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Pat Neal fell off a log. . .and landed in The Sequim Gazette.
 

 

 

Pat Neal's "WildLife"

 

 

By Sandy Hershelman

 

One would expect Pat Neal to live at the end of a road to nowhere. Primitive road signs warn of the pavement's end — and the only rain cloud in Sequim hangs over his house.

For Pat, becoming a columnist was as easy as falling off of a log. Recovering from a logging accident, the river guide used the downtime to write his first column. Well-received when it ran in The Sequim Gazette, three years ago, he wrote another, and another, and another. . . .

Today, the father of two remains one of the best-loved — and hated — humorists on the Olympic Peninsula. No subject is sacred, once his sarcastic wit takes hold.
A collection of 27 of his columns is now available in book form.
WildLife (Writers Club Press, 2001) is supported by the on-demand publisher, iUniverse.com.

Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com offer Wildlife, as do Port Angeles' Port Book and News, Sequim's Pacific Mist Books and The Gazette.

"We enjoy Pat Neal. He has an avid following. He also has an avid bunch of detractors," said Frank Garred, publisher. "He writes with a distinct honesty. Pat can be angry and funny at the same time. Being a historian, he can mix in history, as much as he mixes metaphors.

"The guy's able to skewer some of our sacred cows without killing them," he chuckled. "Pat really lives the idyllic life. Any time you can carve some sort of life out of the wilderness, you must be some kind of exceptional character. And, he is a character."

After three years of being referred to as — pick one, or two, at a time — a power-mad, tight-fisted, mean-spirited, vegetarian, jack-booted, little creep, self-obsessed baby boomer, low-life, and/or evil genius, Pat's editor still spoke favorably of the man who kept trying to slip, shall we say, "inappropriate" comments into his column — like "I am the master baiter."

"There is no other columnist on the Olympic Peninsula better than Pat. His style of humor not only entertains but educates. It is a lesson in life. And it is common knowledge among those in publishing that humor is the most difficult genre for any writer to master," said Jeff Chew, aka Comrade Editor. "My fondest memory as Pat's editor was asking how long it took him to write a column. ‘About two gallons,' he said, gently reminding me that his computer is powered by a gas generator! So you can expect to laugh a lot when working with Pat, then more when you're reading his stuff."

Pat wrote, "I must have been raving out of my head with a fever no quinine could touch, when I invited Comrade Editor and his kid on the Neal-family annual death march, er backpacking trip. He said okay. Once the shock and horror set in, I tried to look on the bright side. The Olympic Mountains can be treacherous at any time of the year. Accidents will happen. I always wanted to be an editor. This could be a good career move."

The cover of Wildlife was designed by Pat's daughter Lily, now 16. Inside, photos of she and her sister Hillary, 13, show them manhandling fish nearly as big as they were.

"These columns were a way for me to communicate with my kids {following the break-up of my marriage} because I knew they got The Sequim Gazette," Pat explained.

That Wildlife even got into a book format is a miracle. Computer illiterate, Pat didn't know a pixel from a pixie. And he had no money to self-publish.

Enter, Suzie Stewart, his daughters' school librarian, and Pat's fairy godmother.
"During the Endangered Species Barbecue, we started talking about turning his columns into a book. I offered to type it up," Suzie said. "For Pat, it was like total disbelief that anyone would volunteer to do this. It was just a fun project. It's all worked really well. We never got into any fights or anything."

Suzie put a year and a half of her life into this project because she believes in Pat, and is as taken in by his writing, as most of his fans.

"He's able to suck you in. . .and BOOM, he drops an anvil on your head. He never spares himself, so you can't get mad at him," she laughed. "What's amazing to me is that you can bring up almost subject and he'll start spitting out all kind of facts and figures."

A smart aleck "with a real attitude problem," Pat said, "The one thing I try to do is make fun of myself, while I'm making fun of others — or my editor, I guess. It's like turning your most embarrassing moments into cash."

Pat's columns are alive with faintly disguised people whose paths he crosses. But, what's with his obsession with Bill Gates?

