PAT NEAL: Graduates: Dare to imagine

THIS WEEK’S COLUMN is dedicated to all our graduates. We are so proud of you. You are limited only by your imagination. This is a free country where you can live your dreams if you dare to imagine the life you live.

Things were different back in the dark days of the last century when I graduated.

My dream was to catch every fish in the Olympic Mountains. We were born to fish, but forced to work.

Upon being offered any job that was dirty and dangerous with low pay and no future, I couldn’t wait to get started. There were a lot of farms back then. High school kids were considered farm machinery.

You could buck hay bales if you were lucky. Early on a sunny summer morning, you’d be trotting across a field, bucking bales into a truck, then backing the truck into the barn where the process was reversed.

Sometimes the farmer gave us pop at the breaks. Sometimes the farmer’s wife would cook a noon meal with hot dogs. We didn’t care. After a morning’s haying, we were hungry enough to eat the shingles off the roof.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of an honest day’s work — they tell me. To head for the barn at the end of the day, the truck piled impossibly high with hay. Pop the clutch on the side of the hill, dump the crew under half the load and keep driving.

It was OK, because even if I couldn’t drive a hay truck, I had dreams of driving a log truck.

What teenager wouldn’t want to hotrod 90,000 pounds of attitude down the highway during tourist season?

The old man must have sensed this. Maybe that’s why all my log truck driving was confined to the parking lot.

They leaked a lot of grease and oil. As a grease monkey, it was my job to replace these vital fluids.

I got to drive the trucks in and out of the shop, hitting speeds of up to 5 mph in the parking lot. You’d have to be nuts to quit that job, but I did.

There was more money to be made chopping off salmon heads. All you needed was a sharp knife and you had a career that lasted as long as the salmon.

It was OK. Because once the salmon ran out, a kid could still make big money stacking wood.

There was a shingle mill behind every stump out west. Shingleweavers paid big money to anyone savvy enough to stack one shingle block on top of another.

You could learn how to handle fascinating tools like the picaroon. This was a sharp bit of steel shaped like a gull’s beak. Mounted on an ax handle, the picaroon twisted on impact with wood or flesh, sinking in so you could drag it away. A shingle mill was so loud you could scream as loud as you wanted and nobody would hear you. That was in case you had any complaints.

I almost feel sorry for today’s graduate. The changing tides of our global economy have deprived them of the opportunity of riding the gravy train of these cream puff careers.

That’s evolution for you. We went from the resource exploitation to the information age in the course of a generation.

Today’s graduate is entering a global economy with unlimited opportunities just waiting to be found.

You are free to choose.

You can live in a basement on pocket pizzas, energy drinks and video games or catch every fish in the Olympic Mountains.

It’s up to you to dare to imagine.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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