Tag Archives: Anthropology

Points

Found just outside my doorway in the muddy pit where I was laying bricks for a patio, this projectile point sent ripples of excitement to Seattle and back.

I made my most “significant” archaeological find when I was leveling the earth in front of my porch to set some bricks for a walkway. I came across a stone…not that uncommon…but this one was a peculiar shape. It was flat and sharp-edged. Most of the rocks I was unearthing had been rounded by glacial or riverine action, basically the gravel from an old road. For some reason I set this one aside and later I took it to the sink in the bathroom to sluice the mud off of it. I was floored by what I found: a beautiful palm-sized projectile point.

When I was young in the Lower Crab Creek valley of Eastern Washington it was almost a sign of status to have discovered what we called an arrowhead. My older brothers had all found them and it was frustrating that no matter how many hikes I took, no matter how vigilant I was, with my eyes scanning the crust of the the desert soil, I never received what seemed to be that secret blessing from the past. Maybe they’d all been used up. Then came the hot summer day when my father, blanketed in yellow dust, came home for lunch after spending the morning rototilling a new field he was opening up. He reached into the pocket of his overalls and dropped a red arrowhead on the kitchen table. Continue reading

Legends of the Ice Cave

Beneath this towering cliff and rubble fallen from it lie the remains of the Saddle Mountain Ice Cave.

There has been a fair amount of mystery concerning the Saddle Mountain Ice Cave. Even today you’ll find inquiries about it on internet chat sites. Over the years, locals disagreed on lots of points concerning this phenomenon. Some said it was a natural cavern, a huge chamber full of glittering perpetual ice. Others said it wasn’t really anything more than a big root cellar where people kept chunks of ice they would cut out of Crab Creek in the wintertime. Some people even doubt its existence. But it’s there.

Virtually all that’s left of the Ice Cave is a pile of old timbers and the remains of the massive wooden doorframe.

The Ice Cave is about four miles west of the end of the paving on the old Corfu Highway after you leave Smyrna, around eight miles from Beverly. It’s difficult to spot the remains from the roadway, so look for a large alkali clearing in front of it and a huge slope of tumbled rock flanking its other three sides. Continue reading

Another Flood

“The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Ecology have completed an appraisal level study of potential Columbia River mainstem off-channel storage sites…The appraisal study determined that the Crab Creek site represents a potentially viable reservoir location. This site appears to be preferable to the Hawk Creek site based on both cost and technical feasibility criteria.” From Columbia River Basin Storage Options – Columbia River Mainstem, Department of Ecology web page.

A brief stop on a car tour of the Crab Creek Highway in the late 1940s. This is near the location where the Department of Ecology and the Bureau of Reclamation would like to place a dam 250 feet high and a mile and a half wide.

The government is back in the dam building business. This time it looks like they’re going to dam Crab Creek! There are only two sites currently under consideration for a new water storage (and possible power generation) facility off the main channel of the Columbia River in Washington State. The results of the preliminary study favor damming Lower Crab Creek to create a reservoir that inundates the entire valley, from an earth core dam 250 feet high near Beverly to high water shorelines near Taunton. If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you can be sure I have deep reservations about building such a dam and flooding what I consider to be unique historical, cultural and environmental landscapes.

My family is perhaps lucky in this situation. Although the new lake created by the Crab Creek Dam would cover our ancestral homestead and the ranch that succeeded it, the more recent Danielson spread appears to be right about at the shoreline. But when the new lake is created, other infrastructure will have to be altered. It looks as though a massive power line will cut down Danielson Road, looming over the house I grew up in.

This view of the Lower Crab Creek valley, taken in the early 1950s (as my father notes: before irrigation), shows what will be a lake if the dam is built.

Will it happen? I don’t know. In this day of budget crisis funding may be difficult to pry out of the government. But who knows whether a Roosevelt-style public works program might not use the dam project as a solution to the economic slump. It’s the type of program that stands a chance of succeeding: employment of a vast range of professional and working types, new power generation, new irrigation storage, amelioration of a certain habitat (albeit at the cost of destroying other more unique habitat), benefits to local industries and those further afield. It might even help to restore the aquifer depleted by injudicious permission to pump water for irrigation circles. Continue reading

The Crossroads

Lower Crab Creek provided water. In Eastern Washington, that was a godsend. Temperatures on the Columbia Plateau routinely soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime, and rain is scarce. Cleaning irrigation ditches with a shovel west of Othello as a boy, many were the prayers I sent for even one scanty cloud to shield me from the overbearing sun.

