings with good metal fittings still intact, rope which could be spliced into usefulness, pieces of boats which could be fitted back into other boats, firewood, the occasional holed and shipwrecked dinghy.

     Somebody else’s tough luck meant a bonanza for the bay dwellers. Everything the waters brought was eagerly and enthusiastically salvaged, assessed and eventually put to use unless it was felt that the article was too valuable and an effort ought to be made to find the owner. Though they might be opportunists they were not thieves.

     Even the garbage which frequently came along with these gifts was regarded with interest and could get a conversation about extravagance, waste and pollution heated up enough to raise voices. Old plastic, in whatever form, wasn’t usually considered reusable. Egg cartons, cast off adult toys, bags, packaging and worn out tarps all came in for their share of scorn and disgust. Plastic was regarded as a useful commodity when in its rightful place, but not when it was trashed and dumped into the sea.

     Anyone who had ever found it necessary to remove a length of torn poly construction sheet which had twisted itself tightly around their boat’s propeller shaft and almost fused itself to the metal, would certainly have sympathised with the sentiments expressed, and if a mug of home-made beer got spilled when gesticulating participants in the discussion got so involved in the issue that they forgot what it was they held, the language got even more acrid as the person sustaining the loss watched the lovely brew soak into the planks of the old barge where the discussion was underway.

     That the barge shouldn’t have been there was the opinion of all the owners of the big new houses now going up far back on the slopes which overlooked its resting place from across the waters of the quiet bay. They were unanimous on this one point, if on no other. It was considered to be a wart displaying itself right in the middle of their beautiful ocean vista. A distant blemish, hardly visible from such a distance, except with binoculars, but there nevertheless—a constant niggling source of annoyance to neat minds which wanted everything set out according to the latest trends.

     They would also have liked to see the decrepit old pier sink out of sight into the mud, preferably taking along with it the collection of sea-trodden boats which were attached to it, with all their eccentric owners aboard when it went down, and if a bulldozer could be encouraged to run through those abandoned-looking buildings which huddled on the shore of the bay, loud cheers would be their order of the day.

     The fact that they had bought into mortgaged housing on land which was questionably open for purchase never occurred to them, nor were they aware that the bay and its contents were regarded by long-time residents of the area as a local historical museum. They were too busy being busy.

     Had any of the newcomers taken the trouble to find out about it, the battered old barge which had fielded so much recent verbal abuse, and the collection of boats keeping her company, could have supplied endless hours of interesting conversation for the latest inhabitants in the area when friends came to visit, as they inevitably did, but the proud owners were usually so absorbed in pointing out the size of their property with view and the price of their house with hot tub and pool, that the tales of Bay and Barge remained outside of their concerns and were never discussed.

     Ancient Spirits still holding vigorously to their haunts there, Gap and Creek, the boats, their owners and everything else at Shalisa Creek Bay were never considered to be of interest by the latest arrivals, so their visitors left with the usual prosaic details of cost and location, instead of taking away with them the lore of the bay inhabitants, the varied and colourful histories of the bay’s floating residents, and the story of its high-rolling past which the old barge had acquired over the passing years.

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