A Tale of Rivers and Fire

This story has been adapted with permission from Tom Pero’s poignant essay of Frank and Jeanne Moore and Sinatra Biographer Pete Hamill in Tom’s recent communication from his Wild River Press desk: A Tale of Two Franks

Tom thanked Dean Finnerty for sharing his photographs of Jeanne and Frank, and also to John Nordstrand for the river shot from his book Steelhead Lies, which includes a fine chapter on the North Umpqua. 
October 2019 on the North Umpqua. Photo by Dorothy Brown
On Wednesday, June 7, 1944, the bow of a 36-foot-long marine-gray U. S. Navy Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel, built at the Higgins boatyard in New Orleans, dropped abruptly into the shallow surf of a dark, cold, bloody, frothy, chaotic Atlantic beach, creating a temporary ramp, over which a young  man from an Oregon logging town ran and jumped into the water, as he had so many times as a boy gleefully wading into the Rogue River.   This time he was being shot at; his terrifying new world was exploding. He was in France now, on the coast of Normandy, one of 150,000 soldiers who surged into the largest amphibious invasion in history.    And the plywood sides of the Higgins boat that delivered Frank Moore into the teeth of possible violent death might well have been made from giant Douglas firs near where he grew up in southern Oregon.    He and his comrades, many of whom hadn’t started to shave, fought furiously inland from Zone Utah, the American southern end of the Overlord assault against the Nazis, leaving behind many fallen heroes on the ground and others blown to bits. Moore trudged his way through France and into the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg the next year. For bravery in combat he was awarded the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.
Photo of Frank Moore by Dorothy Brown

Frank Moore is 97. Last week his charming log home overlooking the famous fly-fishing stretch of the North Umpqua River, which he shared and loved with Jeanne, his cherished wife of 77 years, burned to the ground. 

I am heartsick to share this sad news. Their loss is a loss to us all. Their home was a repository of steelheading lore, a quiet shrine to this great river. 

The Moores’ home was consumed by the vicious Archie Creek fire, which has turned the whole section of the Umpqua below Steamboat Inn—a wild river that during the 1980s I delighted in hiking along and casting across its emerald currents—into a blackened hellscape. The ancient cliffs towering over the exquisitely clear lava-rock runs and rapids stand silent sentinel to the devastation.

Sawtooth on the North Umpqua by David Moskowitz

It had been the spring of our discontent. Back in April I shared with you the sad news that Armand Courchaine, my old fly-fishing friend from when I was a kid learning the sport in New England, had died from Covid-19.

And, now, in the waning days of this leafy season, and the beginning of what should be weeks of languid warmth and gold, it is the summer of our dispiriting. 

Frank and Jeanne Moore at home by Dean Finnerty
Pat Lee and her husband Keith also lost their home along the Umpqua. Many of us know Pat from her 40 years as manager of Steamboat Inn, working with our friends Sharon and Jim Van Loan, who bought the inn from Jeanne and Frank Moore back in the 1970s. Pat helped make Steamboat a warm and welcoming home-away-from-home for travelers and anglers from around the world.   Both Pat and Frank are avid and accomplished steelhead anglers. Each is an exceptional advocate for the beleaguered wild resource. These horrible things should not be happening to such good-hearted people. I hardly know what to say. But I feel compelled to say something. So I’ll just start. At such moments a Yeats is needed:   Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned. . . .
When newly-inaugurated President Bill Clinton flew to Roseburg in 1993 for a nationally televised “solution” to the fact that loggers were out of work because they had cut 90 percent of the old-growth firs and were angry with the federal government (yeah….), Pat Lee was sitting at the table representing anglers and steelhead habitat. When retired First Lady Rosalynn and retired President Jimmy Carter decided they wanted to step up from trout to steelhead, they asked Pat to guide them.    And if you were anywhere near Steamboat and didn’t show up at least one evening for the scrumptious “Fisherman’s Dinner”— reservations only, family-style seating at a magnificent sugar-pine plank table—well, you probably were content opening a can of spam with a rusty screwdriver. Or maybe reaching for a days-old Fluffernutter from under your front seat. Thyme and the River: Recipes from Oregon’s Steamboat Inn by Sharon Van Loan and Patricia Lee remains one of my favorite cookbooks. Their food was sublime. Nothing for miles and miles around came close.   Years ago I was privileged to visit and chat with Frank Moore at the lodgepole cabin he had built himself high above his beloved North Umpqua, after he sold the inn nearly 50 years ago. It had that ahhhh feel; you saw it and smelled it as soon as you walked in—filled with photos of a life richly lived, old creels and fly rods, carvings, awards and citations, the fragrance of woodsmoke and baking bread, and Jeanne’s walls of botanical books. I thought, So this is what a home should be.
Senator Ron Wyden with Frank and Jeanne Moore by Dean Finnerty

In 2019 the U. S. Congress designated 100,000 acres of public land surrounded the North Umpqua River the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary, including the vital spawning artery, Steamboat Creek. (Yes, that’s Oregon’s U. S. Senator Ron Wyden congratulating them—when you’re Frank Moore, power comes to see you. 

The North Umpqua by John Nordstrand from his book Steelhead Lies

After the loss of their irreplaceable home above the river, in characteristic fashion, Frank told The Oregonian, “As long as we have each other, we can always start over. Even after 100 years.”

Oh, that any of us could conjure such grace.

Watch Frank Moore fish his river and talk about his philosophy of life:

A Perfect Life and Love: TEDXPortland 

Oregon Dreamer: Frank Moore

Frank Moore: Oregon’s Eighth wonder

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