Weeping Willow and Loansome Hart left photographs of themselves inside a banjo ukulele, as a gentle “Remember Us.”
My family has long had a close relationship to the making of music. If you go back far enough in my mother’s family, we were probably connected to the German composer of operas and organ music, Johann Georg Kühnhausen, whose Matthäus-Passion (Saint Matthew’s Passion) is still occasionally performed. But for the most part, we played much more informally.
My father and several of his buddies toured around Eastern Washington in the 1930s and 1940s, playing dances in little towns like Othello and White Bluffs as the Five Jives. Two of his brothers were members of a long-lasting semi-professional band that formed under Steve Laughery in Moses Lake and which continued to tour the west after Laughery died in a landslide. The memory of these bands survive in some of the artifacts we still possess, some sheet music inscribed with “Five Jives” and a couple of vinyl albums from the Many Sounds of Nine, my uncles’ band. I have written before about the old violin my father used to play, passed on to him from one of my mother’s uncles. I use it to play dance music in a couple of contra-dance bands in Northwestern Washington now.
There are no markings on the instrument to indicate how old it it. The name “Elton” is stamped on the metal resonator ring.
Last month I found a very interesting instrument, seemingly meant for me. It had a peculiar back story and it fit a special niche in a musician’s repertoire. For there will always be a time when you want to create the most annoying sound you can musically make. In this case, with a banjo ukulele. Continue reading
Posted in Art, Bellingham, Cats, Columbia Basin, Concertina or Squeezebox, Dogs, Education, Family History, Fiddle, Folk, Genealogy and Family History, Germany, Guitar, History, Horses, Illustration, Luthier, Music, Othello, Pets, Ukulele, Violin, Washington, White Bluffs
Tagged Art, Banjo, Banjo Ukulele, Bellingham, Bodhran, Central Washington, Concertina, Contra Dance, David Nerad, Eastern Washington, Education, Elton, Family History, Fiddle, Five Jives, Guitar, History, Johann Georg Kühnhausen, Loansome Hart, Many Sounds of Nine, Margie Katz, Mike Schway, Montgomery Ward, Moses Lake, Othello, Paramount, Photography, Piano, Randy Mohr, Rolling Stones, Steve Laughery, Van Halen, Violin, Ward Beebe, Washington, Weeping Willow, Weimaraner, White Bluffs
The wreck of the Cora Blake lies beneath the shallow waters of this Lake Whatcom bay.
I have one of the most beautiful commutes in the country, I’m pretty sure. My drive is around fifteen miles long, winding through precipitous hills clad in dark and overgrown forests of hemlock, Douglas fir and Bigleaf Maple. Most of the route follows the south shore of Lake Whatcom on a road that is thinly traveled. The drive I make is a relatively recent road, though.
Since American settlers first visited this lake in the mid-1800s, boats were the favored mode of transportation. Native Americans taught the earliest settlers how to build shovel-nosed canoes made of a single hollowed-out cedar log. Row boats followed, then sailboats. The first of the steam-powered boats was launched in the late 1800s, and it contributed its muscle to burgeoning industries of coal-mining and the lumber trade.
By the early 1900s several steamboats traveled the twelve-mile length of Lake Whatcom, visiting docks of settlers and nascent communities along the way. Other steamboats dragged barges loaded with coal or with train cars loaded with coal. Still others nudged rafts of huge logs toward several lumber and shake mills that dotted the perimeter of the north end of the lake. Continue reading
Posted in Archaeology, Bellingham, Computer, Disaster, Education, History, Lake Whatcom, Native Americans, Search Engine, Steamboats, Transportation, Travel, Washington
Tagged Bellingham, Bellingham Bay, Bloedel-Donovan Park, Blue Canyon, Bried, Canoes, Cedar, Coal Mining, Commuting, Cora Blake, Douglas Fir, Education, Elsinore, Fire, Geneva, Google Earth, Hemlock, History, Lake Whatcom, Lumber, Marguerite, Mike Anderson, Native Americans, Nature, Park, Sailboats, Settlers, Shipwreck, Shipyards, Silver Beach, Steamboats, Strawberry Bay, Strawberry Point, Trains, Transportation, Washington State
An intricate ram’s head butt cap tipped me off that this was not an ordinary knife.
