Tag Archives: Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

Adventures in Changing Sprinklers

One of my earlier jobs away from my home farm was changing hand line sprinklers on a neighbor’s ranch, perched just at the cusp of the hill above the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge on Highway 26. The sprinklers had to be moved twice a day, at sun-up and sun-down, and there were two fields to move so I had to make an early start of it. I was young enough that I wasn’t yet driving, so I’d ride my old red and white one-speed bicycle on the canal maintenance road down to the neighbor’s place.

The pipes were four-inch aluminum, thirty feet long. The first field was relatively flat, and when I’d cut water to the pipes there would still be a load in every pipe. I’d have to disconnect each pipe and drain it by lifting it gently in the middle until the water flowed out.

This field fronted on the highway, so I could entertain myself by watching the traffic pass by. But there was also a pond in this field, a pasture frequented by a herd of steers. The sprinklers had to be laid right through the pond. It was disgusting. The water was coffee brown with bovine wastes and it was deep enough that my boots would invariably flood. The sun climbed and the air grew oven hot. I’d spend the rest of my shift squelching around the fields with stinking wet socks.

The farm dog would often accompany me, a wiry blue-heeler with an attitude. He had his most fun on the second field, where the fenceline bordered on the wildlife refuge. This was a hilly field, and my sprinklers had to be laid right over the tops of some small ridges. One morning the dog spotted an intruder at the top of the first ridge, a scrawny grey coyote. 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

Crab Creek Homestead

Elmquists and Danielsons near Seattle, ca. 1914 Oscar F. Danielson holds baby Walter, front right. Edla stands near him, wearing the dark skirt.

In an earlier post to this blog (Illegal Immigrants) I introduced my grandfather, Oscar Fritiof Danielson. In this entry, I will sketch out the history of his farm on Lower Crab Creek. But first, a little about his background.

Oscar was born in a small town called Slatthog in southern Sweden in April 1885. A number of his brothers seem to have left the area, and Oscar followed. His arrival in America is shrouded in mystery. I found what appears to be his name on the 1910 census, as a boarder in a lumber camp at Avondale in King County. He is listed as a lumber worker, 29 years old. 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