Knowing When To Leave

“Now, here’s to all good Salvagers…”

Years ago, Canadian folk song icon and national hero Stan Rogers wrote a jolly ballad called “The Wreck of the Athens Queen,” in which a bunch of drinking buddies on the Nova Scotia coast discover a recently wrecked “rusty tub” of a freighter trashed on Ripper Rock offshore. They boldly set forth in the stormy night and fetch, via their dories, 200 chickens, a green couch, 40 cases of Napoleon brandy, a cow, and ferry them all back to land. The ballad ends with — “Now here’s to all good salvagers, likewise to Ripper Rock…”

With GPS, this kind of salvaging is now a rare enterprise, perhaps a lost art. Any skipper with GPS who crunches his vessel on submerged rocks is a damn fool and should be drydocked. But salvaging, in a much different sense, is what I’ve attempted to do the last six years (nearly exactly! to the day!) from the scrap heap of trash and treasures in my travels and chance encounters, which conclude now with this post.


Ostensibly this blog has been about food – from all over the country and Europe – with simple recipes that can make you heroic in the kitchen (my favorite one of all time right here). I am not a gourmet cook and don’t aspire to be one. Maybe I screw up too much. More so, the blog has been about my love for this country and good memories from moving through it.


You need to drive and then pause. How do you learn that billionaire land baron Ted Turner can so easily piss off and alienate local cattlemen in northern New Mexico? Go to a bar in the town of Cimarron, New Mexico and listen. Engage, talk, ask, do not judge. Turner thought locals were “stupid” to be raising beef when they could be raising buffalo.

What do you feel when you return, after thirty years, to a tiny hamlet of four small buildings tucked away in the woods of the Seven Devils Wilderness is western Idaho on a dirt road at the edge of Hell’s Canyon, and discover it’s doubled in size to about eight people? Your heart nearly seizes; you spent four days here way back when with one couple you’d never met, and return now to get the same welcoming reception. This is the home of pie crust made with bear grease! Sempre, Cuprum, Idaho!

What do you say to your Newfoundland B&B host who takes you out cod fishing, your wife snags a huge one and you photograph her kissing the cod (a tradition!), then motor home with a boatload? You say “thanks,” and then “I’ll trade all of our cod for some of your scallops tonight.”

It’s been about remarkable people, like Michael Weber, Paul Newman, John Katzenbach, and others.

All true, all salvaged. They are nothing without clear memory.

The same with many encounters in 49 states over my lifetime whose stories haven’t been told. But always, right over my shoulder, wherever I am or have been, is a small voice saying “Know when to leave.”

Southeast Colorado, near Kim, destination unknown.

Go while the going is good…

Burt Bacharach wrote it, Dionne Warwick and many others sang it …

Go while the going is good. Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing anyone can learn. Go!

Almost all of us leave – a town, a job, a relationship, a lover, a party where we could easily stay too long, a circle of friends, and even family. Sometimes it’s as simple as standing by the back door of an auditorium or hall, where people are giving speeches, and you have one foot either out the door or on the threshold, ready to bolt at the first hint of tedium. Or sitting near the exits during some live performance that may become mildly intolerable. Or in an aisle seat at a movie theater where the film, at some point, becomes nearly insufferable.


Special thanks to the BDN”s best-ever editor, Tony Ronzio, and blogging coach Patti Reeves, for supporting me in the early years – especially to Tony who really liked my stuff. Thanks to my 252 subscribers and visitors who’ve amounted to nearly 400,000 views of my blog.


Maybe it always comes down to pool games in different western towns:

An Indian (native) kid, maybe 16, 17, in a bar in Pendleton, Oregon – who wanted to shoot pool with me. Mid 1980s, I think, and I forget how I got there or why I was there. We both had beers (the bar didn’t give a rat’s behind about your age) and this young guy shot great pool, was super friendly, and delivered great oratory about how the government and others were destroying the Columbia River, taking away their tribal livelihood and traditions. Hanford Nuclear Plant and waste dump. Destroying the salmon runs. All that. After three or four racks of pool, it ended, and I decided I had rarely made such a strong, instant connection with another human being. True: this kid had an extraordinary mind and soul, and he glowed with it.

The glowing comes and goes, and so it is with me. There may be more someday, but not here. As Billy Buck said at the very end of my novel Billy Buck: “It’s been a long journey. And it ends here.”


Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.