Temporarily Forgetting Taxes

I am indecisive on whether or not to take a chance and go surfing today. I have responsibilities, obligations and commitments, deadlines. Then again, whatever swell there might be drops off to nothing after today. It is already doing so.

Four years ago, on the first anniversary of my sister Melissa’s death, metastatic breast cancer, I was surfing. Some chop had developed on the water and the swell was, it appeared, dropping. I may have been the last one to get out. I was hanging on the beach with Mikel, nicknamed Squintz, and Bruce, the unofficial mayor of Hobuck. I had missed my sister’s funeral as I had missed our father’s eight months earlier. I hate funerals. I have been to as few as I could get away with not attending since the first one I attended, my mother’s, fifty-two years ago.

I did write about my paddling back out in a sort of memorial to Melissa. Writing may be shouting into the void, or not; it is how I process, possibly how I cope; even if it is difficult to partially process or cope with even the lesser mysteries of life, and knowing it is impossible begin to fathom that which no one has yet fully explained.

Death is the one guarantee in life. Death. We ignore death, we postpone thinking about death. It seems almost sinful to dwell on death. It is, certainly, counterproductive.

But people die. Some we know, some we’ve heard of. We cannot help but compare where that person was in life compared to where we are. But we don’t… dwell. We move on.

I didn’t remember that it was an anniversary. Trish reminded me. That it was five years surprised me. Thirteen years since Trisha’s father died, fifteen since her mother’s passing. She put the deaths of my parents in the timeline. Six, in December, for my father. Fifty-two, as I said, for my mother.

Surprising. Not shocking; yet I remember, easily, and vividly, the circumstances of each event.

The memories get blended into the mix, the redundancy and rhythm of the daily traumas and dramas, the routine of waking, and being awake, and trying to accomplish… something; oh, and dreaming.

Waves, I believed, during that mid-day, mid-summer, solitary session, came to me; I got into the rhythm of the sets; I believed that honored my sister. Though all this could be easily explained away, I still believe this. My sister was an artist. I have called on Melissa’s spirit to assist me, at times, when I am attempting to transform something in my mind to paper. No, I never produce anything as moving as the work she fretted and worried over and kept at until everyone but her believed the work to be perfect. No, I don’t blame her spirit.

Of course not. That would be ridiculous.

“Are you looking at me? Don’t look at me?”

If I do think about death, there is a story I go back to:

Trish and I, twenty-six and twenty-seven, had lived in among farmland in Quilcene for a cold winter, during which the bridge connecting where we lived and where I worked sank. Workdays were thirteen and a half hours long for eight hours pay. It was spring. It was a Saturday. The sound of gunshots woke us up. We looked out the window. There were several trucks in the field at Irving Johnson’s farm across the road. I went outside, walked down the road, watched from behind the barbed wire fence.

The victim of the gunshots was being hoisted up on a chain, one of the crewmembers slicing into the carcass. The rest of Mr. Johnson’s herd, seven or eight head, was a ways off, chomping on the spring-wet grass. Each of the steers would look up, toward the truck, then at other members of the herd, then, perhaps hoping the killing/butchering crew wouldn’t notice him, resume the chomping. The butchering of the first steer well in hand, two of the crew members headed toward the herd. One had a rifle. The herd moved. Slowly, not a stampede. Jockeying for position. That wouldn’t help. The farmer and the lead butcher had already selected which steers would die.

Mr. Johnson, supervising from the butcher’s truck, saw me. He waved. I waved. He put his hands out to his sides, slightly cocked up at the elbows. It wasn’t a celebratory gesture. It meant, “This is what we do.” I turned and walked toward our gate before the next shot was fired.

I hope this doesn’t make me sound… I don’t really know- Maudlin? Fatalistic? It is just a story, a memory, but it has already made me think of other memories.

No, really, I have other things to think about. There may be some waves. I’ll check.

I hadn’t really studied this work by my sister, Melissa Lynch. I cannot help but notice one of the figures is pulling the other one up, as in a rescue from drowning, OR one is trying to keep the other from ascending.

Errant Angels

Errant was the word I thought I heard the woman say. Errant Angels. It was intriguing and amusing, equally. Clever. I had to know why she used the word. Errant.

I had misheard. I was painting a small house (it would qualify as a cottage) in Port Townsend that had previously belonged to Keith Darrock and his wife. Keith, a pivotal member of the local PT surf crew, had substantially remodeled the cottage a few years ago before selling it to the current owner, Michelle.

