This piece was inspired by a trip to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the Bumblebee Cannery Museum, both of Astoria, Oregon. Astoria has a long history of fishing and many of its original settlers were Finnish. It was also a hotbed of unionizing activity during the first few decades of the 20th century.
By Wendy N. Wagner
The tide was in, and the butter and brine smell of the sea covered the stink of the river. The Kultaseni nosed against the current, keeping to the edge of the shipping channel. Ben kept a tight hold of the tiller and found himself forgetting to blink as he peered ahead into the darkness. Clouds like wool felting wrapped up the sky, and the air was thick with unshed rain.
He risked a quick glance at the man standing in the stern. Arlo Koski’s bigness defined him, set him apart from the other men in Astoria. At the Suomi Ladies Auxiliary annual tug of war, Koski was always called to be team captain. At union meetings, even the Seattle organizers shut up for him to talk. Ben could remember sitting at the back of the Suomi Brotherhood Hall with his brother Joe, listening to Koski and wishing he could be something, anything like the man.
Now his boss stood motionless, just a darker silhouette against the vaguer darkness of the night, watching for snags and boat traffic—the last the most important since they were out here with no running lights. On a normal night, they might see three dozen boats on the water, but half of Astoria was down at the hall talking strikes. Ben wondered if he could still convince Koski this was a bad idea. (Continue Reading…)