The Camas Are Blooming.

The Camas Are Blooming

Captain Willian Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition said it best when he first described a prairie of flowering camas on June 10th 1806 as, “a perfect resemblance of lakes of clear water.” Unfortunately, when the Corps of Discovery first tried eating this popular local dish when it was offered by their Nez Perce friends, it took some getting used to. Captain Lewis was very grateful until after supper when he was, “filled so full of wind, that we were scarcely able to breath all night.” The debilitating effects of a new diet of dried fish and camas stopped the expedition in its tracks with a perfect storm of vomiting, diarrhea and flatulence.

This small member of the lily family with a blue hyacinth shaped flower and an edible bulb about the size of a small onion, used to be the most important carbohydrate throughout the Pacific Northwest. Camas was one of an estimated 80 species of plants used for food, fiber and medicines that grew on prairies maintained by the Native American practice of burning the land every three to five years. The fires spurred the growth of useful plants, killed the weeds and kept the trees from taking over the land.

Native American legends say the camas was a gift of “The Great Changer.” This was a mythical hero to many tribes of the Northwest who believed the Changer brought balance to the world by using his power to transform people, animals and landscapes into what we see today. These transformers or changers were called Docuebatl, Kumsnootl and Kwati, (Q’waati) by various tribes. They turned wolves into the Quileute people. Caused the trees to spring up out of the ground and spread camas throughout the region where it has been growing ever since.

Camas was mostly dug in September and October when the bulbs could be preserved the longest. A hundred pounds of camas might be steamed in a stone oven resulting in a gelatinous mass that was pressed into cakes that could be sliced like bread and said to taste not unlike the sweet potato.

In 1999 a highway construction project near Sequim unearthed the remains of a stone camas oven that was used to cook the bulbs 6,000 years ago, indicating camas has been here almost as long as the people.

In May of 1792 Captain George Vancouver sailed his ship Discovery into the Strait of Juan de Fuca where he was so impressed with the beauty of the Sequim Prairie, he named the area “Dungeness” after his home in England.

In 1841 the American explorer Charles Wilkes described the camas prairies as, “All seeming in the utmost order as if man had been ever watchful of its beauty and cultivation.” That is because these gardens had been cultivated for thousands of years.

These indigenous gardens occurred all over the Pacific Northwest. The level, well drained fertile lands were also free of trees which made them very attractive to the invading hordes of European farmers.

The 1500-acre Sequim Prairie was first homesteaded in 1866. The land was considered “unimproved.” The Indian crops were considered weeds and brush. Farmers raised wheat and hogs. The hogs made short work of the camas bulbs.

This pattern of settlement moved to the west end of the Olympic Peninsula where ethnologist Jay Powell documented 9 camas prairies in the Quileute country. Of these only one retains the camas. Located south of Forks along Highway 101. Our one remaining camas prairie can be found in the spring blooming a blue carpet of flowers, “a perfect resemblance of lakes of clear water.”    

Quarantine Chronicles Memorial Day

THAT WAS THE best Memorial Day ever. We may be under a coronavirus lockdown, but all it really took was a little can’t-do attitude to pull it off. Actually, it began on Friday night, when I started things off by not getting ready for the big three-day weekend camping and fishing trip I had been looking forward to all year.

In planning a big trip like this, you may want to start with the basics — food, shelter and clothing. Food is very important on your camping trip because, chances are, it will be raining so hard, you’ll want to spend most of your time eating.

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, so you want to make sure you have a comfortable bed on any wilderness outing.

Next, you’ll want to pay particularly close attention to your clothing choices. Think rain — lots. Plan on taking rain coats, rain pants and rubber boots, and you can’t go far from wrong. By the time I didn’t get everything packed, I wasn’t sure it would fit in the truck.

That brought up yet another nightmare, getting the truck ready. The last time I got the oil changed, the mechanic said it was making some funny noises. Some folks just need to learn to mind their own business. A real mechanic knows how to deal with scary noises coming out from under the hood.

Turn up the radio. Problem solved.

Next, I concentrated on not getting my fishing gear ready. That was a challenge. It had been so long since I’d been fishing, my tackle box had started to grow things. Before I knew it, the big Memorial Day weekend arrived.

Saturday, I went to a cozy little breakfast place I often enjoyed before not going fishing, called “the kitchen.” After a five-star dining experience of lumpy oatmeal and sour milk, it was time to relax and not read the fishing regulations. Usually upon reading our fishing laws, also known as the Fish Cop Employment Security Act, I’m ready to bust a gasket. By not reading the fishing laws, my blood pressure dropped down to pre-pandemic levels.

The weekend was going pretty smoothly by then. For lunch, I enjoyed a sumptuous repast at an intimate little grotto called “the backyard,” where the peanut butter and jam sandwich surpassed all expectations. After lunch there was plenty of time to enjoy my other hobbies, such as feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in self-pity and cursing my luck in general.

With nothing else to do, I started looking through old pictures. I found some of my old man. He was in the Navy in World War II, stationed on Guam. The Japanese invaded Guam the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, wiping out the American garrison of U.S. Marines, Navy and the Guam Militia. Then they subjected the islanders to 31 months of forced labor, starvation, torture and concentration camps.

That was until July 21, 1944, when the U.S. Marines and Army divisions landed on Guam for a brutal three-week battle during which the Japanese put up a fanatical defense, killing 1,800 Americans. The last Japanese soldier did not surrender until 1972. All for an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that was only 32 miles long.

