Helen Picca's Blog
May 20, 2020
September 9, 2019
November 30, 2018
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You think you know a lot about the sea until you read this astounding book. What is particularly astounding is that this book was published in 1951 and foretold much of what has come to fruition in terms of ocean acidification, global warming, toxic fish. I am witnessing firsthand these ill effects on the fishing industry, as threats to the Dungeness Crab fishery here in Oregon are a reality. (An association of fishermen recently filed suit against fossil fuel producers for destruction of the ocean/fishing grounds.)
I learned a great deal about how our planet was formed, the ocean bottom, shifting continents, fish migration, mysterious fish from the deep ocean, but more importantly, how fragile and threatened the world's fisheries are.
In 1951 she wrote, "the evidence that the top of the world is growing warmer is to be found at every hand."
Beautifully written, Carson, an early conservationist, won acclaim for sounding the alarm against pollution and global warming.
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November 25, 2018
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As a first novel, this book deserves 5 stars plus. The story, the plot, the characters are brilliant. The town of Liberty is anything but free as its residents are held bound by the hypocrisy of religion, misogyny, racism and voodoo. What I thought I knew at the beginning of the book, was different from the truth I learned by the end. Things are never as they seem on the surface. Details and background of the character's pasts are revealed slowly, randomly, in a non-linear fashion in beautiful prose. Here's just one example: when talking about prostitutes, "They also knew about the needle of lust that pierces the heart of small church towns. Where Bible quotations were stitched into the lining of panties. And Jesus plaques stared from the headboard of marital beds."
This book made me think, try to figure out what was going on--with ghost babies, Miss Barbara's, the Reverend--and ended with me wondering what would become of Ephram and Ruby.
If you find yourself, like me, not understanding what the hell is going on, read on; it is still a gem, an example of great writing. You will understand enough to feel the pain and sorrow of Ruby's horrific life.
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October 26, 2018
Left to my own devices, I would always choose a book that is historical in nature. So thankfully, there are book clubs, prompting me to read books I would never have chosen by myself. Having been a member of a book club for the past 10 years, I can honestly state that some of the best books I have ever read were book club selections. And the bonus is, you get to talk about your impressions of the book with other people who invariably have a different take, a different understanding, a different point of view.
If you love to read, seek out and join a book club. Your reading experience will be greatly enriched!
August 26, 2018
July 25, 2018
Now, it might sound like this was drudgery, that I hated my job. Quite the opposite. I loved it. I was useful, helping a company to grow, because, you know, market share is everything. We were making newer, better products. And yes, it was cosmetics, not rocket science, but cosmetics have the power to change one’s outlook on life. I learned that many years before when I volunteered at a company-sponsored program called “Look Good, Feel Better,” a joint program by the cosmetic industry and the American Cancer Society, whereby we volunteers went to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and worked with their patients doing makeovers. Some of the patients had just had surgery, wearing bandages and dragging along their I.V. poles, some of them were terminal. But as we sat together and played with makeup, showing them how to apply it properly, helping those too weak to do it themselves, I saw firsthand the power of cosmetics. Those women came in looking sad and hopeless and left with smiles on their faces, with a new willingness to face the world and their challenges. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. . .
July 18, 2018
When we write—be it fiction or non-fiction—so much of our own “story” becomes part of the book. I’ve just finished a non-fiction manuscript on the subject of finding happiness and, in addition to all the facts, quotations and opinions of recognized authorities, it is filled with my personal experiences, little anecdotes to exemplify a point I am trying to make to help the reader understand it. But I realize that in fiction, as well, there is much of ourselves that we draw upon in the telling of the tale, whether it is historical fiction , fantasy or mystery. Our own life experiences have a way of forming our voice and sneaking into our narrative. Like when my main character was explaining her close relationship to a doctor under whom she was learning, recalling a childhood memory of when he came to the house to treat her for chicken pox; she asked him where she got the pox from and he answered her, “from chickens, silly.” That came from a childhood memory of my own.
I was writing about a town in a setting I had stumbled upon, one that captivated me. I knew little of it, so moved here to Port Orford, Oregon , a small, rural town on the very edge of the continent and “lived” with the people; I became part of the community, the landscape, the history, all of which swirled within my consciousness and wound up on pages that became a book. Though inspired by real people and many real events, it is still a work of fiction, conjured up from the depths of my imagination. The main character, Jennifer, is a compilation of so many women I know and admire: my mother, good friends, as well as, myself. For Jack, the love of her life, I had a muse, a man who (in my opinion) embodies the perfect man on every level, physically, intellectually and spiritually. Other characters were inspired by real people I met in the town.
Every aspect of a novel—characters, plot, story—come from the author’s own experience, their own observations of people, events, places. Thus, when we are reading a book, regardless of the genre, we get a glimpse into the life of its author. Perhaps where he/she is from, their culture, their heritage, their family background, their joys and their tragedies. We write what we know. Oscar Wilde pondered the question, when he stated, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life .” In my mind, art always imitates life.
February 4, 2018
It’s December in Port Orford and Christmas is coming, but an event far more important and meaningful is approaching. There is much activity, much preparation for this annual event on which the whole town, the whole county, the whole state depends. So much planning has gone into it and months of work all leading up to this one day. The anticipation has been palpable and at last it is here, the opening day of Dungeness Crab season. For weeks, the crab pots have been arriving, being stacked all around the perimeter of the dock, organized by the markings of the pot itself and the buoy attached by its coil of rope inside. Thousands of them, stacked five high, they are a wonder to behold--each grouping different than the next, like paintings in a museum to be viewed with a critical eye. Each fisherman’s buoys are unique, by hue and design, painted with encircling rings of various widths and geometric designs in a kaleidoscope of colors.
