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Al in Bolinas

Al, the Marin County sheep farmer who grew up in the Azores, tended artichokes and red fuschia dancers behind his tiny shack on the mesa in Bolinas after he retired. In his late seventies and without local family or friends, he was perhaps the quietest and most gentle resident of that town during the loud days of Hippie renaissance. Luckily, he lived across the dirt Dogwood road from us, and we came to know and love him. Ironically, it isn't Tay's foreground music stand made from black walnut that turned out important in this photo, it's Al's unpretentious home in the background that sings of a life fully lived. His daughter's entreaties to move him to a "more comfortable" facility halfway across the state went to naught, so long as Al remained in good health and could walk about, putter in his garden, or sit on his back stoop to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean - at that time, there was no house or development between him and the coast of Japan. Al taught me to fish off the high-surf rocks using mussels for bait when the tide turned - a valuable skill in the days when Dagmar and I became broke: she would fillet the little perch, roll them in flour, and fry them up for a feast accompanied by the artichokes and zuchini from Al's rich garden.

As a six-year old in the Azores, he remembered vividly, he was playing on the beach by the fishing boats when the sea suddenly receded. He saw fishes of all kinds flopping on the rocks and seaweed; he wondered that the water had simply gone away. People began screaming and running. A sprinting fisherman took him up and carried him high onto a bluff behind the village. From there they watched the sea crash back into their little bay, destroying the fleet and the places he loved. Years later, with his arm outstretched towards our own Duxbury Reef, he warned us that if we ever saw the water do that, run hard up-hill, fast!

For years Al had collected pieces of shipwreck from the ledge off Duxbury Reef, and worrying at each bit of flotsam with a screwdriver, he had removed hundreds of small, large, and very large brass and silicon bronze wood screws, and he had saved them all in a giant glass jar. He thought he might use them someday.

He presented the jar to me when I was building the keel of the Great Bear on the cold concrete floor of my plastic-wrapped carport. At the time, and in my youthful obsessively-driven need to complete the boat, I appreciated his gift but missed much of its meaning. Today, his poignant thoughtfulness means a lot to me - that he carefully took the jar down from its shelf near the back door, walked across the field and road to my worksite, and passed the valuable collection into my hands so that it might become useful.

Many of your larger screws are still doing their job, Al, thirty-five years later. They are in Naples, Florida, where the Great Bear, born under your watchful eyes, is alive and well. Thank you, again, Al. Thank you. Come in and have some supper!