Michelle wanted her cottage painted. It needed it. A year or two older than me, Michelle told me about her days at Height-Asbury, in 1967 or so, before the San Francisco Hippie scene was discovered and publicized and sanitized and splattered on weekly magazines.

“Have you heard about the ‘Diggers?’” I had, but I got that wrong, also. No, Michelle said, they weren’t fools who worked so others could hang out, take existential trips, find themselves; in exchange for food and lodging, the Diggers found odd jobs; sweeping, cleaning, pulling weeds; work for a teenage runaway like Michelle from Modesto.   

What Michelle had said, what I had misheard, was that; having found herself, a few years later, in the mid- 1970s, in Port Townsend; before it was discovered by yet another wave of speculators, by pensioned retirees and trust babies and refugees from the supposed ‘casual California lifestyle;’ with a child and without a regular job, she started a little service company that did, yes, odd jobs. “Errand Angels.”

I like Errant Angels better.

It creates a different image, probably based on the only other time I recall hearing the word. Errant. Errant Knights, out looking for adventures. Don Quixote. Sure. I can imagine it: On their own Angels performing little miracles here and there, perhaps looking up, wondering if the Boss would approve.

This is a work by my late sister, Melissa. While she claimed I, her oldest brother, was part of the reason she chose to pursue the lofty goal of actually creating art, Melissa, my youngest sister became my inspiration the first time I watched her sit down, sketch Trisha’s Uncle Fred with a number 2 pencil, and capture him… perfectly. Melissa Joanna Maria Marlena Dence (nickname given Melissa Jo by our mother, who never met Melissa’s husband, Jerome Lynch) started out drawing horses, I started out drawing waves and surfers. Always striving for perfection, brutally and unnecessarily hard on herself (generous with my work, apologetically honest) I never really understood Melissa’s leaning toward images such as this one. Dark. Frightening. She was way braver than I am. I do think of her when I’m trying to be… better.

Angels, ghosts, images; I have pretty much completed a way-too-detailed ‘outline’ of “Swamis.” I cut the shit out of the second unexpurgated version, purposefully not even trying to write the flowery setting/descriptive stuff. I was striving to make every move clear. I did include all the dialogue that I feel is needed. Love the dialogue. So, it’s probably dry, definitely cut, possibly not cut quite cruelly enough.

Illustration copyright Melissa Lynch. Erwin Dence asserts all rights and protections under copyright laws for original content on realsurfers.net (I was informed I should add this).

Sidenote at the Art Exhibition

My brother-in-law, Jerome Lynch, texted this to me. My youngest sister, of four, Melissa, died two years ago.  She was an artist with skills I seem to be able to only aspire to achieve.  She could do portraits, live, a sketch in her mind a finished piece of art in anyone else’s.  If a rendering can capture a soul or a spirit, she was the eye and hand and heart and mind capable of accomplishing that deed.  That feat.  That goal.


When I told Melissa that, with my limited time for things artistic, I could either turn out some quick drawings, or considerably fewer quality works.  “Oh, go for the quality,” she said, “Definitely.”  Jerome told me Melissa would go back into works he thought were perfect, editing, fussing, making subtle changes.  Jerome knew his wife couldn’t be satisfied with something that didn’t live up to the vision in her mind.

He knew, as I know, as Melissa knew the fear of touching a work that you’re pretty happy with, knowing you are as apt to make a mistake that will ruin it as you are to add something that will make it… better.

Better.  We always want our little stop-motion illustrations, our attempts at capturing a specific moment or mood or memory, or magic, a bit better.

“Oh,” Jerome said, “she’d put more time into piece, and then I’d have to go, ‘oh, so that’s what she was going for.'”  Yes. Always.

JEROME sent me a text saying some of Melissa’s art works were part of an exhibition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  Their son, Fergus, had written this note to go along with his mother’s paintings:

                                                MELISSA LYNCH

 I CAN ONLY SPEAK FOR MY MOM’S CREATIVE JOURNEY AS I SAW IT.                                                           She had begun a new chapter and desired to diverge from the business of perfecting the craft,               Of honing technical skills.                                                                                                                                         She was striving to communicate, not only in a visual medium,                                                                             But in a more fundamental language.                                                                                                                    She was seeking to speak in a way only truthful art can.                                                                                   Her struggles with mortality cleared a passageway for this expression                                                         And freed a voice within which spoke of wounds, fear, anxiety,                                                                      But, also, of the glory of our imperfect lives.

