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Over the past few years I've sort of lost interest in Potlatch -- the small, literary science fiction convention founded to, amongst other things, support Clarion West. For that matter, even at times when I was more interested I only went to one of them in California. (Potlatch has traditionally alternated years between Seattle and the Bay Area, with two or three stops in Oregon as well. I went to the one in Eugene.) In recent years it has seemed that the convention was on its last legs, but so far someone has always stepped up at the last moment to keep it going. This year, for the 23rd in the series, it was Tom Becker and a band of hearty, hard-bitten Bay Area veterans. I wasn't going to go, but then Spike told me that the Fishlifters would be there. Well, shit. I couldn't pass up a chance to see the Fishlifters! So a week ago Thursday I flew to San Jose, and I'm so glad I did. In fact, this was as much fun as I've had at a Potlatch since I can't remember when.

2014-02-22-The Fishlifters at Potlatch
The Fishlifters

A lot of it had to do with Claire and Mark (dba the Fishlifters), of course. On Friday morning I found them in the hotel restaurant eating breakfast, and I basically spent the rest of the day with them. After breakfast we went shopping for beer that they might take back to the UK. (We had each also brought along bottles for the traditional beer exchange, even more appropriate at a Potlatch.) After that we went to a wine tasting place, the name of which I don't recall, and then we headed to a bar called Wine Affairs that had an excellent selection of both wine and beer. We basically spent the rest of the day there, gossiping like old fishwives (and brandishing our old fishlifters) and perhaps plotting fannish mischief, who knows. Needless to say, after many hours of drinking strong beer I was pretty sloshed, so when we got back to the hotel (courtesy of Spike, our hero in this and many other situations) I went to my room "to take a nap" and essentially woke up ten hours later. So much for opening ceremonies or the Friday panel on San Jose history, which I was putatively a member of but which I'd begged off of once a couple more people who had actually lived in or near San Jose were enlisted. (My job, if it had come to that, was to talk about pulp writer Homer Eon Flint, who lived in San Jose. Last time I was in the South Bay, for E Corflu Vitus, Tom drove me to the canyon where Flint died his mysterious death in 1924.)

But another reason I enjoyed this Potlatch so much is that I absolutely loved the book of honor, China Miéville's The City and the City, which I've written about here a couple of times. The panel discussion on Saturday was excellent, although it got off to a rocky start when the only people commenting were those who hadn't liked the book -- to the extent that I was thinking about leaving, because I felt so disconnected from the perspectives being expressed. But eventually the people who liked the book (as well as those who felt ambivalent, or who liked it the first time but not the second, etc) began to speak up, and lots of great analysis was exchanged. I even liked some of the things brought up by people who hadn't cared for the book, including a critique of Miéville's thoughtless adoption of the crime fiction trope of using murdered women to drive the plot. I said one of the things I wanted to say -- possibly the first time I've ever participated in a book of honor discussion at Potlatch -- and even managed to shape it as a response to things other people had brought up. I also said things about a couple of the books in the discussion about everything nominated this year -- another great discussion. The one on "The City in Science Fiction" on Sunday was somewhat less successful, for some reason. It was one of those discussions that rambled off into a lot of cul-de-sacs, which convention program items have a tendency to do, which is why I have a tendency to avoid them. Still, two out of three was a high batting average, and even the third one had a lot of interesting bits. Oh, and I'm forgetting the first panel on Saturday, "Crime & Fantasy: When Genres Collide", which was fascinating. I hadn't realized how many crossover books there were, and I thought of a few more that weren't mentioned in the discussion.

Other than that I hung out with more of the people I'd been looking forward to seeing, including Rich Coad and Gary Mattingly. I guess a third thing that made this Potlatch work for me was that it was an interesting follow-up to last year's Westercon in Sacramento, which was also run by the South Bay Cabal. So I got to spend more time with guys like Chuck Serface and Dave Gallagher, whom I'd met at that Westercon, as well as other South Bay suspects like Kevin Roche, Andy Trembley, and Chris "Pull My Finger" Garcia, not to mention Tom and Spike, Karen Schaffer and Mike Ward, and a brief but lovely chat with Lucy Huntzinger. Also got to hang out a bit with Glenn Glazer, whom I think of as someone I know more through online stuff than through conventions, although I know I've been at some that he's also been at. A lot of these folks are serious SMOFs, so for all that Potlatch is a very literary convention I felt I got quite a blast of Worldcon politics and plans as well. Fun in small doses, but don't try this at home. ("So how *did* you become the person running the fanzine lounge at the 2015 Worldcon?" Mark asked almost rather accusingly.)

Well, it was all actually a whole lot of fun, and Tom and his merry crew did a bang-up job running it. Somewhere during the course of the weekend some folks from Seattle (Tom Whitmore, Karen Anderson, Linda Deneroff, and I don't know who else) decided to run another one next year, so the old, grey Potlatch still refuses to die. After the brilliance of this year's, I'm actually looking forward to another one, too.

