By Allison Arthur
Telling stories, changing stories
All I remember is that it was hot and I wanted to get home and off U.S. Highway 101 as soon as possible after interviewing for a job at the Peninsula Daily News sometime in the 1980s. I had answered a classified ad in The Seattle Times for a reporter in the Forks office. At the time, Forks was the epicenter of the economy vs. environment controversy and I really wanted the job.
It was clear from the first comment the editor made on the phone when he called me that it would be a hard sell. “Allison Arthur?,” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Oh, you’re a woman,” he said.
That used to happen in the 1980s. More so than most women today can imagine.
So I gave him the pitch. I told him I’d grown up in the timber industry. My father was a timber cruiser. He had had a hand in designing mills, including one in Garibaldi, Oregon. I knew what a gypo logger was. I told him I’d worked at the University of Washington forest research station in La Grande, Washington. I had done reports on timber harvests.
And I also knew my way around environmental and resource issues. I had reported on water rights in the Yakima Basin, where the Yakama Tribe and farmers were at odds. So why not let me take a whack at Forks?
When I finally finished with an in-person interview, he told me point blank, “I don’t think I can put a woman in Forks.”
And so I was in no mood to linger any longer on the Olympic Peninsula as I was driving home. Vividly, I remember a sign pointing to the left-hand turnoff to Port Townsend. My tired mother suggested we take a detour to see the historic town. I’d been to the sweet Victorian city a few years earlier with a girlfriend. Without knowing why, I said, “No.” And then added, “I’m going to live there when I’m an old lady.” It’s a strange thing to remember, I know. I wondered at the time what had possessed me and I vowed to remember that odd outburst.
Flash forward to 2006, some 30 years later. I was living on Vashon Island. My daughter announced she needed to go to Port Townsend for a “bead run” to Wynwoods Gallery, one of her favorite bead stores in the state. With nothing better to do, we caught the ferry and drove to Port Townsend. As I was waiting for her, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Tyler Street Café, I started reading local paper. And I saw yet another classified ad for another job – as a reporter for The Leader.
Within a week, editor Patrick Sullivan had summoned me for an interview. Unlike the editor in Port Angeles decades earlier, Sullivan liked what he heard. I had been managing editor of the Journal of the San Juans and editor of Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber as well as assistant editor for The Daily Astorian. I could fill in for him on occasion. I sensed he was giddy about taking time off.
A matter of a month and a half from that bead run, I was in the Leader’s news room.
I loved Port Townsend, as did all of my family.
There was something for everyone, including the dog. My oldest daughter has disabilities. She immediately took to Gatheringplace as did the dog, Spunky, who loved their dog biscuit factory. My youngest daughter wanted to be an attorney at the time and took to Mock Trial – and jumping off the pier at Fort Worden, which apparently is a ritual for those turning 16. My attorney husband, a world traveler who lied when we first met and really has never wanted to settle down, took to the two libraries.
And I took to the community at large.
Jefferson County is a goldmine for story telling and reporting. When I came, the old hippies were just starting to retire. Gentrification wasn’t in full bloom, as it is today. Housing was hard to find though. I spent four months living in an apartment above The Leader with my youngest daughter and her laundry.
Why have I stayed?
Because there’s nowhere to go.
Jefferson County is a safe haven. It is far from the maddening crowd, yet close enough to the luxuries of civilization and professional medical care.
And the stories. They are here. It’s no longer the spotted owl. But the economy versus environment stories are still huge on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s how the City of Port Townsend will deal with water rights for the largest water customer – the Port Townsend Paper Mill, which consumes in one day as much as all of the residents of Port Townsend in a single month. That’s 10 million gallons of fresh water from the Olympic Mountains. Can we talk about climate change here?
It’s what will become of a county that has one of the oldest populations in the entire United States. What does a 25 percent loss of the student population of the Chimacum School District in three years mean to the community as a whole? Can we talk about the tsunami of elders?
And it’s about the lack of affordable housing and the increase in homelessness.
It’s now what preoccupies me as an employee of Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), where I manage several grants aimed at helping people who are experiencing homelessness move into stable housing.
As I write this, I am reminded who asked me to share “How I got to Port Townsend.” It was the legendary Ross Anderson, a retired Seattle Times reporter I’ve long admired, along with his equally talented editor-wife Mary Rothschild.
Forgive me for just remembering – and laughing – at a scene that took place in the summer of 2019 at Fort Worden State Park. A half dozen aging journalist, led by Anderson, had gathered to talk about starting a news blog/online website. Over beer, there was talk of what stories The Leader was missing and what stories needed to be written. I looked around and noticed something and blurted out the question: “What’s missing here?”
I think it was Ross who caught it. It wasn’t a what. It was a who. Women. I was the only woman at the table.
“She should be invited,” I said, nodding to Jan Halliday, who was sitting at across from us at a nearby table. She also is a talented writer who worked for The Leader.
Some stories get old in the telling. But they always change. Always.
So here I am, an old lady by the standards of the 20-something woman who was rejected 30 years ago for a job in Forks. I’m here in Port Townsend where I told my mother I would be.