The Gentle Beast of Westport

by Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer

The Gentle Beast of Westport
looks to the sea . . .
the sea that flung him
into clutchings
of treacherous sifting sands.

The Gentle Beast of Westport
yearns for the sea . . .
the sea that frolicked him
robustly in time . . .
roughly too, but
gently in time . . .
soothingly too.

The Gentle Beast of Westport
continues to look to the sea
(years gone by),
inexorably tugged by
deadly serious sands into
a final gasping grasp,
denying him
his vision of the sea.

Garnet N. Kaiyala, 1999

Garnet N. Kaiyala photo

Driftwood may capture the heart. About six years ago (1993) at Westport, the coastal Washington hamlet once nationally famous for its charter salmon boats, a huge stump riveted Garnet N. Kaiyala’s gaze. Retired in 1981, Garnet taught instrumental music throughout Seattle Public Schools, inspiring students to such a degree that peers elected him to the Washington Music Educators’ Hall of Fame.

As if an animal on four legs frozen in the distance, closer up it seemed a soul transfixed, to represent life “with its ups and downs, its hopes and disillusionments . . . its realities,” Garnet wrote. An enlarged photo graces his living room and millennium Christmas card. Inside, I read Garnet’s ode to The Gentle Beast.

For some six years, the sands of Westport gripped the Gentle Beast. Coastal erosion may soon set him free to move the hearts of distant beachcombers.

Last Will on a Log

by Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer

Seeking reports of epic sea drifts, I manned my Alert booth in the Cocoa Beach Public Library, Florida at the Fourth (October 1999) Annual Sea Bean Symposium, one of three large beachcomber gatherings held annually in the U.S. It’s no coincidence they occur where flotsam collects: Oregon and Washington along the eastern Pacific and Florida facing the western Atlantic.

What’s a sea bean? Tropical plants grow a hundred-plus species able to float thousands of sea miles. In Florida, a dozen bean species polish into fine jewelry. This year the Symposium attracted 400 avid beaners.

The most intriguing story came encrypted on a 7-foot crooked log lugged to the Symposium by Cocoa Beach’s newly elected mayor Janice Scott (illustration). In 1964, long-time Cocoa Beacher Mary Lund found it bobbing in the surf off South 13th Street. Half-inch high capital block letters laborously burned into the log, read: “Whereas I now lay near starvation and perish, I Morris A. Taylor of Overland, Missouri, USA do establish this as my last will and testament. To my brother Roy D. Taylor I leave and bequeath $10,000. The entire remainder of my estate I leave to my beloved wife Karen Houseman Ta[y]lor [exhausted, Morris misspelled his name].”

Florida historian Don Argo filled in
fascinating details. “In the late-1830s, one
Jacob Houseman [probably Karen
Houseman’s father] settled on Indian Key, a 12-acre island about a mile offshore from Islamorada [off Florida’s southern tip]. He had a hotel and a large warehouse to store the salvage he took from shipwrecks.”
On August 7, 1840, Seminole Chief Chaikaka raided Indian Key, killing 13 settlers. Next year, Jacob died in a boating accident and was buried on Indian Key. Karen and husband Morris remained there or on nearby small islands.

As to Morris’ fate, “Maybe he was caught in a storm and made his way to a nearby key,” Don speculated. “There, facing death, he carved his will, which lay many years till the storm surge of a hurricane floated it into the Gulf Stream and up to Cocoa Beach.” At the time Mary found it, U.S. Coast Guardsmen estimated that, despite this age, the log had washed ashore several months after a severe hurricane.

Hurricane tracks for 1964 show that on August 27, the eye of Cleo passed over Indian Key. Three months later, during December Mary discovered Morris’ log will. Cleo, the 24th most destructive hurricane in 70 years, caused extensive rainfall-induced flooding ($2.4 billion; 1925-1995). Amongst the debris, Morris’ will finally floated free. What happened to Morris’ fortune? (Thanks Mary Lund and Janice Scott for recalling this story. Additional information and Don Argo quotes from Milt Salamon, Florida Today, November 4 & 8, 1999. Hurricane information from U.S. Department of Commerce “North Atlantic Hurricane Tracks,” 1964).