The word "potlatch" is derived from a Coast Salish word for the tribal practice of ceremonial gift-giving, and after the convention I headed out to a Coast Salish reservation for a gift of vacation. Yes, it was time for my semi-annual visit to La Push and its wild environs. On Monday I drove to Astoria, which I visited last November and loved the beer there so much I decided to incorporate it into my Olympic Peninsula vacation routine. There was even a new brewpub called Buoy Brewing since I'd last been there, but I had my mind set on the other two, so I didn't try it. Next time! I hit the Wet Dog Cafe (which is part of Astoria Brewing), and had a lovely saison and a really nice, malty barleywine called Voodoo Fruit. Fort George Brewery had just hosted the Festival of Dark Arts ("A Carnival of Stout"), and they still had plenty of stout on hand. I had been intent on having another pint of the Divinity, which I liked so much last time, but it had been bumped by the stouts. The closest thing to it on tap was their regular wit, called the Dry Wit, so I had that. It was the first beer of theirs that didn't do much for me. So next I had the Dark Matter Stout, and it was heavenly. This was an imperial oatmeal stout aged in pinot noir and bourbon barrels. (Note to akirlu: I was wrong that it hadn't touched a bourbon barrel! But the bourbon was subtle in it, especially blended with the equally subtle pinot noir.) I liked it so much I had them fill a small growler that I'd brought with me. While I was waiting for that to fill, the guy gave me a taste of another one, but I'm no longer sure which one it was. I think it was the Kentucky Girl, but whatever it was, it was also excellent.

Onward the next day to La Push. Because of the stop in Astoria I was only going to have three nights there rather than the routine four. I reined in my plans, mostly hoping I'd get some decent beach weather, but knowing it could well be non-stop rain. I asked the women in the resort office what the weather was supposed to be like, and one of them had heard that Friday was supposed to be beautiful, which I took to mean that Wednesday and Thursday weren't supposed to be. Just my luck, because I'd be leaving on Friday. Because of the shifts in my routine, I decided that I'd just re-do things I'd done before. Keep it simple and close to home base. So on Wednesday I returned to Third Beach, just up the hill from the resort, to seek out the secluded beach across the headland where I'd had my ecstatic experience last time. The weather was sunny on Third Beach, where I had to wait for the tide to go out before I could get to the trail that crosses the headland. That trail is a tough hike involving ropes and sand ladders at various points, and it certainly was a good workout. By the time I got to the other beach, clouds had rolled in and cooled things down, so my skinny-dipping experience was briefer and decidedly less ecstatic than before. Still, it's a beautiful spot, and the misty scenery induced a meditative state of mind. Then more hard hiking and climbing to get back to the car, leaving my head buzzing with endorphins.

On Thursday I went to Second Beach, thinking if I walked to the far end of the long beach, I might have it to myself. Once again I had to wait for the tide -- or thought I did. The other thing that screwed up my plans this time was that high tide was always in the late morning, meaning that I couldn't really do anything on the beaches until early afternoon, cutting the amount of time I had before sunset. But I eventually figured out that I could have clambered through the driftwood above the high tide and reached exposed beach on the other side. I tucked that thought away for future use. Meanwhile I did have the far end of the beach to myself, but once again the sun was socked in behind clouds, so skinny-dipping was brief and too damned cold. Still, and again, it was beautiful and peaceful there by myself under cool grey skies, and I sank further into meditativeness.

So of course Friday dawned completely cloudless. Was I really going to go home without making some attempt to enjoy the weather? As I drank my morning coffee I considered various options, but given that high tide was at 11:25am, nothing really seemed to work. Then I started thinking about Second Beach again and about how I might be able to get down there soon enough to clamber over that bit of driftwood and get to the exposed beach on the other side before it was completely cut off by the rising tide. I had been planning to lollygag that morning and check out just before the 11am checkout time, but now I started hustling to get out early. I made it down to the beach around 9am, and sure enough, I was just able to get to the exposed beach without having to clamber over huge tracts of driftwood. When I reached the far end of the beach and saw that nobody was camping or had come down even earlier, I was pretty confident that I'd have the whole thing to myself for four or five hours, before the tide would have receded enough for people to do what I'd just done. Perfect!

So I stripped to the skinny in the glorious morning sunshine, and proceeded to have another one of those deliriously ecstatic experiences I seem to have out there every time I go. There's something sensual about being naked in the great outdoors, of course, but there's also a ritual aspect to it that I really get off on, as if what I've stripped myself of are my day-to-day responsibilities and normal routine. For me, it's to enter an extraordinary world. (Sharee would laugh, because prancing around naked in the outdoors is basically normal life for her.) It's very primal and intense, as is the dose of Vitamin D delivered by sun on every inch of skin. Splashing around in the freezing surf is just kind of stunning. When the plan had shaped in my head and I'd realized how long I'd be stuck there, unable to leave, I decided to bring along a book, but I ended up not even looking at it. My mind had become something very simple and full of blazing light, and all I wanted to do was wander up and down the beach soaring on my heart's exultant wings. For five freaking hours! During which time I had to don more and more clothing to protect my exultant skin from sunburn. (Note to self: Put some sunscreen in your backpack next time!)

By the time I had my pants back on, it was about time to pack up and head back to the car for the long drive home. The now receding tide would be about at the point where the incoming tide had been when I'd arrived five hours previously. Sure enough, when I got down to the tidal chokepoint near the trailhead, I met two young women and a guy coming across and heading in the direction I'd just come from. I almost told them, "It's all yours!" They didn't need to be told.

So, not so much a voyage of discovery this time, but an elaboration of previous ideas. That's probably the order of things for the near future, since I've explored most of the things I know to explore. There are more trails in the mountains and forests that I'd like to check out, but the beach is where my heart belongs. Yesterday I sat naked in the sunshine and listened to the ocean roar, and I could feel the tension and stiffness and worry draining out of me like a poison. I think it usually takes about three days to reach that state, and usually I have one more day to enjoy it. But it's achieving that state of relaxed serenity that is the goal. Mission accomplished.

Barefoot in the Head
Barefoot in the head


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 1st, 2014 11:27 pm (UTC)
It all sounds fantastic.
Mar. 1st, 2014 11:44 pm (UTC)
This always sounds so wonderful.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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