Is It Going To Rain?

“Is it going to rain?” My tourist friend asked. That’s a loaded question that often betrays a hint of anxiety over atmospheric phenomenon that’s common among city folks. It’s a panic reaction to a threat of dampness in any form. Modern science has finally identified this chronic nervous disorder as,”Ombrophobia.” The fear of rain. As an ambassador of the tourist industry it is important to tell the tourists the truth when it comes to the impending probability of an atmospheric event.

Tourists are an important part of the tourist industry. They should be treated with empathy and respect. Knowing that, but for the grace of God any one of us could be tourists too, I think we owe our tourist friends more than the truth. I am not going to rain on someone’ vacation dreams by telling them it is going to rain.

The term rain itself is an outdated metric that’s led to centuries of confusion and debate. One person’s rain is another’s drizzle. What a tourist describes as rain would not qualify as a penetrating mist to a local.

Anthropologists tell us the Eskimos have over fifty different words for snow. Anthropologists have yet to determine just exactly how many words the people of the West End of the Olympic Peninsula have for rain but probably more than fifty. Many of which can’t be printed in the newspaper.

The people of the West End are inured to rain. Through generations of evolution, they have developed the ability to go fishing in weather that is far too wet to work in. For us, periodic rainfall events are a blessing from the heavens. Without rain there would be no fish in the rivers because there would be no rivers. Without rain there would be no rainforest. We need periodic gully washers to hatch the slugs, sprout the mushrooms and make the skunk cabbage bloom.

Sharing an appreciation of rain with the tourists can be difficult when it is actually raining. Soggy people often fail to appreciate the story of our seasonally adjusted jet stream pushing warm, moisture laden air up and over the icy mass of the Olympic Mountains releasing significant moisture accumulations. They often ask,

“Is it ever sunny here?” Ignoring the effects of the sun’s harmful rays

While millions of Americans are treated for sunburn and skin cancer caused by the sun’s harmful rays, no one has ever gotten a “rain burn,” or cancer from the rain. People are only just now realizing the health benefits of rain. But wait, there’s more!

The hidden dangers of sunshine are only now being exposed to the light of day by modern science. When the rain stops, there is dust, pollen and other pollutants in the air. Causing respiratory diseases for millions of people world-wide. Rain acts like a filter for our atmosphere giving us the cleanest air on the continental United States.

Heatstroke is another common, potentially fatal medical condition caused by exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Symptoms can include vomiting, headaches and fever in the sufferers of this condition. In all my years of guiding I have never seen anyone develop these symptoms in the rain. Unless they had one of my smoked salmon sandwiches. But that is another story.

The best way to answer tourist questions about when it will stop raining is to ask them what is the current temperature of their home town. Chances are they’ll say over ninety or more. The rest of the U.S. is sweltering. Rain is cool and as long as it keeps raining the Olympic Peninsula is the coolest place in the country.

There Walks a Logger.

IT WAS THAT great American philosopher Buzz Martin, also known as “The Singing Logger,” who said, “There walks a logger, there walks a man.”

I can think of no greater tribute to my old friend Jim Anderson. He logged and built roads in the high country as steep as the back side of God’s head, back when they cut old-growth timber. Not the toothpicks they harvest today.

No, these were real logs. Jim told me about a spruce that was so big it wouldn’t fit on a log truck. They had to buck the log into short sections and stand them on end on a low-boy trailer. That must have been a thrill to meet on the road around Lake Crescent.

There were plenty of thrills logging in those days. Just getting to work was half the job. It was a two-hour-plus drive part-way in the dark to the upper drainages of the West End of the Olympic Peninsula. Once he got to the job the real work started, packing dynamite and setting chokers behind a cat. That was a Caterpillar D9, a steel monstrosity that carved roads up the mountains.

It was a scene of many near-death experiences for Jim. Like the time the D9 came rolling down the mountain straight at him when he was stuck in a hole in the downed timber. He said you really do see your life flash before your eyes before you die. Luckily, the cat stopped, which gave Jim the opportunity for many more near-death experiences before he quit the woods and went to work in a pulp mill.

But the pulp mill was not his true calling. Jim was a hunter-gatherer in the tradition of our ancestors, when we relied on natural foods for our survival. Where there was edible wild food to be had, Jim caught it, shot it or picked it. Hunting with Jim could be an embarrassment. Like the time he shot a running deer that I had missed when it was standing still.

Fishing with Jim on the Lyre River could be humiliating. Jim would most likely already have a fish on the beach by the time I got to the fishing hole. Sometimes, he caught both our limits before I got my gear put together. It was like he only took me along to help pack the fish. Which was OK, I’d pack his fish any day. Except for the day he caught 17 steelhead in Salt Creek. That would have been a problem, but he only kept two.

Jim was a witness to the destruction of the fisheries of the Olympic Peninsula. He went to Peninsula College, attending the now-discontinued fisheries program. It gave him a scientific perspective on the extinction of our salmon and how they could be restored.