The Sinkiuse Indians who lived there before me probably shared my distaste for the relentless sun. But they didn’t have the benefit of a well of cold water I could retire to, an air conditioner that cooled the house when I took a break. They were stuck with the weather the way it was: hot in the summertime, cold in the winter. They took a more basic approach to living on the Columbia Plateau: they stuck close to water, or if that weren’t possible, they found the shortest route from one water hole to the next.

Over centuries of migration and travel, humans developed routes that guided them along the most direct lines of travel from one pool or stream of potable water to the next. Continue reading

To The Cliffs and Beyond

My grandfather first climbed to the cliffs on Saddle Mountain in the 1920s. He was not the first visitor to a high ledge where soft sandstone is sandwiched between layers of black basalt. Names were carved into the soft rock, dated, gouged deeper on subsequent visits. My father, whose first visit to the cliffs must have been when he was a youngster in the 1920s, introduced the site to his children. Our first visits were made by motor vehicles. Rough trails still exist that can be followed by a truck with high suspension…not that I recommend the method of access. You miss so much when you’re trapped in metal.

My favorite route to the cliffs followed the Milwaukee Road tracks for a mile or so, then veered up the fenceline separating private cultivated land from the BLM sections. After you leave the railroad tracks you start a relentless climb, like going on foot up a mile-long stairway. First you traverse massive slopes of yellow clay, silt that precipitated out of the flood when the waters struck the mountain, slowed and diverted to the east and the west. These banks are composed of countless thin layers. In some places you can find petrified bones, usually blackened vertebrae of fish or small animals. We also found turtle shells and I keep a broken bison bone in my classroom, orange and yellow and imperfectly petrified. Continue reading

Adaptation and Disorientation

My wife bought the land we live on in the 1970s, while she was still in college. The land lies on an eastward slope in the heavily forested hills near Bellingham, Washington. They were logging here in the early part of the 1900s, some of those operations Darius Kinsey loved to photograph.I know they used horses, steam donkeys, trains and trucks to remove the ancient cedars. On our property you can find old stumps with springboard slots hacked into them. The loggers placed springboards several feet up on the trees to avoid heavy sap that would clog up the blades of their two-man crosscut saws.  With ten acres of land, we have a natural preserve that keeps its history wrapped in forest duff.

Not too long after we got married, I began an intense project of trail development. My wife had never really used the land we lived on, but as I crashed through the brush I found enchanting natural attractions. I found those springboard stumps, carpets of wild ginger, fields of ferns, tented clubhouses at the bases of mature fir trees. Even the fallen timber offered enchantment: shelf fungus, tiny mushrooms, cubic rot, lightning strike evidence.

I grew up in the desert of Eastern Washington. Lots of people don’t even realize that such a thing exists in the Evergreen State, but my childhood, cursed with dust, inexorable heat, and merciless sunshine sometimes tortured me. As I labored on my father’s farm, cleaning silt out of the bottom of irrigation ditches, picking up alfalfa bales and stacking them for storage or on trucks, I knew the distant peaks of the Cascades offered somewhere cool, comfortable, unreachable. Continue reading

The Job of an Insomniac

As an insomniac, I puzzle through the night while my family sleeps: why am I not sleeping, too? There are definite rhythms to my need for sleep, and these have changed as I have aged. I find myself compelled to sleep in the late afternoon, which is a dangerous thing in a home-bound commute. I don’t recall the late-night wakefulness I experience these days being a problem when I was younger. I think of my younger self as somebody who worked long hours and slept easily. I can even recall those summer evenings when I held the fort at the Cenex plant, waiting for semi loads of wheat that were being transferred from a glutted terminal to our available storage. I was never tempted to sleep as I waited. I stayed up, reading old western novels somebody left laying around the shop and listening to late-night renditions of At Seventeen by Janis Ian. It was Janis Ian, wasn’t it?

Of course, in those days, I wasn’t allergic to eggs either.

So why is it that our sleeping patterns change as we age? I haven’t the foggiest. Except my speculations. Insomnia, perhaps, serves a social role.

We cavemen work our days away by hunting and gathering, all the while being aware of imminent dangers that stalk our tribes. Continue reading