I never know what to expect when someone walks into the bookstore. Which is appropriate, since most people who wander in aren’t sure what they’re looking for. Together those things can provide some fascinating interactions. There was the day when a customer bought “Haunted Inside Passage” by Bjorn Dihle and “The Strangest Story Ever Told,” the tale written by Henry Colp. The customer said he loved to read those kinds of stories about a place he was visiting, and I said something about how there’s a lot we don’t know. Exactly, he said, and then told me he’d spent two years exploring with a ghost-hunting group. I had a million questions. And he was out the door before I could ask any of them.
Others wander in with plenty of stories and the time to share them. Tesfay is from Ethiopia. He spent 10 years in Sudan before he came to San Diego, California in the early 90s. He lives in Los Angeles now and prefers it. He enjoys living in a city with beautiful weather. Tesfay’s been coming to Petersburg to work at one of our canneries for the past five years. He’s made some friends in town through both church and work, including a local family who adopted a young boy from Ethiopia a few years ago. You can see they have the Ethiopian flag on their boat, he said with a smile.
Then Tesfay was telling me about his home, pulling up pictures on his phone through his Facebook account. One was an old Christian church in Ethiopia. (I’ve since researched and found out two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians, and the religion’s presence there started during the fourth century with the Aksumite emperor Ezana). He scrolled through his feed and I saw an entirely new world in the news stories and pictures it contained. Metropolitan cities with headlines about the investments Chinese companies are making in his home country, including the 470-mile long railroad that’s aimed at transforming Ethiopia’s economy. There was also a picture of a painting, depicting a woman sitting on a bench with a fire in front of her. Tesfay told me about the way they make coffee, roasting the beans right then to make a batch, and then told me everyone comes out to join when it happens because they can smell it in the air.
I laughed after he left, because that happened to be the week I was coming to terms with my internet addiction. The breaking news of the world has a cold grip on my brain and I can barely go an hour without wondering what I’ve missed. It’s getting to the point where I’m almost nostalgic for the summer of 2013 when I spent a frenetic summer troll tendering in Elfin Cove. The limited cell service meant I spent more time in the moment, a blessing for the good ones and misery in the bad. Skip to four years later and I’m trying to ignore the fact the internet exists some days, only to meet someone who’s able to use it to keep in touch with another home half a world away. It was a nice reminder that all this connection can be a beautiful thing (in moderation).
The harbor’s getting ready to empty as the summer season ramps up. The nasty weather has folks preparing for the season with some extra reads for all that potential inside time. A local troller’s bringing Arundhati Roy’s “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” when she heads out for the season this week. Someone else picked up Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now” to read as he prepared for his first day of training at the cannery. He said he needed some inspiration that day. Next time I see him I’ll ask if it was what he needed to get psyched up for salmon.
There are days when I feel drained from meeting so many new people. My goal with this column was to find a way to stay curious. That isn’t to say every interaction I have is a memorable one. And sometimes moments are memorable for less-than-awesome reasons. But then I meet someone like Viviane, who’s been up the last few summers to visit her son and his family. She takes her time, wanders around the store, and chats about her trip. She looks out the window, at the sunshine streaming through the break in rain squalls, and sighs: I mean, it’s just heaven on Earth, isn’t it?