Suddenly, I felt pretty silly feeling sorry for myself for being stuck at home in a country where you are usually free to do pretty much whatever you want. That’s because of my old man and millions of his fellow service men and women.

Remembering that made it the best Memorial Day ever.

Quarantine Chronicles: The Herd.

IT WAS DAYLIGHT in the swamp. I was already late for a very important date. Breakfast with the ladies. They consider breakfast the most important meal of the day. I would have called them with a list of excuses for being late, but they were smarter than most humans. They didn’t carry phones or care about yakking on them all day. They wouldn’t care if the truck had a dead battery, a leaky radiator and the low tire. They just figured a man is either as good as his word or he’s not.

The fact remained that I was late, and there was going to be trouble.  Sure enough, the herd was starring daggers at me when I backed into the barn to load hay. They started an insistent mooing to register a complaint about breakfast being delayed.

Which was entirely understandable. Some tend to get a little ornery at feeding time. When I got the truck loaded with hay, the mooing stopped. The ominous silence meant they were maneuvering around the back of the barn to get into position to rush the gate as soon as I opened it.

We both knew the drill. They’re not too hard to figure out because cows are just like people. Even though there was enough food for everyone to eat their fill, they were going to panic, stampede and fight over it. I had to get the hay off the truck before that happened and I got squished. Getting caught between a cow and their hay could be painful, if not fatal.

That must be why the rancher’s parting words of advice were, “don’t let them kill you.”

I didn’t.

With breakfast served, the herd calmed down and ate for a few hours. They got a drink and lay down to chew their cud. Watching cows fight over hay is not unlike watching humans battle over toilet paper. There’s plenty for everyone, but they like to fight over it. This is an illustration of the herd mentality in humans.

Experts tell us our primitive brains go into panic mode in threatening situations, causing us to freak out, stampede and hoard things we don’t need, no matter what the cost. That can give us an illusory sense of control in an out-of-control world. It can cause the rest of the herd to panic and stampede into grocery stores and gun stores and buy things they don’t need because everyone else is doing it.

Last weekend was a perfect example. After buying as many groceries as they could possibly hoard, the herd decided it was the perfect time to go on a vacation. Everyone went out to their favorite recreational area to enjoy the sunshine because everyone else was doing it. Never mind warnings from doctors to stay home.

Instead, the herd panicked and stampeded, possibly spreading the Coronavirus farther, but who knows, since tests for it are scarce. The herd ignored disaster-preparedness experts who are telling us to have two weeks of supplies on hand. Instead, when alarmed, the herd panicked and stocked up on disinfectant wipes, which were flushed down the toilet to clog the sewers.

The herd ignores doctors, disaster-relief experts and plumbers. The herd listens to scammers and TV preachers. Some day, the human herd needs to develop an alternative to the automatic panic and stampede response. Until then, it seems people may not be as dumb as cows, but they sure aren’t any smarter.

Quarantine Chronicles Boomer Remover Symptoms

Boomer Remover Symptoms

It was a day I’ll never forget. I remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday. How would I know? After a month of staying at home in quarantine, you tend to lose track of time when the boundaries of the known universe constrict into a small world of isolation, privation and poverty.

The locals have always prided themselves on how tough they are when dealing with tough times, and there’s no time like the present to demonstrate that time-honored truism. I’ve never been a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full person. I’ve just been glad I had a glass.

When the stay-at-home order came down, I was glad I had a home. Little suspecting it was already too late for some of us. I thought it would be a good time to get caught up on some of the more disgusting chores I had been putting off all winter, like cleaning out the bait cooler. That was something I had been ignoring since the middle of February, when bait was no longer allowed on our rivers. That left me with a cooler full of rotting fish eggs and sand shrimp congealing in the warm spring sun.

That is not usually a job for the faint-hearted. The funny thing was, when I opened the cooler, I could not smell a thing. That should have been a clue. When you can’t smell a cooler full of rotten shrimp, you could have the coronavirus.

The funny thing was, just looking in that cooler made me feel a little queasy, which was odd. I usually have an iron gut that allows me to consume the offal my clients bring out on the river for lunch. Here’s another clue: If your stomach starts gurgling like you just drank a gallon of cheap beer, and you haven’t been drinking, you could have the coronavirus.

About that time, health experts warned us not to touch our face. That’s when my face started itching and twitching like I had just sniffed a pile of black pepper.

Here’s another clue: When your eyes turn red and start tearing up like you’re watching the end of “Old Yeller” for the first time, you could have the coronavirus.

When your body starts aching all over like you’ve been on a 40-mile hike, but you haven’t gotten out of bed in a week, you could have the coronavirus.

When the fever hits and you’re lying there soaked to the skin and life is not fun, you really could have the coronavirus, even if it’s not confirmed by a test.

Also known as the “Boomer Remover,” because older people tend to be more susceptible, the coronavirus has a wide range of symptoms. The most amazing thing about it is that some people can get it and die while others can carry it without any symptoms, not even knowing they have it, and infect the rest of the population. Those of us in the middle who have survived this virus are not likely to be joining one of the mobs protesting the stay-at-home orders. We are just trying to heal up and count our blessings.

The Boomer Remover is not all bad if you survive it. The virus has a way of showing you who your friends are. You’ll want to remember and hang on to them. And I will never complain about a slow day’s fishing, traffic or the weather again. So, please beware of the Boomer Remover. The life you save could be your own