 In some of these works you can find tool marks,                                                                                              Damage control,                                                                                                                                                             And the tragic scars borne from deep wounds stitched together in an unsterilized environment.     Melissa sought to free her expression through honesty and vulnerability.                                                   This work helped her to experience true healing;                                                                                                 To rise out of the existential fear                                                                                                                                 And into the light of peaceful acceptance                                                                                                           And the joys of creation.                                                                                                                                               Her trials have ended                                                                                                                                                     But the experience is human                                                                                                                                      And one we all should be lucky to share.

by Fergus Lynch 

TEXT-Thanks. Great words from Fergus. I try very hard to channel Melissa in my work.

TEXT- Yeah, there was some poetry in the exhibition and I thought this artist statement outdid the other work. 




by way of explanation: TOP- Melissa did the drawing, one of her friends supplied the horses (I started out drawing surfing, Melissa horses). Composite: Top left- Melissa and me at Seaside; top right- Jerome and Fergus taking photos where locals don’t like photos taken (unless they’re ripping, and then not for circulation); Three portions of larger illustration (when I was showing a client some of my works, she zoned in on this drawing); Lower right- A drawing Melissa did for a short story I wrote.  I told her the skeleton might be a bit of overkill.  In retrospect… I have to think about it.  Check out the skilled rendering of the feet and hands, the perspective, the… magic.

MEANWHILE- It’s stormy, doesn’t necessarily translate to awesome surf.

Melissa’s last Oil Painting

It was almost dark, and I was doing the “Rambo,” painting a house with a six foot ladder and me jammed between fist-pruned bushes when I got a call. Weird; I hadn’t been able to call out from this house, hadn’t been able to check the buoys to see if Stephen Davis, off to the coast to celebrate his 50th birthday, was getting any waves.

It was my brother-in-law, Jerome Lynch, calling, ostensibly, to report that my nephew, Fergus, was heading back from the Midwest to Seattle, with stops at some national parks on the way.

I’ve been, pretty much, afraid to call Jerome since my sister, Melissa, died a little more than a year ago at age 56.  The drawing I’m using as the header was done by Melissa. I haven’t gotten past or over her death, and I really haven’t known what to say.

Fortunately, Jerome did more of the talking. Surprising, yes. Partially, he said, he wanted to let me know Melissa’s last oil painting is being featured in a gallery.


It’s the one closest to the door; described by Jerome as “kind of a self-portrait, looking away, with another, older woman, looking in the other direction.

What’s noteworthy is that Melissa always had lots of hair, up to the time the treatments for the aggressive cancer took a toll. This makes me wonder, well; several things: When did Melissa do the painting? Is the other woman a representation of someone she didn’t get the opportunity to become?

I did tell Jerome that if Fergus’s car breaks down in Big Sur (or anywhere on the coast, no place in the desert), I’ll go help him out.

MEANWHILE; it seems to be birthday week; with Stephen Davis turning 50, Adam “Wipeout” James turning 40 (and heading to Legoland, possibly some North County breaks), and my son, James, over in Idaho (yeah, I know) turning 42.

AND, the clear weather seems to be continuing, SO, got to get back to doing the Rambo.

OH, and I dropped off the two drawings (scroll down) at a great shop in Port Townsend; with t shirts coming back in the next two weeks. Some will be available at Tyler Meeks’ DISCO BAY OUTDOOR EXCHANGE.

Explaining the Current Header

I freely (mostly because it’s so obvious) that my computer skills are lacking; particularly in the graphics area. It least that’s where I’m particularly frustrated. I think of my sister, Melissa, often; most often when I’m trying to draw.

I can no longer call her up for feedback or opinion, I can’t ask her to draw something for my site; a plan I had for teaming-up on some children’s books is not going to happen.  My work, compared to hers, is scribbling, sketching.  It should be mentioned, also, that my writing gets over-detailed, over-complicated, possibly over-thought; not something that lends itself to children’s stories.

Yet, I do think of Melissa; I do call on her spirit, wherever that is, to assist me. A high percentage of the art, or whatever it is I produce (somewhere down the spectrum), is the image I’ve worked out in my mind; then it’s all scribbling; and (if the image in my mind is perfect) the work never quite is.

When I mentioned this all to my late sister’s husband, Jerome, he said; “Oh, so, like Melissa; you think every drawing has to be… has to be perfect?”