More than that, Jim was a keen natural observer and a gifted writer. Jim wrote his own obituary. In it he described our favorite fishing hole, Freshwater Bay. He said, “The sun is just beginning to peek above the water and the first rays of sunlight shine off the cliffs, birds and salmon are feeding on baitfish on the edge of the kelp beds. It is one of those days where you hook a King Salmon with each pass and you don’t want to stop. Just one more pass before you are called home.”

He’s home now.

And it’s like Buzz Martin said, “If you get to heaven, you’ll find more than one set of cork boot tracks on those streets of gold. There walks a logger. There walks a man.”

The Curse of the Kushta Ka

I think it was the obscure French philosopher “What’s-his-name” who said,

“Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.” A fine example of this quaint expression was encountered on a recent canoe journey near Sitka, Alaska. It was part of a canoe grudge that began sometime in the last century with an epic run down the Dungeness River in high water, with the Lost Alaskan in the bow. White water canoeing is a team sport. Communication is the key. At one point the river took a sharp right. We went straight.

Crashing a canoe is not unlike wrecking a lot of things like, friendships. With the hindsight of years, I had hoped the petty grudges and thoughts of revenge would erode into a fond memory of a wilderness adventure. I should have known The Lost Alaskan was going to get even if it was the last thing he did.

The free fishing trip to Sitka was what got me.

Once called “The Paris of the Pacific” for its hospitable people and lively social scene, Sitka has a connection to the Olympic Peninsula that goes back before the invention of history. 

The Ice Ace age locked up so much of the planet’s water that the ocean was 150 feet lower than the sea level we enjoy today. A thousand-mile-wide land bridge called Beringia appeared between Siberia and Alaska which allowed the migration of animals, plants and people between the two continents. The exact timing of the appearance of the land bridge and the coastal migration of the earliest people is anyone’s guess since it’s mostly underwater now.

They figure Beringia disappeared for good about 10,000 years ago. It was too late by then. Stone Age man was in the New World. By 13,800 years ago someone stuck bone spear point in a rib bone at the Manis Mastodon Site near Sequim. It may be a coincidence that the Pleistocene Mega-Fauna disappeared in the New World shortly after the arrival of early man but the same thing happened in Indonesia and Australia.

The Sequim mastodon hunters probably started fishing once the mastodons went extinct about 10,000 years ago. While there are legends of Chinese Explorers and stories of Japanese shipwreck survivors washing ashore, the stone-age cultures of the Pacific coast lived in relative isolation until the European Age of Exploration.

We are not exactly sure when the first European visitor arrived. Around 1700 the Ozette Indian Village was buried under a mudslide. In the 1970’s archaeologists uncovered brass tacks and a European bead among the artifacts at the site. They could have come from Sir Francis Drake who may have sailed here in 1579. Called “El Draque”, (The Dragon) by the Spanish, Drake was looking for a place to repair his ship. Drake had been looting his way up the west coast of South America pirating gold, silver and jewels from the Spanish who had stolen it from the Incas. King Phillip of Spain put out a 20,000 ducat, ($6.5 Us million,) reward for Drake’s capture.

Drake decided to set out across the Pacific to avoid the Spanish Armada that was after him. Drake needed a place to repair his ship, The Golden Hind and bury an estimated 17 tons of treasure to lighten the load for the rest of the way around the world. The exact location of Drake’s landing has been argued about ever since. All of Drake’s charts were declared a “Queens Secret” by Elizabeth I and later burned in a castle fire. All we know for sure is that Drake claimed the Pacific Coast for England calling it “New Albion” a name that stuck to the region for centuries.  

To counter English land claims the Viceroy of New Spain sent the Greek Navigator Apostostolos Valeridnos, AKA Juan de Fuca to find The Strait of Anian. This was the name of a mythical body of water somewhere north of San Diego where you could sail directly from Cathay to Europe. Juan de Fuca claimed he found this mythical Strait at around 47 degrees north lattitude. He claimed there was a large island and a rock pinnacle at the mouth of this strait. Captain Cook couldn’t find any strait but then again, he missed the Columbia River and hundreds of miles of shoreline in the fog that typically hugs this coast.

Cook named the place Cape Flattery as if he had been misled by the Greek Navigator. In 1787 Charles Barkely discovered a wide body of water at 48 degrees north lattitude. Barkley named the Strait for Juan de Fuca.

The Russians had discovered Alaska in 1741. For supporting the missionary work of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Czar Alexander I granted the Russian American Company exclusive rights to claim land and hunt for fur south to Baja California. 

In 1775 the Spanish sent Captains Heceta and Quadra up to Sitka support the missionary work of the Catholic Church, look for gold and enforce their own land claims as far north as Unalaska in the Aleutians.

