Stalin on the Columbia

I saw a scrawny small dog tethered to a wooden post of a decaying Lewis and Clark historical display. The Columbia River rolled choppy blue and west a few feet behind it. In the channel, a variegated freighter headed toward Astoria and beyond. Its name: a rather pedestrian American Pacific. Its cargo: nothing on deck, not even containers bearing products no one really needs.

A light rain fell. All the better for my afternoon stroll along the Warrenton trail to my clear my overcast head.

The dog noticed me and looked over. I approached it and noticed its owner sitting on a bench of the display of a large book, an 800-pager at least. I couldn’t discern the title but it was a thick red font in the style of Soviet propaganda art.

I was intrigued. It’s rare to see people reading in the rain, much less with a dog, much less along a mighty river surrounded by molding plaques recounting the myths of two overrated historical figures.

She was elderly and wearing a head scarf reminiscent of the Russian peasant women in the documentary films building tank traps and cooking up borscht near dead bodies to save Stalingrad from the Panzers.

Beside her rested an elderly three-wheeled bicycle, blue, with a little trailer all decked out cozy for the dog.

I took my walk down the river and marveled at the cormorants and gulls perched on the rotting piers. Oh, to join them!

A half an hour later, I saw the woman bicycling toward me on the paved trail.

Here was my chance. I had to know the title of the book.

I angled toward her in such a way that she would have to slow down or come to a complete halt.


She pedaled up, huffing and puffing, and the dog was sacked out in the trailer.

I gave ground. We came together and the bicycle barely moved forward.

“What were you reading?” I said.

“Stalin,” she growled in a thick Russian accent.

She passed me.

I caught a glimpse of the book.

Sure enough, the red read STALIN.

I had read this biography years ago.

And here I was meeting a direct descendant from its pages.

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