Our cabin on the Sauk River has a functioning firwood floor, a used wood stove in one corner, resting on a pad of ceramic tiles, gaps in the logs where the light shines through, and around twenty lights of glass shattered by gunfire in a vandal’s rampage. There’s a bit more work to do to restore it to a comfortable condition, but it’s come a long way from the way it looked at this time last year. Then it was supported by rotting logs on irregular concrete shards. It had been infested by rats and bats and mice for several years.
I have to admit that I was unsure that we would ever make it habitable again, but when my wife asked me where I wanted to go in our trailer that summer, I opined that we really ought to fix up the cabin and make it our own private campground. She jumped at the opportunity.
The cabin early in the restoration process slopes on its gaping supports, aging log sections that were rotting in place.
We tore down counters, cupboards and flimsy walls. We dragged out the old rusty stove, the metal cabinets, the metal barstools bolted to the old sagging floor. We hired help to drag the old Monarch cookstove outside where we dumped out the rat’s nests that packed its interior. We hired others to cart away a huge pile of metal debris someone had dumped in the ferns across the driveway. We figured out how to support the upright log walls while we removed the rotten old foundations, if you could call them that. Continue reading
Posted in Archaeology, Art, Bellingham, Family History, Immigration, Sauk River, Search Engine, Speculative History, Web
Tagged Ammon, Ancient Greece, Art, Bellingham, Culture, Cutlery, England, Frontier, Georgia, Green River Works, Greenfield, History, Immigrants, Industrial Revolution, J.Russell & Co., Knife, LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Massachusetts, Mountain Men, Oregon Trail, Pennsylvania, Pioneers, Ram's head, Rats, Restoration, ReStore, Sauk River, Sheffield, Travelogues, Turkish scimitar, Washington, William Randolph Hearst Collection, Zachariah Allen
It was a glorious morning, the type of day that reminds me of why I so love living here. For so long the weather has continued to act like Winter: fog cloaking the hills, rain flowing down our driveway like a babbling brook. And it seems only days ago that the last of the snow disappeared from the slopes of Anderson Mountain. Continue reading
Posted in Biology, Cats, Dogs, Fiddle, Guitar, Horses, Hummingbirds, Music, Pets, Washington
Tagged Bellingham, Dogs, Environment, Family, Hummingbird, Music, Nature, Pets, Washington
Smyrna Canyon from the old shoreline on Saddle Mountain
Imagine, if you will (to paraphrase Rod Serling), standing on the peak of this range one day nearly twelve thousand years ago. Below, you look out over a grassy plain with a gentle creek flowing between ancient canyon walls. The events that are about to take place have occurred repeatedly dozens of times, but for you, those canyons hold no evidence of the disaster that is about to strike. On this day, the sun feels pleasantly warm. You have left the other members of your band camped on the edge of the creek while you climb the peaks looking for small prey.
You begin to notice a steady rumbling sound, something that began almost imperceptibly, but that persists and even grows. Wondering what it is, you look to the northeast. There is a strange haze in the distance. Perhaps it is something to do with the tremendous fields of ice that rim that edge of your world. But as you watch it seems to grow, to convulse as it consumes the horizon.
Then the earth begins to quiver. A blast of air strikes you, driving dust that blinds you as you struggle to watch. The shuddering intensifies, and you fall to the ground in fear. A rumble fills your ears, growing into a roar as you clap your hands over them to quell the pain of the noise. In a few moments your view of the peaceful waterways to the north are effaced by a cloud of dust kicked up by the sudden ferocious wind. You cover your ears to protect them from the roar, but the sound is nearly unbearable.