In 1778 Captain James Cook came to the Pacific Coast. The English government had offered a prize of 20,000 pounds to anyone who could discover the Northwest Passage. Cook was killed in Hawaii after charting the pacific coastline north from Cape Foulweather to the Aleutians in a voyage so tough he forced the crew to eat walrus meat. By chance the starving crew on Cook’s ship traded with the Yuquot  on Nootka Sound for a some otter furs. The survivors eventually reached China where the furs brought an astounding ten dollars apeice. 

In 1792 the American Captain Robert Gray discovered the Columbia River and traded some iron chisels and beads for sea otter and beaver pelts which he traded for tea in Canton. Gray continued around the Cape of Good Hope to Boston becoming the first American to circumnavigate the globe.

The discovery that a few scraps of metal, some glass beads or an article of disease infected clothing could be traded on the Northwest Coast for a sea otter pelt worth a fortune in China set off the treachery and slaughter of the fur trade. Alcohol, gunpowder and disease were introduced to the stone-age cultures with devastating results.  By 1800 the entire west coast of North America had been claimed by the Spanish, English, Americans and Russians who ignored each other’s competing claims and the Native’s right to the land.

The Russians had built their first fort in Alaska in 1799 in Sitka. The Tlingits resented the Russians for taking their land, using their enemies the Aleuts to exterminate the sea otter and disrupt traditional trade patterns between the tribes. In 1802 the Tlingits burned the Russian fort.

In 1804 Russian-American Company Manager Alexander Baranov returned and burned the Tlingit Town, Noow Tlein and built a new fort, Novo Arkhangelsk or what we call Sitka today.

It was a great land for furs but too far north for agriculture. In 1808 Baranov sent the Russian ship Sv. Nikolai under Navigator Nikolai Bulygin from Sitka to claim land for an agricultural colony somewhere south of Vancouver Island. Instead the ship was wrecked on the Olympic Peninsula just north of the mouth of the Quileute River.

Just across the river lay the largest Quileute village, LaPush. The Russians knew the Natives south of Cape Flattery had a fierce reputation. On July 14, 1775 Captain Quadra had landed and erected a large cross as part of a possession ceremony near Pt. Grenville. Later that day he had sent seven men on a landing party to get water. Captain Quadra said they were attacked and killed by an estimated 300 Quinaults Indians who had understood the meaning of the possession ceremony. Quadra named a nearby island, Isla de Delores.

In 1787 Captain Barkley of the British Ship Imperial Eagle lost another boat load of six men at the mouth of the Hoh. Barkley named the river Destruction a name that was later transferred to the island in memory of his crew. Later, in 1788 John Meares was at Friendly Cove at Nootka Sound when he was offered a dried human hand that was said to have belonged to one of Capt. Barkley’s men. When Meares demanded an explanation Chief Maquinna said the hand had come from a distant tribe.

The appearance of the dried hand convinced Captain Meare’s suspicion that the Indians were cannibals. It was a common though unproven accusation. Both sides of the fur trade thought the others were cannibals. Captain Vancouver once offered some venison pie to an Indian aboard his ship who wouldn’t eat it until the old navigator showed him the venison haunch the meat came from. 

In 1796 the trading ship Ruby under the English Captain Charles Bishop was anchored in the Columbia River. They were visited by a canoe full of Indians from the village of Queenhythe located somewhere to the north. The Chief of these Indians confirmed the story of the Imperial Eagle boat crew. He said the crew including John Beale the Purser and a Mr. Miller was invited to shore where they began to trade. The Indians killed them all. Their clothes and bodies were divided and sent to neighboring tribes. Captain Bishop arrested the Chief and planned take him back to England where he could be punished by Mr. Miller’s father. Later the Captain he was forced to release the Chief in order to trade with the Chinook Indians. 

Losing sailors on these around-the-world voyages was not uncommon.  The Russian explorer Alexsi Chirikov lost men when first meeting the Tlingit off Kruzof Island in 1741.  Fifteen well armed Russian sailors in a longboat went to shore and were never seen again. It was assumed they were killed by the Tlingit but the Russians had muskets, pistols, a small cannon and two signal rockets. There was no sound of any firing. The Tlingits claim the Russians who came ashore didn’t want to return to the ship because of the cruelty and oppression on board.

Many sailors of the European Navies were impressed prisoners who would not survive the savage discipline, disease and hard labor on their forced voyage on high seas. Running away from the ship to live with the natives was an attractive alternative to burial at sea. To this day there are families on the Olympic Peninsula who can trace their lineage back to sailors who “jumped ship.”

For the Russians, being shipwrecked just across the river from the Quileute must have been terrifying. The Quileute of LaPush had every right to be war-like. They were constantly at war with their neighbors for plunder and captives who raided them in return. After the arrival of the fur traders who routinely enslaved, poisoned and robbed the natives, the Quileute quickly learned to never trust a European.

At first the relations between the Quileute and the Russian shipwreck survivors were cordial but things quickly deteriorated. The Russians headed south in a running battle, hoping to meet up with another Russian ship that was believed to be in Gray’s Harbor. The party included Anna Petrovna, wife of Captain Bulygin. She was captured during an attempted crossing of the Hoh River. 

The survivors hiked up the river and built a timber blockhouse similar to the one preserved in Sitka.

During the winter Bulygin tried to ransom his wife with some of the crew’s remaining firearms. Anna Petrovna refused to join her husband’s camp in the wilderness saying she was being treated very well by her captors. She advised the others to surrender to the Indians who would ransom them back to the first passing European ship.

This drove the captain mad. He surrendered his command to Timofei Tarakanov, a Russian Promyshlennik, that is a hunter/trapper/trader/mountain man whose skill in the wilderness and dealings with the Indians kept the shipwrecked survivors together and alive through the winter. The castaways survived mostly on dried salmon obtained by trade from the same Indians they were fighting.

Eventually all of the shipwreck survivors were captured, drowned or killed. Out of the 22 people who set out on the Nikolai, 13 survived to be ransomed by the American Captain Brown of the brig Lydia in May of 1810 at Neah Bay.

This ended the Russian attempt to claim the Olympic Peninsula. By 1867 with the expense of the Crimean War, the near extinction of the sea otter and the hostility of the Tlingit, Russia decided to sell Alaska to the United States.

The Tlingit had already made a name for themselves in Washington Territory. The northern tribes of Tlingit, Haida and Tshimshans had a long history of raiding south in war canoes that carried 60 or 70 warriors. People from these tribes would work in sawmills and farms in Victoria where they were entitled to the diplomatic rights of  British subjects. As such they could not be extradited by American authorities. 

In November of 1856 a party of Northern Indians was threatening the sawmill at Port Gamble. The U.S. Steamship Massachusetts shelled a number of canoes which may have killed as many as 50 Indians including a Chief. That summer the Tlingits returned to Whidbey Island and murdered Col. Isaac Ebey for revenge.

In 1859 the Schooners Blue Wing and Ellen Marie were attacked with 17 people murdered and the ships burned and sunk on the west side of Vashon Island. American officials went to Victoria to demand the guilty Indians be turned over but were refused.

As a new possession of the United States, Alaska faced the constant threat of a general native uprising.

The Territory was administered in part by the U.S. Navy who in 1871 sent the Sloop of War U.S.S.  Jamestown commanded by Captain L.A. Beardslee to Alaska to stop the slave trade and free native prisoners of war. Captain Beardslee surveyed and named Glacier Bay and reopened an important trade route to the interior, the Chilkoot Trail.

In 1895 as Commander of The U.S. Navy Pacific Squadron, then Rear Admiral  Beardslee brought the warships of the Fleet to Port Angeles harbor for the summer. Rear Admiral Beardslee was such an avid angler. He caught 350 trout on his first trip to Lake Crescent,  The locals honored the Admiral by naming a trout after him, the Beardslee.

Port Angeles was just a little fishing town until the seasonal influx of up to 20,000 sailors livened up the social scene. Many fine establishments were built in Port Angeles during this period to service the entertainment needs of the U.S. Navy. The untiring efforts of the local moonshiners and easy access to Canada with it’s vast reserves of whiskey guaranteed our Navy would not go thirsty on summer maneuvers. At the time it was said the Port Angeles girls wore wool socks in the spring and silk stockings by summer.

You could get all the salmon you wanted in Port Angeles by rowing around inside of the harbor dragging a hand-line with a hammered brass spoon. By the 1900’s the inventions of diesel power, refrigeration and the tin can had lead to the exploitation of the fisheries with predictable results. Port Angeles was home to a commercial fishing fleet and a salmon cannery whose “American Flag” salmon provided steady employment until the salmon ran out. 

In 1962 Port Angeles declared itself “A Sportsman’s Paradise” as part of it’s Centennial Celebration. Port Angeles was home to a commercial and recreational fishing fleet of charter boats that took tourists from around the world out to catch salmon. There was a yearly salmon derby that as the biggest celebration in town. Catching a salmon was as easy as trolling a flasher and herring past the mouth of the Port Angeles harbor and right out into the freight traffic of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

In 1974 The Boldt Decision gave the Treaty Tribes the right to fifty percent of the salmon harvest. This set off a fish war where each side tried to kill the last fish.

In the 1980’s an Atlantic Salmon fish farm was established inside Port Angeles harbor in a spot well-known to the locals as the best place to catch a salmon.  By 1994 catching a salmon became a complicated matter of quotas, seasons and gear restrictions. Salmon fishing in Port Angeles Harbor was outlawed.

Fisheries management became a cycle of abuse where Alaska intercepted fish bound for Canada who caught fish bound for Washington. People in Washington were forced to go to Alaska to catch a fish.

The invasion of Alaska by the Washington fishing fleet was greeted by the Alaskans with a degree of contempt Washingtonians had previously reserved for Californians. Alaska responded by using the sport fishing industry to bait in even more tourists. Today a trip to Sitka is like a journey back in time to 40 years ago when Washington was the Salmon Capitol of the World.

I was excited to go fishing in Sitka until I learned it would begin by paddling across a lagoon in a canoe. Someone once wrote I guess it was me, people have been drowning in canoes for years but they are still perfectly legal. Unfortunately, there was no way I could back out of the canoe trip, unless I wanted to get stranded on a shin-tangle covered beach at low tide when the bears came out to go clamming.

In Alaska there are many theories about how to deal with the bears but it is generally agreed they only eat tourists. Some people carry firearms. Others insist that bear spray is the best method of stopping a charging brown bear at close quarters. Never use bear spray on a bear. It might make them mad. Spray the tourist. The bear will get the tourist and give everyone else a chance to get away.  

I got in the canoe. As fate would have it, I was in the bow. The lost Alaskan said this particular lagoon was only dangerous in a rare North wind and we had perfect calm.  We paddled a mile or so without tipping over and entered the mouth of the secret creek. We began paddling upstream to the secret lake where the steelhead swarmed.

The creek shallowed across the tide flats. There were little holes dug all over the beach. I wondered what was wrong with these Alaskan clam diggers. Don’t they know you’re supposed to fill in your holes? Back in Washington we’d call in the clam cops SWAT team to cope with situations like this. Expressing my outrage to the Lost Alaskan he agreed and said,

“Bears.” I knew that.

After a while we ditched the canoe. We walked through a dense rain forest of spruce and hemlock where I was introduced to the sport of “post-holing”. That’s where you walk through slush as deep as a post hole making every step like ice-skating in a pool of frozen cement. Where the snow had melted the forest floor was carpeted with leftover fish bones from the fall salmon run. The leftover fish parts are a sign of a healthy eco-system. It’s the bear’s job to fertilize the trees and feed the many species of birds, bugs and animals that can’t catch fish for themselves. Since the eradication of the salmon on the Olympic Peninsula our bears have been largely unemployed.

The Tlingit believed that animals are rational beings capable of understanding human speech.  Encountering a bear they might speak to it and say,

“Give me luck.”

Which would not be the first thing that came into my head but whatever works. Bears were respected by the Tlingit but strangely enough, it was the otters that were feared more than anything.

The Kushta-Ka or River Otter Man was a dangerous spirit who could drive you mad, change people into werewolves and enslave the souls of those drowned at sea or lost in the woods. I was not about to let a silly native superstition deprive me of a story about how a healthy eco-system could survive a modern industrial fishery, no.

Walking upstream we came upon a fish weir. Except for being made of aluminum it was not unlike the weirs described by the first explorers on the Olympic Peninsula where the salmon were forced into a trap to be harvested. The salmon in this weir were to be counted and released as they swam upstream. If not enough fish make it upstream to spawn the fishing season was closed.

In Washington we manage our salmon with an entirely different system.  We dam the streams every spring to trap and count the baby salmon going out to sea in hopes of predicting how many salmon will return in the future. This is a lot like counting your chickens before they are hatched. 

When the salmon fail to return, we blame the loggers. The State of Washington’s efforts to restore the salmon include shutting down the fish hatcheries and making log jams. Counting your chickens before they are hatched is one thing but to use this analogy in Washington, we kill our chickens before they get a chance to lay the egg.

Depressed and disoriented I made my way to the secret lake where disappointment awaited. The secret lake was frozen over. I almost didn’t need to see the river otters, but I did. Were they the dreaded Kushta-Ka? All I know is a brisk North wind came up, stirring the tree tops. We were forced to beat our way through the whitecaps of the lagoon with the canoe on our return voyage.

I should never had tried to cheat fate and fish out in the ocean off Sitka either. Once out to sea there as a mechanical problem. We had to limp back to shore before the motor died. Then the weather turned into a fine penetrating mist pushed by a brisk Alaska wind. There was no more talk of fishing. I returned from Sitka fishless. It all made sense later I read my horoscope,

“You’ll love seeing parks, buildings, boutiques, galleries and the creative works of others”.

I wanted to write about my Alaska fishing adventure but my email got hacked and my website crashed. The curse of the Kushta-Ka lives.

The No Salmon Ceremony.

The story of the First Salmon Ceremony goes back to the melting of the continental ice sheet some 15,000 years before the present. When the ice melted the rivers ran free. The salmon found the rivers and multiplied in numbers the modern mind cannot comprehend. The First Salmon Ceremony was practiced in one form or another by people who lived in the range of the salmon from California to Alaska and east to the Continental Divide. It is one of the oldest expressions of human faith known to man where the salmon are thanked for returning to the river to sacrifice their bodies as an abundant food source for people.

It was said that the salmon came from a big house at the bottom of the ocean where they lived in human form. When it was time for the run up the rivers, they put on salmon robes. The salmon runs were a voluntary sacrifice for mankind, the animals and the forest. That as long as the salmon were treated with honor, their bones washed and returned to the river, the fish would run forever.

The First Salmon Ceremony was first witnessed by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition at The Dalles on the Columbia River on April 19th 1806.

