In Motion: Bellingham, Poetry, San Juan Islands, Ted Talks


Monday, March 25, 2013

Whatcom Creek Fire

On June 10, 1999 around 3:25 P.M., a 16 inch full line owned by the Olympic Pipe Line Company ruptures spilling over 277,000 gallons of gasoline into Whatcom Creek.  The volatile fuel explodes killing three people.  The massive fireball sent smoke 30,000 feet into the air, visible from Anacortes to Vancouver!

One and a half miles of earth was scorched, and 25 acres destroyed in the explosion.  It was witnessed that the river was so full of gasoline, it had turned pink.  

Residents nearby called into 911 complaining of an overwhelming smell of fuel, but by this time it was too late.  At 4:55 P.M., approximately and hour and a half after the estimated time of the pipe rupture, the river was set on fire!   

Map of Whatcom Creek's path (in red) that flows
through downtown Bellingham, and into the bay.
The fire ignited half a mile before the I-5 underpass
just to the east of downtown. 
Two young boys, lighting off firecrackers nearby, as it was close to the Fourth of July, were playing near the river.  These innocent children are heroes!  If they had not accidentally set the fire off when they did, the gas would of continued under an interstate highway, directly into downtown, spilling into the busy Bellingham Bay and marina, with potential deaths and injuries in the thousands. (see map, above)

On June 18, 1999, Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmendson said, “The cause of the fire was the fuel released from the Olympic pipeline. The fact that it was ignited was inevitable. With the thousands and thousands of gallons of fuel that were proceeding down Whatcom Creek, had the ignition not taken place where it did and at the time it did, the damage to this community and the loss of life would have been far greater. These boys completely, without notice or any awareness, were involved in an action that ended up being heroic for the city of Bellingham.”  

Hiking the Whatcom Creek trail today, it's hard to believe that such a hellacious event happened here.  If you look for it, you can find burn scars on the trees and see the restoration efforts by the city to bring back salmon and other species to this precious stretch of land.  

Nature finds a way to heal and recover.  

Smoke Rising from the Creek
The creek is a special place for me, as are most rivers, and woodland areas.  I find the forest such a peaceful location for a "technical detox"; a place to clear my mind and sort things out.  I feel fortunate to live in a city that makes nature trails such a priority.  Thanks to this trail system I am an easy walk to Whatcom Creek.  Although I have only lived near the creek for a year, I am encouraged by the recovery efforts the city has made.

This last Saturday at the Writers International Network Literary Festival in Richmond, B.C., I read my poem "River Ink" inspired by Whatcom Creek.  The Festival's theme this year is "Peace".  I shared this history of the creek with the audience.


William Wordsworth, a Romantic poet, said it best, 
"Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher."

The creek is green, luscious with all types of trees, bushes, wildlife, and fish. Nature recovers, finds a way.  

Now, simple folk like myself, who just want to recover from a hectic day 
can stroll along this peaceful river 
with the encouraging visual reminder that life continues,
even after it seems all is lost.

My thoughts today are with the family members of those three lives, 
lost on that fateful day, in June 1999.
May your hearts recover from the lost of such young life.
Rest in Peace
Liam Wood, 18, and Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas, both age 10.

A Falls Along the Upper Portion of Whatcom Creek

City of Bellingham restoration update:

History Link Sequence of Events:

Monday, March 18, 2013


This time of year I often think about my Grandma Mimi.

In April 1998, my cousin Susan called late in the evening with the news. Before I could say one word she cried out “Grandma was kidnapped!” My cousin went on to give me an account of events: early in the morning grandma had a break in, was held hostage, pistol whipped, taken from her home, rescued by the police late in the afternoon, has been released from the hospital, and was going to be interviewed by the local news station tomorrow. I was speechless! That’s a call you don’t get every day.

At the time of the kidnapping Grandma Mimi was 86, and lived alone at her home in Anacortes, Washington. A female perpetrator gained access into Mimi's home by pretending to be a pregnant woman in pain, needing a phone.  The two kidnappers, a boyfriend/girlfriend team, told grandma their plan was to take her to their isolated mountain cabin, issue demands to the family and wait for the money. However, on their way to the cabin the kidnappers got restless, began fighting over the plan, and started driving up and down Interstate 5 indecisively.

From the backseat Grandma could hear the new plan unfolding; they no longer wanted to hold her for ransom instead they just wanted to kill her and throw her body into the woods. They pulled over to a remote road just off I-5, dragged her out of the car, grandma's back to the woods.

Putting the gun up to her head the kidnapper asked if she was ready to die. Grandma didn't hesitate, “ I've lived a long and wonderful life. I’m ready to go. Go ahead and shoot.” What an incredible statement! Surprisingly, she said it with such conviction, the kidnapper was unable to pull the trigger!

Frustrated, they threw her back into the car and kept driving. The driver was on meth and her erratic driving caught the eye of an attentive road side worker, who called it in to 911 as a possible DUI. Glancing up over the back seat, Grandma could see two cop cars rolling down the on ramp racing towards them,lights on. “They looked like angels coming down from heaven!”, she later shared with us.

Grandma was rescued and the kidnappers were charged with first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and second-degree kidnapping for allegedly abducting an 86-year-old woman from her home and terrorizing her.

Grandma lived on into her 90's, and passed away in her home a while ago.  She lived a full life, good and bad times.

Not many of us get an opportunity, like a gun to the head, to say with such conviction, “I am ready to die.” It’s true you can find new life in many places, but some people find new life at the wrong end of a gun.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Event: WIN Canada 2013

Please consider attending the second annual Writers International Network 
March 23rd, at the Richmond Cultural Centre, Richmond, Canada

WIN is about promoting peace through understanding.  
Ashok, the founder, shares the groups vision
in this statement:

‘An artist’s gift to the world is a poem, story, painting, sculpture or dance. WIN will seek, nourish and recognize all sorts of artists so that together they can make this world a better place to live.’
‘Writing is an art that is deeply rooted in self-reflection. Self-reflection is the human capacity to exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about our fundamental nature, purpose and essence. In other words, self reflection is who we see when we look in the mirror. Self reflection is also about taking the time to figure out who we are, both as individuals and as leaders.’
‘WIN is created to fulfil the need of an environment where the work of an artist is appreciated and recognized no matter what background, what language or what cultural heritage that artist belongs to.’
Ashok BhargavaFounder, Writers International Network (WIN)

If you want to hear writers from other parts of world, are excited by new voices and points of view,  and/or are looking to expand your writer-friend network, then I recommend this event for you.

I am also pleased to announce, although I am not a finalist, I have been asked to read my poem "River Ink" at the event.  It is an honor to be among so many wonderful writers.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Poetry: River Ink

River Ink

Went to the river looking for a poem
I found my familiar trail
Winding woods that hug the bank
Whatcom Creek in August
Bushes high and
Full of berries,
Birds and spiders webs.

Grass sways underwater
Moving in sync with the river
This what peace looks like,
Melted into movement

Tree branch dips over the drink
Desiring more of plenty
Is water from the root not good enough
Do you cool your leaves in the noon sun

Down by the edge there’s a place to sit
Two dead trees have slumped across
I dip a stick into the stream
Like pen into ink
To write my name on the
sun bleached wood.

The sun grabs my letters
Throws them in the air
Birds ride the upward current
Did I just disappear?

This poem and others by Shannon P Laws 
are available in a paperback book 
Madrona Grove: Poems Written Under the Canopy
published by Chickadee Productions and printed at the independent 
Bellingham book store Village Books: