Strong Foundations

Dock and PilingsSo I’ve been called “metaphor-y” by some. Perhaps “metaphoric” might be more appropriate. Hey, at least it’s better than “sophomoric,” right? Though at times that’s probably pretty accurate too.

And I’ll admit I do tend to see metaphors in objects all the time. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this writing thing for a while now and I’m starting to view the world in a different way.

Who knows?

What’s my point with all this talk of metaphors? Well, I wanted to write about something specific I saw in Oregon, during our vacation there back in July. Partly because I plan on using it in a project I’m working on, and partly because I’ve decided a better use of this blog might be as a place to organize these sometimes esoteric thoughts before I lose them to the ether entirely.

Bridge to Washington State


We almost didn’t go to Astoria, Oregon. It’s at the very tip-top of the state, along the coast. There’s a huge bridge there that you can take across the Columbia River to Washington state. But there’s not really a beach there. And since the reason I was in Oregon was to spend time on the beaches, I’d created an agenda that didn’t include Astoria.

But I got overruled, and I’m very happy that that happened, because I saw something that really touched me there.

Tokyo Marine Ship
See, Astoria, being directly in the shipping lanes (even today, you see all sorts of large, international ships arriving very early in the morning), used to be a huge center for the canning business. In fact, the hotel we stayed in was the Cannery Pier Hotel, aptly named because it sits out on a now-empty pier that once housed all sorts of canneries. The Bumble Bee canning company started there, way back in 1899 when seven salmon canners formed something called the Columbia River Packers Association that ultimately turned into the Bumble Bee we know today.

So canning was big business in Astoria. The hotel lobby even had all these old pictures of hundreds of workers canning tuna and salmon row by row in giant warehouse-like buildings. You got the impression that back then the entire town was employed in that kind of work – either the fishing or the canning.

Eventually, like the steel industry in the part of the country I’m from, the canning industry in Northwest Oregon started to die off. The canneries closed up and ultimately disappeared entirely. But there are still signs they were once there. In fact, right next to our hotel sat the remnants of all these pilings for docks and piers that aren’t there anymore. They fascinated me, the way they’d been left to rot and deteriorate.

I sensed story.

More pilings

I took a ton of pictures of them, and one even adorns the top of my Facebook timeline as my cover photo. I often wonder if people spend any brain cells trying to understand why in the world I’d choose that particular picture for my cover photo. Probably not, but it amuses me to think so.

Anyway, at the Cannery Pier, they have these great old-time cars (I don’t know cars well enough to list the models off to you, but trust me they were cool – everything old is cool, you young people will learn that some day – and I’ll include pictures so car-people can figure it out).

Car 1
Car 2
Car 3

More pilingsIf you make dinner reservations through the front desk for one of the fancy restaurants in town, the staff will offer to drive you to dinner in one of these cars and come pick you up for the return trip as well. So, of course, during the ride there, I asked the pleasant Astorian driver who I’d met earlier that day at breakfast about those pilings and he was kind enough to explain the canning history of the town.

“Okay, that makes sense,” I said. “But when all the canneries went away, why did they leave those dilapidated docks there? And all those pilings just sitting out there, supporting nothing? It seems kind of…dangerous.”

“The pilings are cemented deep down under the water,” he told me. “It’d be very expensive to try to remove them. Too expensive. And besides, some people in town secretly hope maybe industry will return here one day. If not the canning industry, then maybe something else. And if we leave the pilings there, something new could be built on top of them. The foundation is still strong.”

Astoria columnAs he drove, he kept talking about Astoria, about all the movies that had been filmed there, about the tall column you can climb up that lets you see the entire town, but I was only half-paying attention by then. I was thinking about those pilings. I was starting to understand now – leaving them there gave the town a certain kind of hope for the future. For the potential return of things lost. And suddenly I wasn’t thinking about Astoria, or Bumble Bee, or even what I was going to order at the fancy restaurant we were on our way to.

I was thinking about us. About people.

People, and the relationships we have with one another. Friends. Siblings. Brothers and sisters. Parents and their children. Grandparents and grandchildren. Aunts and uncles. Nieces and nephews. Husbands and wives.

I was thinking how sometimes those relationships we have can become strained or estranged. How they can disappear entirely. Or at least how it can seem that way. Distance causes it. Sometimes simple geographic distance, sometimes other kinds of distance. The more internal kinds.

And I wondered if, as people, we’re all just a little bit like Astoria. Maybe, deep down inside, we still have those pilings that formed the foundations of the relationships we once had, the ones we’ve lost to time and distance. Maybe we keep those foundations in place inside us, because they’re too expensive to remove entirely. Maybe we keep them because, whether conscious or not, we want to have hope that things can be rebuilt on top of them someday. If not the same things, then maybe something else. Something new.

Who knows? Maybe I’m crazy to be thinking about things on such terms.

Or at minimum, a little too…”metaphor-y.”

I’ll let you be the judge of that. After all, your are the reader. That means it’s all up to you.

Empty pilings


  1. Reply

    No such thing as too metaphor-y, as far as I’m concerned. Nice passage. And nice pictures. I want to put on a sweater just looking at them.

  2. Reply

    Everything and everyone has a story but not everyone writes them down. When they become words they create a human journal, so I guess you could say that life is a journal.

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