Captain Clark observed, “The whole village was rejoicing today over having caught a single salmon, which was considered as the harbinger of vast quantities in four or five days. In order to hasten their arrival, the Indians, according to custom, dressed the fish and cut it into small pieces, one of which was given to every child in the village.”    

It was believed that as long as the salmon were treated with respect, their bones washed and returned to the river, the fish would run forever. All of which might go a long way to explain what happened to the salmon fishing in Washington. When Lewis and Clark first observed an estimated ten thousand pounds of dried salmon stored in baskets stacked along the river, salmon was a food for the common people.

Salmon kept people alive throughout our history. James Swan described the salmon fishing at Chinook, Washington in June of 1853 where a hundred Chinook or King salmon weighing up to 78 pounds could be caught in a single haul of a beach seine net. These fish called,” June Hogs” for their size and fat content were doomed to extinction with the establishment of the first of many salmon canneries on the Columbia River in 1866. Canned salmon represented an inexpensive protein that was considered the poor man’s tuna. In 1938 the Grand Coulee Dam which was built on the Columbia with no provisions for fish passage.

Predictably, the salmon fishing moved north to Alaska. The yearly arrival of the Copper River Salmon by jet to the restaurants in Seattle represents a transmogrification of the First Salmon Ceremony into a media event almost like the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause all rolled into one. This year about 18,000 pounds of these first salmon described as, “buttery, red and rich-with intense flavor, texture and mouthfeel” were available for $75.00 a pound. The closer the salmon circle the drain of extinction the more valuable they will become.

Meanwhile here in Washington the king salmon has achieved threatened and/or endangered species status despite the millions spent in restoring them. It was thought that by showing the salmon a new appreciation with a First Salmon Celebration they would return. This was not a dog friendly venue. The First Salmon would be offended if a dog came near them or ate any part of his body. I was secretly relieved. Cooking over a camp fire can be a challenge even without a snarling pack of dogs with questionable bathroom habits. As it happened, I was trying out some new recipes from my about to be released cookbook which includes my Chili Contest winning chili recipe.

People always said the only way I could win a chili contest was if mine was the only entry and they were right. The losers of this chili contest never knew about it until after I won fair and square. We were going to need that chili since no one caught a salmon. Even the tribal net fisherman was skunked. I was sunk with no salmon for the First Salmon Ceremony. All we had were chili-dogs and people at my fish camps expect way better. The event had become a no salmon ceremony.

People showed up with meat, fowls and vegetables which I was expected to cook on a grill over a campfire instead of the salmon. I was skewering a kabob when the first dogs arrived. They ranged from the size of a small coyote to a small ox. The dog’s owners or human companions as they are known these days all insisted their animal companions didn’t bite or fight. Which was true they just growled and snapped while trying to barge into my experimental kitchen.

“Just kick the dog if it gets in the way,” a human companion insisted. Like I would want to hurt my foot kicking a beast that weighed almost as much as I did even if it’s drooling on a platter of meat. The human companions kept a constant stream of instructions to the animal companions yelling,

“Come here!” or

“Go away!” While asking the animal companion rhetorical questions like,

“How many times have I told you not to do that?” While insisting,

“You know better than that.”

It’s been said that a wet dog is the friendliest creature in all of the animal creation. The eternal truth of these immortal words were exemplified to their fullest when a dog emerged from the river to roll in the hot sand and there amid a vast expanse of a million acre wilderness, stand upon the precise spot to shake a spray of sand infused water where it would do the most good, on the barbecue.

Then the elders told their stories. Of what the river used to be like. It was like a celebration of life for the river and the salmon which meant that both of them were dead. It was very sad, enough to make you weep. I was so depressed I got a puppy.   

The Blackberry Forecast

I thought I had died and gone to blackberry heaven! There before me like a dusting of pure white snow the white petals of the blackberry blossoms covered the ground for an acre or more. Not knowing if this could soon be the blackberry patch that dreams are made of, or if it was too good to be true.

You can’t make a pie out of blackberry blossoms any more than you can make a stew out of deer or elk tracks. You have to get the berries, or the meat and that is all part of the hunter-gatherer dilemma.

The sad fact is that all blackberry blossoms do not make berries. There are many scientific reasons for this but no one cares. If there are no berries we just move on and look for another patch. Looking for blackberries is a year-round activity for some of us. Where likely looking spots are filed away for future reference until it’s time to pick the berries. It’s time. This year could be the big one for dedicated blackberry pickers. The berries certainly have had enough rain and now all we need is a good dose of sun shine to bring on the best crop of berries we’ve seen in decades

By blackberries I do not mean the oversized exotic blackberries no. We’re talking about the little wild native blackberries. Blackberries grow largest in partial shade but they are sweetest in full sun. It is almost impossible to ruin blackberries but you have to pick them first. That means you have to find blackberry patch.