It is the sound of disaster: the crash of sudden rivers striking against the mountain you are clinging to. Beneath you, nothing but murk. The sky itself has turned brown with clouds of dust driven by the wind that precedes the flood. It is a flood unlike anything you could ever have imagined. Continue reading
Posted in Anthropology, Archaeology, Bellingham, Biology, Columbia Basin, Crab Creek, Family History, Geology, History, Ice Age flood, Natural Disaster, Railroads, Saddle Mountain, Science, Speculative History, Washington
Tagged Bellingham, Clovis, Columbia River, Crab Creek, East Wenatchee, Eastern Washington, Environment, Family, Family History, Flood, Geology, Highway 26, History, Ice Age, Landslide, Lower Crab Creek, Milwaukee Road, Nature, Railroads, Rod Serling, Saddle Mountain, Smyrna, Vantage, Washington, Washington State
This article is full of mistaken assumptions, a lesson waiting for recovery beneath the ice of ignorance. For instance, I always assumed that Stevens Pass was named by good old George McClellan, as if he took time out from his trout fishing ever to really explore ways to get across the Cascades when Washington Territory’s first governor (and railroad route scout), Isaac Stevens, ordered him into them hills to locate a pass for a railroad to use. (By the way, if you’re interested in what the fishing was like around Yakima in the 1850s, McClellan’s journal will tell you. McClellan never got far. He glanced at the frowning cliffs above the Tieton River and turned around, reporting that a pass didn’t exist.) I started the article by claiming that a plaque memorialized the Reverend James M. Thomson in the basement Scout Room of St. James Presbyterian Church in Bellingham, Washington. But in a fact checking expedition this weekend, I discovered that I was mistaken: no such plaque exists. Now, I wonder why.
A grainy portrait of Reverend James M. Thomson was found in the 1909 history of the local Presbyterian Synod.
James Thomson was not a Boy Scout, and the Stevens for whom the pass was named was a railroad surveyor working for entrepreneur James J. Hill, whose Great Northern Railroad fearlessly scraped out a series of switchbacks on the faces of seemingly impassible peaks. A bit of fear might have been in order. Continue reading
Posted in Bellingham, History, Natural Disaster, Railroads, Washington, World War I
Tagged Alaska, Avalanche, Belfast, Bellingham, Bodies, Brownsville, Cascade Mountains, Church, Clearbrook, Disaster, Dogsled, Dorothy Koert, Education, Everett, Fairhaven, Fish Lake, Gary Krist, George McClellan, Great Northern Railroad, History, Irish, Isaac Stevens, James H. O'Neill, James J. Hill, Lake Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Lookout, Marcus Whitman, Mary McLeod, Missionary, Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Oregon, Passengers, Presbyterian, Queen Anne Hill, Reverend James A. Laurie Jr., Reverend James M. Thomson, Reverend James Wilson, Rome, Ruby Hult, Sauk, Seattle, Skagway, Snow, St. James Presbyterian Church, Stevens Pass, Tall Timbers Ranch, Thunder, Tieton River, Trout, Tunnel, Tye, University of Washington, Washington, Washington Territory, Wellington, World War I, Wreckage, Yakima
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
Posted in Anthropology, Archaeology, Crab Creek, Genealogy and Family History, History, Immigration, Speculative History, Washington
Tagged Anthropology, Archaeology, Arrowheads, Artifacts, Bellingham, Biology, Cascades, Cedars, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Columbia River, Coyote Rapids, Crab Creek, Darius Kinsey, Desert, Eastern Washington, Environment, Family History, Flood, Fossils, Fungus, Geology, Glaciers, Graffiti, History, Hudsons Bay Company, Ice Age, Immigration, Logging, Longhouse, Milwaukee Road, Native American, Ross Cox, Saddle Mountain, Second World War, Sweden, Taunton, Trees, Vietnam War, Wagon, Washington, White Bluffs, World War II
Some may call it odd, but I prefer to think of my skill at playing the English Concertina as merely quirky. This is an unusual instrument, to be sure, but it certainly fulfills my need to be unique…most of the time. And who was to know that the instrument was so well suited to me?
The English Concertina has an ancient history and a noble, scientific modern descent. It was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone, whose accomplishments in the field of electricity continue to influence electronics to this day. Have you ever heard of the Wheatstone Bridge? Not unless you are an electrician or a concertina player. I am the latter.
Let nobody disparage the influence of music in your life. For many, music is a sedentary or second-hand pursuit. For me, as well as for most musicians, it plays a crucial role in my state of being, and it has directed the course of my living.
When I returned from Ireland in 1982, I brought home my first English concertina. It was the product of one night’s lodging at the Youth Hostel in Glasgow. Continue reading
Posted in Concertina or Squeezebox, Fiddle, Folk, Music, Sweden
Tagged Belfast, Bellingham, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Wheatstone, Concertina, Fiddle, Glasgow, Glass Armonica, Ireland, London, Mount Adams, Music, Narcolepsy, Northwest Folklife Festival, Puget Sound, Seattle, Spokane, Stradivarius, Sweden, Uppsala, Washington