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Jane Barnes

The Shores of Oregon

Poem by John Dashney (1942-2019), Music by Gordon Bok

Jane Barnes was a barmaid in Portsmouth Town

When she decided it might be fun

To give up her job, take up with a man

And sail for the shores of Oregon

Sail for the shores of Oregon

So she sailed away from Baker’s Bay

Round the horn in the Isaac Todd

It’s thirteen months from Portsmouth Town

To the shores of Oregon by God

There to the shores of Oregon

Donald McTavish was the man she chose

When that long trip was first begun

The new governor at old Fort George

That sat on the shores of Oregon

Sat on the shores of Oregon

But the governor’s boat was swamped and sunk

And McTavish and his crew were drowned

His body washed up on the shore

And the rest of men were never found

The rest of the men were never found

So Jane was left without a man

Alone as on the sands she trod

1814 on rainy beach

On the shores of Oregon by God

There on the shores of Oregon

Then Prince Cassakas said to her

I am Great Chief Comcomly’s son

I got four wives but marry me

And live on the shores of Oregon

Live on the shores of Oregon

I’ll give you kinnikinnick to smoke

Seal oil to rub on your skin so white

And you’ll never have to grub for roots

Nor dig for clams on the shore at night

Clams on the shore at night

By God said Jane I do need a man

Why did McTavish have to drown?

But a man that smells like rotten fish

I’d rather serve beer in Portsmouth town

And smell like the beer in Portsmouth town

So Jane sailed away for Baker’s Bay

To the west and followed the setting sun

Clear round the world to Portsmouth town

And far from the shores of Oregon

Far from the shores of Oregon

Jane never made the history books

And children never read of her life

For she was a barmaid bold and not

Some pious missionary wife

Pious missionary wife

Jane was a barmaid coarse and bold

And yet, when all is said and done

My God! She was the first and far from the worst

To come to the shores of Oregon

To come to the shores of Oregon

John Dashney was an internationally loved storyteller, historian, and author of children’s books. We had corresponded for a few years when he sent me this poem, wondering if it might become a song. I loved the story, the nuts and bolts of it, the characters and the way John presented them with such honesty and respect, so I made this tune for it, which he said he liked.

Here’s why I believe this is a true story. The “bar” off the mouth of the Columbia River is one of the most dangerous river-bars in the world, and captains who pilot the ships across it must have the highest credentials in the world. In their office in Astoria, there’s a plaque on the wall commemorating the first known Columbia River Bar Pilot. -Comcomly.

[Thanks to friend & hero Capt. Deborah Dempsey, Bar Pilot, for al lher kindnesses]

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House Blessing

QuasiModal Chorus

  • Beth Alma
  • Mary Bok
  • Mary Anne Brown
  • Will Brown
  • Anne Dodson
  • Jamie Huntsburger
  • Cindy Kallet
  • Molly Lebel
  • Ellen Libby
  • Loie Lyman
  • Carney McRae
  • Bob Richardson
  • Carol Rohl
  • Susan Shaw
  • Ivan Stancioff
  • Matthew Szostak
  • Holly Torsey
  • Lynn Travis

Words and Music © 2000, Gordon Bok

Love, come bless this happy house

And all who scramble round within:

Bless the footprints on the wall

And may the chimney never lean.

Bless the night with song and laughter,

Silence bless the morning after.

Glory pour from sump and rafter,

Hammer-blossom*, joist and beam!

I’ve always enjoyed it when someone comiong through the door would say “Bless this house.” I’ve heard it in a few languages; and it mattered not whom they were asking to do the job. I knew it wouldn’t be wasted on me. So here’s my version, adjusted fo rlocal conditions.

The Quasis recorded two songs at my stepmother Stormy’s house one evening, and as we were getting ready to leave, one of us suggested we sing this song to thank her. We did, and Hamilton Hall wisely turned the recorder back on and captured it.