There is no better way to lose a friend or make an enemy than to pick in someone else’s blackberry patch, even by accident.  I once stumbled onto an old-timer in his berry patch. Al averaged fifty gallons a year! He did not do this by sharing his berry patch with nosy kids. I just happened to see Al while looking for another berry patch but he wouldn’t accept that excuse. That’s what blackberry picking does to a person: trust no one.

In a good patch you might pick a gallon of berries a day. Find a really good patch and you can join the hallowed ranks of the five-gallon a day club. This is an accomplishment I have only attained twice in a half a century of picking. That particular berry patch was ruined by an invasion of bears.

Bears have all of the advantages when it comes to picking berries. Bears can see in the dark so they can pick around the clock. Bears don’t take time off to go home and do stuff. They are home, doing the most important stuff. Picking berries and stuffing them down their gullet to get as fat as they can before winter. Bears are not as picky as most people about picking blackberries. They’ll eat the unripe green and red blackberries along with the black ones. Bears will munch down a hornet’s nest if they find it, leaving the surviving hornets in a foul mood if an unfortunate berry picker happens along later. There’s often very little left of a berry patch once the bears get done with it. You should find another patch.

Fortunately, our bears are not dangerous although a blackberry pickers hands can get so scarred up from the thorns and thistles, they can look like they got mauled by a bear. You cannot let a little thing like bears, sticker bushes and hornets scare you out of the berry patch. 

It will all be worthwhile when the blackberry pie comes out of the oven.

Historic Geology.

It turns out I wasn’t the only one who had a secret fishing hole in the Olympic Mountains. My own secret fishing hole was formed when a landslide blocked the Elwha River above Hume’s Ranch, making a small trout filled lake. The sharp-eyed readers of the Peninsula Daily News have reminded me of other slides on streams like Boulder Creek, the Sitkum River and secret locations I am not at liberty to discuss due to the sensitive nature of the information in regards to the monster trout that inhabit them.

Whether these disasters were naturally caused by an act of geology or the legendary evil Giant Seatco, the fact is landslides have been happening here even back before there were any loggers to blame. The most famous landslide on the Olympic Peninsula happened somewhere up Valley Creek in 1863. That summer Valley Creek went dry. No one bothered to investigate.

A lake must have formed. On the night of December 16th the dam must have burst.  A flood came down Valley Creek and washed the Customs House out into the Port Angeles harbor, killing two deputies in a massive mud flow that piled stumps and logs thirty feet high on the beach. The flood also destroyed a trading post, doctor’s office and the home of Victor and Caroline Smith.

Victor Smith came to Port Angeles in 1861 when the population was about ten as the Customs Agent for Puget Sound. Smith had Port Angeles declared a “Second National City” so that if something happened to Washington D.C. our Nation’s Capitol could simply move 3,000 miles west to Port Angeles where coincidentally Mr. Smith and his cronies owned waterfront property.

Port Townsend was the official Port of Entry for all vessels entering Puget Sound until August 1, 1862 when Victor Smith parked the cutter Shubrick in front of the Customs House, loaded the cannon with grape shot and threatened to open fire if the Customs Records were not surrendered in fifteen minutes.  

Smith moved the Port of Entry to Port Angeles and built a two story Customs House along Valley Creek. The local Klallam had advised Smith that this was a bad place to put a building but they didn’t say why. These warnings were dismissed as just another silly native superstition.

Meanwhile a Grand Jury of do-gooders in Olympia indicted Smith on a laundry list of charges that included embezzling $15,000 from the Port Townsend Custom House, fraud, resisting arrest and assault on the entire population of Port Townsend. For these and other outrages against the populace, President Lincoln fired Smith as a Customs Collector. Then as now old bureaucrats never die, they get reappointed. Smith became a Federal Treasury Agent where he was accused of removing a large amount of currency from a safe during a shipwreck. 

In Port Townsend Smith was described as a “Federal-fed parasite who has been foisted upon us.” In Port Angeles a town that to this day is still recognized as America’s “Second National City” Smith was applauded as the City Father. Victor’s wife Caroline should be considered the Mother of Port Angeles. Pregnant and alone with four children after Victor died in yet another shipwreck, Caroline gave birth to a son only to have her house burn down. She later moved to Ediz Hook next to the light house her husband built. Among her few possessions was an organ that Victor had ordered before his death. Caroline played the organ for her husband lost at sea and the lonely sailors on passing sailing ships to hear. Some say on a calm night on Ediz Hook you can still hear Caroline Smiths organ but it’s probably just a silly native superstition.

The Declaration of Indepundits.

Happy Fourth of July! I can think of no better time than the 4th of July to celebrate The Declaration of Independence that makes our country so cool. It’s hard to imagine the courage it took for the fathers of our country to sign this document. Any one of them could have been hung for treason to the British Crown, King George III. Also known as, “The Mad King,” King George III was a lunatic. His tyrannical rule of the colonies was characterized by the American Revolutionaries as “taxation without representation”.  It was a form of imperialism where people were taxed to support a government that did nothing for them but repress what the colonists considered their natural, legal and inalienable rights as human beings.

