The Land of Odin

Conversations with Morey Skaret

This is the first in a series of articles derived from conversations, which I had the great fortune and pleasure to have, with longtime Fauntleroy resident Morey Skaret. Much has already been written about Mr. Skaret’s life. Although out of print, his 2003 book, Morey’s Bench: Stories From the Life and Times of Morest L. Skaret, can be read on-line. Several related essays are also available.

My goal therefore is not to duplicate what has already been written by and about Mr. Skaret, but to enhance it with the inevitable gems of wit, wisdom and humor gleaned from our talks. If I have managed to capture even a glimmer of Morey’s magic, then I believe that you will enjoy reading these articles as much as I have in compiling them.

One: The land of Odin

By Charles Ganong

I will treasure you as my companion
I will celebrate the joys of life with you
I promise to support your dreams
Stay with me forever

—Handwritten inscription on the back of the calling card of Captain Morest L. Skaret, Retired–U.S. Coast Guard.

Morest L. “Morey” Skaret casts a weather eye across the gently rising, rain-dimpled waters of Puget Sound. From his “Captain’s perch” atop Fauntleroy Cove, Morey’s steady gaze takes in not only this morning’s mist-shrouded horizon; it reaches back much farther, fathoming the eddies and ripples still swirling from waters plied long ago.

From their living room window, not many people can see the point of land which cradled the primitive but popular pool where they lifeguarded seventy-five years ago. Or the narrow, winding passages through which they towed unruly rafts of logs as a young tugboat operator. Or the massive stone fireplace built by their father from beach rocks at Lincoln Park during the Great Depression.

But Morey can see these times and places—and much more.

Morey shifts in his chair. Something has caught his eye again, just beyond the shaggy boughs of evergreens framing the bustling ferry dock and its snug harbor. “I think that’s an eagle—no, it’s a crow. . . .”

And that leads him into a story, which is, perhaps, more of a lesson. In all his 96 years, Morey says, he has never been sick a day, except once when he took ill and was forced to lie abed for a month. “I crossed my arms over my chest like this,” he says, demonstrating the pose—arms up, chin-down—from his chair. “I was on that bed for a long time, pretty well out of it, talking gibberish. And I think that maybe Odin came to see me, clear from Norway.

“They have a story about Odin in Norway: Before the year 1000 they believed in the god Odin and his wife Frigg and their son, Thor. And they say that every crow—and the crows are all over the world; there’s lots of them in Norway, too—one eye of the crow belongs to Odin, and the other eye is the crow’s. But the other eye—everything that comes into vision in that eye—Odin knows. If you do something wrong, look around; there’s always a damn crow sittin’ somewhere.

“So the poor people in Norway: ‘Oh, God: Odin is watching me.’

“They have this story about a farmer, a rascally old Norwegian up in Skaret fjord, who was cutting hay. And he had a pretty little girl from the next farm over who helped him. Well, the wife and the husband and the girl were cutting hay. Around noon the wife said, ‘I’m going back in the house and make a lunch. I’ll bring it out to you in about an hour.’

“So he and the girl sat down behind the haystack . . . and he had a little love affair with this woman. And all of a sudden he looked up, and there was the damn crow, lookin’ at him. And he was shocked: ‘Odin! Odin knows! Now Odin knows that I have sinned.’

“So, when he went to church, he used to put one dollar in the bucket. This time, after the crow had seen him with the girl behind the haystack, he put in five. . . .

“My dear aunt would tell that story and laugh,” Morey says. “She was the same age my dad was then, around 100. My aunt was very proud of us: the first Skarets to come back to Norway. Dad had left a big family over there; and I went back with him.

“My aunt—a chubby, wonderful little lady—she hung on my arm down the streets of Volda, a little town on the Skaret fjord. My aunt still believed a little bit—a lot of those Norwegians do still think about Odin, especially where we come from in northern Norway.

“So when Odin came to see me,” Morey says, reflecting on when he was ill, “he said, ‘You’re a Skaret.’ Our people’s home on Skaret fjord has been there since the year 1200. The foundation is all made out of stone. The only thing new is the roof—they have to put a new roof on every twenty or thirty years.”

Morey looks westward again. “I’m lookin’ for that eagle; I wanted you to see it. He’s the only one that dives for fish, you know, those little candlefish. They’ll come right to the surface, and play around like this. And Mr. Eagle, he’s supposed to have the sharpest eye of any bird. He’s up there, and when he sees him, he takes his wings and tucks them in like this; and he dives like a bomber, like a plane would. And he hits the water full force. And when he comes up, he’s got Mr. Fish. And he sits there and he puts his neck up like this—the fish is stickin’ out—and he swallows him right down whole, kickin’ around in his belly. . . .”

Morey’s vista is ideal for watching the world go by: the big ships out on the Sound, the ferries that dock like clockwork at his doorstep, the pedestrians who shuttle by, stopping to savor the view from the pocket park he carved from the brambles. “See out there,” he says, “that’s all public land. It was all blackberries when I came here in 1936.”

A yellow slicker slides down the sidewalk. “Look at that young girl,” Morey says, eyes sparkling. “She’s smiling, she’s so happy with something. She usually looks up here and waves, that little Korean girl walking by.”

Morey’s grandfather clock chimes out the hour. Elsie Freeland, his longtime friend, neighbor and luncheon companion, appears in the doorway. I think that’s my cue, although I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if I joined them. Morey’s bench—whether it be the wooden monument he built across the way, a cozy chair in his living room or a shared booth in his favorite restaurant—is always open to friends.

The rain quickens, spiraling steady streams down Morey’s curved glass wall. A little wind sneaks up off the water, spiriting mottled bits of summer around for one last dance. The ferry sounds its lonely horn. A black crow creases the feathery sky, one eye on the world below.

The Second Installment in Conversations with Morey Skaret

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