"Bill Gates has 1,000 acres on the top of Lost Mountain," Pat proposed, adding Microsoft denied the rumor. "It's not necessarily him. It's part of the local folklore. Is he really there? Who knows? Who cares? If people think he's there, it's like Sasquatch, they're looking for him. As long as I can make people think that I'm out here being victimized by Bill Gates, then I have something to write about. Fear, suspicion and hatred of the rich is the basis of most folklore. And everyone's richer than I am — but don't write that."

An almost-native, Pat moved to Quillayute at age 4.
"I was a child genius, but I've kept getting dumber," the 1972 Port Angeles High grad said. "I'm sure that any of my old teachers would tell you what an absolute joy I was to have in class — if you paid them, maybe. It wasn't my fault. I learned at an early age not to take responsibility for anything. I was ahead of my time."

With a degree in history, from 1978 to 1981, Pat worked for the Washington State Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, locating and identifying sites, artifacts and objects. Much of the historical information he shares in his columns was gleaned during those years.

"I'd love to wake up and be a successful writer — you know, to have a credit card debt and groupies," Pat quipped."My secret to success is to lower my expectations and just write. It's cliché writing. I steal great lines from dead people. All of the great lines have already been written. I'm a fraud — but don't write that."

While so much of Pat's writing is tongue-in-cheek, he is often trying to drive home a message, "You have to basically trick people. You can't tell them their government is a fraud and their natural resources are being given away to the lowest bidder," Pat explained. "My observations are anecdotal and coincidence."

It seemed odd, though, for someone who's so pro-environment to use the phrase "tree-hugger". Where does he draw his line?
"With the truth — reality," Pat said. "Reality is that National Parks can't maintain its back country trails and shelters — they're shutting them down because they have no money — yet they're building a new road into the Upper Hoh rain forest."

In 1998, Pat ran for Clallam County Commissioner under the Bull Trout Party. His Endangered Species Barbecue caused quite a stir. It was actually, he said, a demonstration against "the fraud of the Endangered Species Act".

"The environmentalists started calling up, screaming. They have no sense of humor. I had to explain that endangered species just seemed to taste better," Pat wrote. "Go to most any restaurant, if you don't believe me. You know how to identify a wild salmon, don't you? It's the one for $18.95 a plate."

Since 1988, Pat's been a river guide on primarily the Sol Duc and Hoh rivers. When the girls were small, the stay-at-home dad guided on weekends.

"I've watched the fishing industry go down the tubes. This is one of the last best places to fish for steelhead. And how many people get to do what they want in this world?" Pat said.

Reading Wildlife, one comes to realize Pat's allure. No subject is sacred. The river is his metaphor for everything in life. And, he loves to make fun of everyone, especially himself.

"I thought I was going to die. My heart was pounding out of my throat. Breathing was shallow and difficult. I was covered in sweat. It felt like a heavy weight was squeezing the life out of me. Heart attack? Nope, I was backpacking," Pat described how he felt — before he even left the parking lot! Following a glorious description of his destination, he added, "In a land where half of the natural features are named after bears, or whiskey, somebody finally got the name right. Enchanted Valley is."

Pulling snippets from his columns, one discovers quite a bit about the man, who likes the photo of the non-smiling grump which accompanies his columns.
"To avoid trouble with bears, I try to act like one. You know, the snoring, scratching and stuff. Bears are solitary animals, except for breeding season — and as you can probably guess, it's been a long time since I had a date."

No problem! Daughter Lulu (in the columns, Hillary in real life) was there to help.
She found him a girl on the Internet.

"Meet Donna. She's one of Barbie's friends. Donna likes to meet people, talk to people and help people. She has the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Nordic good looks of a Hitler youth poster child, with sparkle accessories."

With no electricity at Pat's place for her curling iron, Donna probably wouldn't have lasted too long anyhow. Thank heavens the man still had his horse.

