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The Lower Willamette River is known for its Superfund site and industrial loading docks. There is no natural shoreline, just huge vertical piers. It’s an interesting, if dehumanizing landscape.

Over the years I’ve noticed that in seemingly inaccessible places there’s graffiti; but not your typical tagging or subway-style scrawl. It’s more homemade, more rudimentary somehow.

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After a few years of staring up at it and wondering just how it got there, I had an epiphany.

I looked up some of the words on the piers, like Jalamoti (could it be from 1977?) and here’s what I found courtesy of


And then it was like lightning in my mind!

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Again from

Like all graffiti, this stuff was sending a message. Someone was marking their turf, or at least making it known that they had visited Portland, Oregon.

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And these folks had visited from all over the world.

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And who else could have reached these strange places but sailors? Not kayakers, yachters, or recreational power boaters. These folks are true merchant mariners.

Their marks, isolated from landsmen, sheltered by overhanging docks, forty years later, still clear: I was here.