Here at the most unique port in Oregon—a dolly dock, one of only two in the entire country—the dock is abuzz with activity. For days, they have been chopping bait, thousands of pounds of fish flown in frozen from Alaska, hacked into chunks to later be affixed to the pots in order to lure the crabs. The boats have been readied, engines tuned, loaded with gear, gas, fresh water and food. Then, starting at midnight three days before the harvest date, the ships are lowered into the sea from this drydock port, the only one on the West Coast. One by one, with the massive hydraulic crane, each boat is lifted from its wooden dollie, hoisted up and over the port wall and down into the frigid water below. In the darkness of night, a motorized forklift scurries to that fisherman’s trove of pots, retrieves a pallet of five and rushes to the crane at the end of the dock. The crane operator deftly hoists the pots off the pallet and over the port wall to the ship below. Back and forth scramble the forklifts, lights flashing, bringing more and more pots to the crane to be loaded onto the boat, till the stern of the boat is filled with them. At last, the boat eases away from the dock and slowly rounds the jetty, setting course for the open sea to what are hoped to be the fertile crab grounds.
And so, it continues at the dock through the wee hours of the morning, the same monotonous movements, until all the boats have been put in the water and loaded to the hilt with crab pots. It is tedious, but energized, time-consuming work, done after so much planning and great expense, though the prize is deemed worth it. Thousands of pounds of Dungeness Crab, coveted for its sweet and tender flesh, at this year’s starting rate of $3 per pound, will provide income for these families for many months of the year. Last year’s harvest in this state alone was 20.4 million pounds valued at $63 million.
The ships travel out many miles and start to drop their pots. Heavy and bulky, weighing 60-125 pounds each and measuring 12” by 36 or 48” in diameter, it takes two men to handle. Using the winch attached to the boat, each pot is taken from its stack, opened to attach the bait and release the buoy and its coil of rope; the pot is then closed, the buoy laid on top and dropped overboard from the slow-moving boat. Like robots the crew moves, repeating the steps until all the pots are gone from the deck and from the stern of the boat can be seen a long line of colorful Styrofoam buoys, twisting and turning, bobbing up and down, like a costumed chorus line of dancers performing on stage. The ship returns to the dock to repeat the exercise, loading pots, traveling to their chosen spot, baiting and dropping them. This may happen 7 to 10 times over the span of two days until all the pots are used, the dock returning to its drab, seemingly lifeless state. The fishermen dock their boats and head home to sleep for 12-16 hours and eat heartily to regain their strength and build the energy they will need for the harvest to come.
It's the third day and all the boats are gone again. Sometime after midnight they launched back into the sea, to travel to their fishing ground with great anticipation. Will it be a good year? Will the pots be filled? Will the crabs be small or large and bursting with meat? There are no guarantees in this business, despite the fact that so many lives depend on the sea, its health and the forces of nature. Again, this year the harvest was delayed almost three weeks due to the Department of Agriculture’s finding elevated levels of domoic acid in test crabs, a toxic substance created by algae in water that is too warm. The delay allowed more time in colder water to process out the acid, making them safe to eat.
The dock is reawakening. A large tractor trailer filled with fish bins is being unloaded, the forklift bringing them near the crane that will relieve the returning ships of their bounty. In this evermore automated, technologically-advanced world, it is so fascinating and refreshing to watch such a manual enterprise, as if time has stood still here.
And there, on the horizon is a light, a ship coming home to port. Then another, and another. Eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, fifteen ships all heading this way, to port, bright beacons in the blackness of night, like stars on a moonless night, to serve up the first crabs of the season. And though they are moving at full throttle, it seems an eternity till they round the jetty and pull to the end of the dock, one at a time, to begin the slow process of unloading, a reversal of the steps that took place three days ago.
Back to port, the fishermen, though exhausted, are exhilarated and filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment, that their long journey and hard work will be rewarded by the fish wholesaler, who will weigh their haul and pay them their due. This is the last bastion of a primitive society where man is still the hunter-gatherer. The women come to the port with the children to greet their men, to welcome them home, make sure they are safe. They were lucky this year, weather wise, no storms or high seas to hinder their efforts for opening day.
Over the next several months, the men continue to go out, every couple of days to empty and rebait their pots. It is their livelihood, the way they support their families, as men have done for centuries, braving the winter storms and icy water, facing the risk of being tossed overboard or swamped by a rogue wave.
The frenzy is over now, the anticipation gone—even the uncertainty of how much money they will earn this season. But each season, the question remains: Will it be a good year with a record catch like 2005-6 when 33.7 million pounds were landed, or a year like 2007-8 when storms ravaged the coast and only 12.3 million pounds were brought in? With its strict regulations regarding size, sex and season, Oregon has ensured the sustainability of the Dungeness Crab fishery, as certified in 2010 by the Marine Stewardship Council, but this is a cyclical business, subject to the whims of nature (algae blooms, water temperature, currents, storms). Just look at the ups and downs on a graph of the annual landings over the past 30 years to understand how unpredictable this fishery can be.
Then talk to a commercial fisherman, who loves the sea and his profession, and get really excited about the future. Like Joel Purkey, of Port Orford, who’s been fishing for 25 years and is about to launch his new 41’ boat—the Alice Faye—built with a 16’ wide beam to increase his haul. When asked what he thought about the coming season, he said, “I’m optimistic. The last two years have been good, so I think it will continue.” And if not, he isn’t concerned, because like so many fishermen, he also fishes for other species such as tuna, halibut, sablefish, lingcod and rockfish—all bountiful in these waters. As to his being diversified, he adds, “I have to be, so many people depend on me.”
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