"I only raise horses for the manure. Horse manure is the most valuable fertilizer and soil conditioner a gardener could possibly use — if you figure in the cost of fencing, tack and visits from the vet."

Pat's word pictures have the ability to transport the reader, "It was twilight in the meadow where the old cabin stood. One look told me I was more than a little late for dinner. It was okay. No one had been home for dinner since the '30s."

A dissertation on The Homestead Act of 1862, and the harsh realities those pioneers faced, followed the description of that quaint scene.

History peppers Pat's columns, "According to Elwha S'Klallam legend, the first man was created just upstream (in the Elwha River) from dirt in pools in the rocks. Until 1912, you could foretell the future by throwing deer hair in the pools. Then Tom Aldwell built his dam and flooded the place. We've had to rely on the psychic hotline ever since.

"There was no way for the salmon to get over the dam. The salmon died out for some reason. We're still studying the problem," he wrote in 1998.

The last couple of lines are so typical of the tongue-in-cheek way Pat states the obvious. He observed, "The wilderness is anything but peaceful. Even with a (sweet, Elk) mother and child reunion, it's a brutal day in the neighborhood. Humanoids are punching roads into the calving grounds, killing off the feed with spray from a helicopter, and shooting at anything whether it moves, or not. It sure is peaceful being ignorant."

Someday, Pat Neal may grow up. (Probably not.) What do you think he'd like to be?

"I would kill to be a government biologist. I'd do it for free if they'd just buy my ammunition and gasoline," Pat once wrote. "What could be better than driving around in a new 4-by-4 playing god with the river?"

Neal's Wildlife available on demand

"My name is Pat and I am a fishaholic. I think I have always had a fishing problem. Fishing is a disease. The more you fish the more you have to fish, until the only way to fish, as much as you have to, is to be a millionaire or a fishing guide.

"I am a fishing guide, on the Olympic Peninsula, in Washington state. I help people with fishing problems. Have you ever bought prawns with your food stamps to use for bait? Have you ever tied a fly with northern spotted owl feathers? Are you still reading this? You could have a fishing problem.

"It's not something you have to be ashamed of anymore. Half the people who buy a fishing license don't catch one. They are skunked. Skunking can lead to depression, or even — golf."

Wildlife (Writers Club Press, 2001) is a random collection of 27 of Pat Neal's columns, which were first printed in The Sequim Gazette. They include:

How a Guide Gets Clients — Shanghaiing may be unethical, but escaped prisoners love to fish!
Getting Lost in the Wilderness — Maybe all of us are lost. Some of us just don't care.
Endangered Species — Do you hear the river voices? No? Have another beer.
The Nude Fishing Discount — Guide rescues a girl and falls in love with her dog.
The Olympic Hot Springs — His first column. It's all downhill from here.
Saturday Night in the Fifth Reich — Why can't the Indians be like us?
The Bear Problem — The bears are trying to tell us something.
The Mountain Goat Problem — They were "relocated", as Goebbels used to say.
Wally the Weasel — Weasels are very friendly, or they are rabid.
Backpacking — "You're the meanest dad in the world."
Bird watching — Whoever dies with the most sightings, wins.
Canoeing the Dungeness — It is a wild thing that will kill you.
Christmas on a Budget — Turn empty shotgun shells into treasured gifts for loved ones.
The Horse Whimperer — "He likes to jump," Lulu yelled. Now she tells me.
False Dungeness — The whiskey trade dried up once the Indians died off.
A Hundred Years from Nowhere — The end of the last frontier.

"River guiding is a competitive game, where death threats are the sincerest form of flattery," Pat wrote. "To hold a steelhead after a hard fight is to touch the mysteries of migration, life and death in the wild. Wild life."

Pat Neal not only writes well, his wonderful storytelling is
guaranteed to entertain your guests.
Want to fish? Call Pat!
For more information, call 360.683.9867.

More of his columns, which are available for syndication,
may be read on his Web site.


hershelman@olympus.net
Date Last Modified:7/16/09
Copyright © 2001-2003 Sandy Hershelman. All rights reserved.