*those little, round, decorative indentations you see around certain nailheads

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 Journal Entry Brixham Trawler Provident, 1964

The first transatlantic “Tall Ships Race” (which the US neglected to notice)

~ for Nick A, and Ulla S.

    We came on the Spanish coast at Cabo Villano after a week of thrashing back and forth in the Bay of Biscay without sight of land.

    First, only the dropping breeze and our gear beginning to slat in the beam swell, and then from the murk ahead, a wild-sheered, yellow Spanish trawler swung fragrantly across our bows with happy shouts and, rolling hugely, made her way to the southard, leaving us staring at the calmly blinking eye of a lighthouse, dead ahead: Cabo Villano, off Ria de Camariñas.

    And then the long wallow for Finisterre, heavy sea and light wind, rolling like a tinker’s whore (mythical beast, that) under the grim hills of Facho, Pedro Martir, Ortigal.  Off Isla Onza we picked up the Group Flashing 2 of Isla Cies, off Vigo, and Cabo Sillero kept us guessing all the way down the black shore under the squall clouds to La Guardia.  

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Reflections on Our Lives During this Pandemic Year.

    There’s a certain quiet to this season that feels calming, to me.  People are driving less, for one thing, so there are times on the weekend when you can stand in the orchard and hear the hills behind the crow.  That feels like it did when I was young.  

 The witch hazel has been glowing dull gold since the beginning of March, and that can keep me entertained while doing nothing but looking – perhaps I’ve found the contemplative life after all…

    Over the year I’ve had time to design and build a little furniture, some things for Carol’s house, and to further other projects like editing and transcribing.  Walks, and a little careful music with friends, but Carol and I do the only singing together since the weather drove us all indoors.

  I’ve had a small flurry of requests for videos (music, stories) and Zoom-participation in musical events.  Carol and I have been making music together far more regularly, too.

    We’re also feeling even more connected to and grateful for all the friendships, earned or bestowed that the world has given us.

    Curiously, the carvings keep trickling out the door at a leisurely pace, even without any gallery showings.  I’ve been finishing up a few long-stalled pieces, rescued a couple from “death row” and made some new ones.

    A year into sketches, research, drawings and studies (carvings in scrap wood) on a commission from a West coast family, I’m ready to put tool to a lovely piece of mahogany – (with all usual trepidation, prayers, and incantations, of course.)

    I feel hope, this season, too, that these lost years and months have shown us what we are and can do, both good and bad.  

    I hope we can raise the energy to make the changes we need to, that we might live to deserve this lovely world.  

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For Gordon and Carol

I don’t know how long

I’ve been afloat,

I just know that I’m far from home,

facing backwards, lining up

the landmarks I have already passed,

as the sea lifts and drops

and frantic gulls wheel overhead.

Tired, I want to set the oars amidships

and drift for a few moments

watching the waves gnaw

against the bluffs,

but I don’t dare,

for the swells and stones

would splinter this dory

as if we were falling 

inside that burning building

I saw so many times on television.

I do not rest

but I dip the oars,

bending into them,


and again.

“There is a kind land”

I tell myself,

“just beyond the next headland

or surely the one after that.”

John Straley

September 2005

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“Back-Log”         High School

Thinking about high school, it seemed like one long slog of endless sitting still, wrestling with numbers in math and physics and dates in history – and then they let you out in the open air to do some thrashing around and clear your head – like, say football – they run you around a bit, and then they start stuffing a whole new set of numbers at you.

Numbers irritate me; always have.  They’re alien to healthy living and antithetical to good, clean, human mayhem.

That’s why I liked swimming as a sport.  I got “my letter” (do they still do that?) all four years in swimming.  It was simple: they’d point to the water and you’d go and do your body-water thing.  You could work like hell, and you couldn’t hear them yelling at you, none of all those numbers could penetrate the water, and you could do your breathe-sing-swim-dream thing as long as your strength held out or someone grabbed you by the hair when you made a turn.

In high school years, two hours of peace and solitude a day was worth a lot.