Nothing like living over the water

FRAGARIA — I caught a ratfish from my deck. Its big green eyes, large spines and gaping mouth were right out of a nightmare movie. Cut the line and let it plop back into Colvos Passage. Thirty years later, it might still be out there.
I’ll never forget that creepy creature, or much else about living on pilings over Puget Sound. It was the coolest place I’ve ever called home.
Shortly after graduating from college, we found the beach place in the want ads. Three hundred dollars a month. That was a fortune in 1980.
The road wound steeply down a hill, nothing keeping a wayward driver from tumbling into the creek canyon. At the bottom, a skinny dirt driveway slipped between a cliff and row of old cabins on pilings. Ours was third from the end, a white 1 1 1/2 story built in 1940.
Dark-stained knotty pine adorned the walls, broken up by a huge, river-rock fireplace. Single-pane windows exposed the water. On nice days, a tiny Space Needle could be spotted. Binoculars recommended.
Pull-down stairs led to an open second floor where a guy had died during a wild drug party. We were scared of his ghost — though the landlord said he was friendly — and didn’t go up there much. I did haul a Volkswagen engine up piece by piece and rebuilt it, then couldn’t get it back down the ladder.
During high tide, four or five feet of water rose under the deck. I’d cast a line, imagining beautiful cutthroat trout (you could keep them then) and salmon like my neighbors showed off, but caught nothing but dogfish. It was still fun reeling them in. Get offa my hook.
Huge perch lounged under the planks. I could hit them in the head with bait and they still wouldn’t bite. Not that I really wanted to hook one, but they could have at least paid me some mind.
Otters floated past on their backs, cracking clams on their bellies. Seals ducked below the surface, popping up hundreds of feet away.
Sound slid across the water like a shuffleboard. Ships were heard before seen. In the fog, they weren’t visible at all, just horns in the haze.
Once in a while, a black submarine cruised past, probably to an old sonar range off of Fox Island. Light-green Canadian warships were another rare treat. There were always boats of some sort, from brightly colored sailboats racing around the island to monstrous freighters steaming for Tacoma.
It wasn’t always tranquil. Storm waves slammed logs against the 40-year-old pilings, rattling the house and preventing sleep. The water was icy, racing in our out and never stopping long enough to warm up. Rainstorms pummeled the cliff. Once, mud slid across the road and knocked a cabin into the bay. We were long gone by then, fortunately. Would’ve been blocked in for days.
I’d go back in a second. Not only are they not making more waterfront, they’re not building more houses on piers over it. Let me know if you find one. I’d like to retire there.
— Ed Friedrich

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