MELISSA horses w drawing

This is the uncropped version of Melissa’s montage. I tried, unsuccessfully, several times, to include as much of the pencil drawing as possible in the header. If I knew… yeah, if I knew how, I could have used the whole thing.

When I started surfing, my drawings were about surfing. When Melissa started drawing, her drawings were of horses. Somewhere she developed the ability to capture people; not just the image expertly rendered, but the emotion, some sense of story; perfectly.

Image (227)

I’ll keep the header up for a while.  Here’s one of my drawings

Spirit Guides and a surf session made…


Image (210)

I called my brother-in-law, Jerome, on Wednesday when I couldn’t make the memorial. Couldn’t. That’s a loaded word; the ceremony was in Illinois and I’m… I’m here. Part of the couldn’t has to be that I haven’t faced my sister Melissa’s passing. Passing. Couldn’t. Haven’t; not sure I will; face it. Eventually, I’m just not sure when. Our (Trisha’s and my) daughter, Drucilla, made the train trip down state from Chicago several times, as the prognosis worsened and my sister weakened.

Still, it all seemed too sudden. Way too soon. There hours before Melissa passed, Dru would return on Friday, representing Trish and me, supporting her uncle and her cousins Fergus and Emma.

Oh, I know it’s real, real like our (his eight children) father’s passing last December. I know they’re both gone, not sure where they’ve gone to. Once a person realizes (or accepts or believes) we each have a soul, something separate from the body, even from the “I think, therefore I am” consciousness, something more than just BEing; one can’t help but imagine that this very more-ness is, has to be, somehow, transcendent.

There was a full moon the night my sister passed. Is that relevant?

“You know,” Jerome said, “what your sister would have wanted is for you to go surfing.”

I tried. On Friday, with friends and relatives recounting stories two thousand miles away, I worked, crazy-hard, to finish another job while monitoring the buoys. There was a chance. As is so typical on the Strait, on that long summer evening, it was ‘almost’ something. Just not quite enough. Even so, I almost talked myself into paddling out into one foot chop. Almost.

Allow me to mention the story Jerome told about the hawks. The last painting my sister completed is of three Cooper’s hawks. During the last week, with my sister Mary Jane (Janey to me) helping out, and my sister Suellen en route, three Cooper’s Hawks landed in the trees behind Jerome and Melissa’s house, and stayed there. Every day.

Spirit Guides? I’m willing to believe so.

On Monday I met up with Mike “Squints” Cumiskey, headed out. The surf was just a bit better than ‘almost,’ probably in the ‘barely’ category. Other surfers were in the water. It’s been a long, mostly-flat summer. Bruce, the Mayor of Hobuck, according to Adam “Wipeout” James, checking it when we arrived, eventually talked himself into going out.

Maybe it’s because I persisted, a paddle providing a lot of the power on many of the waves; but, at some point, I was the only one out. It would be something if I said that, for about twenty minutes, the waves improved; not all time, but lined-up, a bit more power, and every time I paddled back out, another set was approaching.

It was something.

Though most of the other surfers had left the beach for the coast or home, I have witnesses: Mike, Bruce, Cole. They agreed it was, for this day, special. Please forgive me if I give my sister a bit of credit.

A NOTE about the drawing. I told Jerome I would write something about the surf experience, and I’d do a drawing; I just wanted it to be good enough. “Oh, so, like your sister, it has to be perfect.” It was almost a question. No, but it has to be good enough.

My Sister Melissa

Here’s a photo from a couple of years ago of my youngest (of three) sister, Melissa. This was at Seaside, near where our father lived. I had taken her son, Fergus, out, on rented boards (soft-tops; quite embarrassing) on a previous visit, she and her husband, Jerome, coming from Illinois, Fergus from Seattle. On this trip the fun seemed too much, and she and Jerome just had to also surf.


Quite competitive. Quite a bit of fun. The last time, before this, Melissa and I surfed together was at Swamis, 1975, or so, when Trish and I lived in Encinitas. After the session, she asked, “So, now are we going to lay out?” “What? No. I don’t lay out. No. There’s things to do.”

Here is what my sister does. This is a drawing she did at my request, illustration for a short story. And, as with too many things, she sort of worried too much about it. “Just draw it.” “But, what about…?” “It’ll be great.” “You sure?” “Positive.”



The second drawing… I’m trying to remember; I don’t think it was for me. In pulling it up on the computer, I’m stunned, amazed even, by Melissa’s ability to capture the… I mean, look at the feet, the hands. Never really go for skeletons.

