18 October 2017

Becoming a Native

Or how I became a Washingtonian
By Myra Vanderpool Gormley

“First you have to choose between the Cats and the Dawgs,” my newspaper colleagues at the Seattle Times informed me.


You either root for the UW Huskies (dawgs) or the Cow-Poly Cougars (cats) football teams. Those are the rules.

“OK, I get that.” Coming from Oklahoma, which is as football obsessed as any state, I get the screaming wild-eyed passion for the sport and your team, and I even understand the game (thanks, Dad) — knowing why and when a quick kick is utilized, what a PAT is, and that a playing field is 100 yards long by 53.3 yards wide
I chose the Huskies. Those blue-eyed, curly-tailed pups with their purple jerseys are just too adorable.

“Next, we will take you to Ivar’s for clam chowder. “ That sounded like fun, although this flatlander wasn’t sure what chowder was. But, hey, I’d spent five years in Europe and learn to eat schnecken (snails), spargel (white asparagus), almost raw steaks, and have blistered my lips with Löwensenf mustard. I figured I could handle a little chowder, whatever it was.
By the time lunch was finished I was almost a native Washingtonian.

Or so I thought. Then they began to lay down the hard rules about the other things I had to do to become an Evergreen state native. I was so naïve. I figured the test would be to identify various apples and cherries or a Walla Walla onion. Wrong.

  • Identify the volcanoes of Washington. Eek! We have volcanoes?
  • Get a clam gun. Go clamming at low tide. Dig up a goeduck and spell it correctly. 
     A what? I’d never heard of such an animal. They pronounced it “GOOEYduck,” but I had a feeling that was not the correct spelling.
     “What does it mean?” I asked. 
     “It is from an old Nisqually word for “dig deep.” 
     Oh, that helped. (What’s a Nisqually? I wondered.) And, what is “low tide?” Do I need to go to a range to practice shooting clams? What about a license to buy a clam gun to hunt those critters?

Goeyduck Clam

  • Next. Go fishing. Catch a salmon; identify a ratfish and a dogfish. (Now I knew they were pulling my leg — I knew about salmon and catfish, but the others must be the “snipe” of the Pacific NW, and I wasn’t falling.) So I just smiled and nodded.
  • Sail up the Ballard Locks in a boat from Puget Sound to Lake Union. That sounded like an adventure, and I love the water.
  • Take a ferry to an island — any island; Washington has dozens. More fun. I was beginning to like this state.
  • Pronounce and spell the city in Pierce County where the state fair is held. What? I never claimed to be trilingual.
  • Name 24 edible berries of the Pacific Northwest. (Oh, come on, they have to be kidding). In time I would learn that Washington has berries for everyone — bears, crows, clouds, elders, goose, Indians, salmon, and even thimbles. My favorites — because I love minutiae — are: hairy manzanita (barely edible berries) and twistedstalk. The latter’s fruit is an elongated red berry ripening in mid-summer, and if berries are consumed in quantity, diarrhea can result. Good to know.
  • Name and spell all the rivers in Washington that start with “S.” Only blankey-blank newspaper people would think up such a cruel task.
  • I didn’t pass the test. — initially, but within a couple of years, you could slap Boeing, Microsoft, Nordstrom, Costco, Starbucks, and Amazon stickers all over me. I was a screaming Husky, Seahawks, Sonics and Mariners fan and knew “the wave.” I could identify and spell all the rivers, ports, volcanoes, islands, and towns in the state and I could tell a fir from a cedar. Of course, it helps that we newspaper folks have our cheat sheets, called “Manual of Style and Usage” also known as the “Stylebook.”
Was it only 52 years ago I came to this incredibly beautiful corner of America? Now I speak fluent Evergreenese with just a slight clam accent.