Tag Archives: Sagebrush

Written in the Earth

A soldier of Custer's regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

A soldier of Custer’s regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

When you grow up in desert heat, at least when video games and television have yet to proliferate, one of the joys of childhood is playing with the garden hose. Personally, I enjoyed digging rivers and lakes into the earth of the wire enclosure where our chickens roamed. I remember the amazement of unearthing a living frog that had burrowed into the ground for hibernation, and that had narrowly avoided the blade of my shovel.

One of my maxims about the desert landscape around Saddle Mountain is that this earth is honest. When people pass through, the traces they make remain to be read by those who come after them. As I think back on the traces we’ve discovered on our farm alone, it amazes me that so much history is written in its sand and dust.

In the early 1960s my father hooked his tractor to a battered old machine he called the rototiller. He was in the process of rooting sagebrush out of a new field, and this machine would completely destroy the plants that grew there naturally. Continue reading

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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

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