But, here’s the thing: I got a group text yesterday afternoon from another sister, Mary Jane, that Melissa, who has been battling a variety of cancers, is in the hospital. “…The Doctors are talking about radiation to her brain. Please keep her in your prayers.”

Now, this is one of those weeks where Trish talked me into going to Mass. Yeah, there are a lot of issues not worth going into on how we’re both converts, about what we do and don’t believe, about how one goes from bad Seventh Day Adventist to bad Catholic (this is me, not Trish), but, with the ringer off, and the phone there mostly so I could check the time (and maybe what the buoys were doing), just waiting for the Saturday Evening Mass to begin was, probably, an odd time to get this kind of news.

Prayer. Prayer? Trish, who has her own prayer chain (yeah, I’m on it, whatever vehicle I’m driving is also on it), when I asked, “What; am I going to change God’s mind?” said, “It’s not like that.” “Do I make a deal with God? Trade out? Trade out for what?”

Bear in mind, I have, possibly more than once, prayed it would stop raining so I could finish a paint job. And it worked. Maybe a day later, but…  I made a deal with God, several times. I should say I offered a deal.  Payment plan.

So far, battered and a bit beaten up, I’ve survived. What remains intact is a certain level of faith that there is some mysterious something that we cannot understand. Someone (on TV) ridiculed those who believe there could be an entity that hears the quiet moanings, maybe it was ‘murmurings,’ of individuals among the millions of people, the silent whisperings, the unspoken wishes. Prayers.


Here’s another drawing from Melissa. There’s a wave drawing as part of it that is mine; the girl on the beach is from a photograph of her as a young girl. It’s an illustration for a play. I never really got it. Too abstract, maybe; but now I’m studying it while I think what I can say or do to help.

Very little, really. But, if you have a prayer list, if you are someone who sends prayers and murmurings out into what we don’t at all understand except that it’s not a void, please include my sister, Melissa.

Oh, just checking this over (it’s Sunday, I should be in Sequim, painting), I got a text from Mary Jane saying our sister is ‘feeling better and eating better.’ Wow, that was quick.


Why is my site blow-oh-oh-ing up?


The following for realsurfers.net has been growing slowly but steadily since I started it three years ago or so. HOWEVER, it’s been getting massive numbers of hits (for me, probably low for most porn sites) over the last week or so; I don’t know where it’s coming from, and I’m kind of freaking out; thrilled and refusing to believe it’s happening at the same time. It’s, perhaps, not unlike getting locked into an overhead wave at a spot with a brutal bottom contour.

I’ve been working quite (surprisingly) hard recently, doing some writing; some drawings; some cartoons, some of which I hope might show up in “the New Yorker” (and all will undoubtedly, eventually show up here); and shipping off and working on the realsurfers coloring book. My sister, Melissa Lynch, has been helping spread the word on Facebook.

With the difficulty in convincing anyone to have painting done this time of year, the surf either not happening or not at the right angle for anywhere close, the ground frozen and the temperature brutal, I’ve been trying to do what I can to advance my artsy career, such as it is.


Still, I’m behind on my (okay, once, I’ll call it a…) blog. I have some news and some photos from Hydrosexual Stephen Davis, last heard from wayyy down in Baja, and have some new drawings to add to existing stories “Inside Break,” and “Locals Only Kooks Go Home.” I am working on editing the coloring book down to 48 total drawings (cheaper to ship), checking into setting up a PayPal deal so people can buy the book, and cleaning up my site. Keith Darrock may be helping me with this (we’re negotiating). Keith, Associate Librarian in Port Townsend, is also working on planning for the Third Occasional Surf Culture on the Strait of Juan de Fuca Event. We’d love to get William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of “Barbarian Days,” involved, live or (maybe, even) on Skype. If you have any influence (and we’re reaching out to surf journalism legend and Surf Culture headliner Drew Kampion for help) in getting (just guessing at his surf nickname) Willy Finn involved; yeah, use it.

So, shit’s happening; and if you’re promoting/linking/doing anything that’s helping, thank you. Since the start of what may or may not be a virus, Trish, long stating that Facebook is her thing, not mine, has been helping get some stuff on the Facebook site our daughter, Dru, set up. I think I’m at Erwin Dence, Jr, Facebook-wise, and I’m also at realsurfersdotnet@gmail.com.   So, thanks; I’m getting back to work.