The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as stated in our Declaration of Independence has since been used as a blueprint by freedom loving people around the world and throughout history to cast off the shackles of government tyranny. A reading of the Declaration of Independence has been an essential element of America’s Birthday since it was first celebrated in 1777

However, since the United States Supreme Court decision that corporations are citizens, I think it may be way past time to amend and modernize the Declaration of Independence. It is time for all Americans to embrace the concept that corporations are just like us only, bigger. That does not mean corporations don’t have feelings too. For way too long corporations were denied the basic rights that were guaranteed to the rest of us consumers. While the Court decision goes a long way to redress this historic wrong, we could do more. So here goes, the Declaration of Indepundits.

When in the course of corporate events it becomes necessary for one company to dissolve the business relationship with another and assume among the powers of finance, the separate and equal station to which the Federal Trade Commission and The Stock Market entitle them, a decent respect to the profits of corporations requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to liquidate their domestic assets.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all corporations are created equal, that they are endowed by consumers with certain unalienable rights that among them are executive pay raises, freedom from anti-trust regulations and the pursuit of profit. That to pursue these profits, corporations are instituted among companies, deriving their just powers from the consent of the shareholders for the common good of us all. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of corporate profits, it is the Right of the Corporations to alter or purchase a new Government that should seem most likely to affect the safety and happiness of the corporations, their shareholders and consumers.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be purchased for light and transient causes. But when a long train of abuses to corporate profits lowers their stock price, it is their corporate duty to layoff such a government and purchase a new one, to provide new guards for their future corporate security.  

We, therefore, the Corporations of the United States of America, appealing to the Supreme Judge of World Trade for the rectitude of our profits, do, in the name of our shareholders have the full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, purchase elections and do all other things which the military/industrial complex does all of the time. With a firm reliance on government providence, we mutually pledge to each other our tax shelters, stock options and profits.


6-22-16-Backpacking Grief

There are few things more enjoyable than sleeping under the stars. I don’t know the names of many heavenly bodies but there’s just something about looking at the Milky Way that takes my breath away. Even a slow night of stargazing is liable to treat you to a meteor shower. On a good night you may even spot a UFO. For years I have built campfires along the riverbanks of the Olympic Peninsula as a form of beacon to the UFO’s in an effort to communicate with intelligent life forms in space, after having failed in the attempt on earth.

Despite humiliating setbacks in this regard I was able to forge a lasting relationship with one of the other more intelligent fellow travelers co-habiting our fair planet. No I am not talking about the Sasquatch. She doesn’t write, she doesn’t call. I am referring to the Olympic Marmot. By studying the lifestyle of this unique rodent it’s easy to determine these are one of the most intelligent creatures in all creation.

They live in flowered alpine meadows with the most awesome territorial views spending most of the summer eating and playing and most of the year hibernating. True hibernation is rare state of torpor achieved by very few of the animal kingdom. I like to sleep though the winter while changing the channels on the television. That is not hibernation. Marmots, ground squirrels and members of Congress are able to achieve true hibernation by lowering their pulse and respiration to levels that would make a normal person brain dead. Which would explain a lot.

Unfortunately, in recent years the numbers of marmots have declined in the Olympics to the point where they are threatened, endangered or both. It has always been my dream to participate in the marmot survey to ensure a thriving future for these iconic rodents.

No one has written more extensively than I have about my pioneering theories of marmot survey techniques such as electro-shocking, paint-balling, hair removal, radio tracking, mini-cams and sound blasting that put me on the cutting edge of research into the secret lives of these fascinating and unique creatures. I have spent years studying the marmot’s language which is a series of sharp whistles. Each whistle conveys a unique message which taken together as a whole means the marmots are making fun of us.

It is and shall always be one of my proudest accomplishments to be accepted into the marmot’s burrow. That’s where the magic happens. This, like any other life-changing event involved focus, discipline and a lot of hard work. First, I stopped bathing. Then sat very still and grew my hair until I was furry enough to blend in with the marmots.

To study the marmots, you must first get to marmot country. This could involve backpacking. Of the many activities available in the recreational wonderland that is the Olympic Peninsula backpacking has to be the worst. In fact, backpacking would probably be outlawed as a form of torture by the Geneva Convention if not for the fact that it is self-inflicted.

There could be many reasons for this starting with the design of the human body. For the past few million years most of us have been walking upright most of the time. This is a unique evolutionary adaptation that combined with a large brain and an opposable thumb have allowed humans to achieve technological advances that make us the envy of the animal kingdom. That is until we put a backpack on. It is at this point we humans tend to fall over backwards.

Happy 4th of July.

AT THIS TIME of year, we like to feel proud to be Americans. They say there’s a lot wrong with this country, but compared to what? The history of the Olympic Peninsula is a story of invasive exploitation since the beginning.

The oldest evidence of human activity on the Peninsula and Washington State is in Sequim, at the Manis Mastodon site where a spear point was found in the rib bone of an aged mastodon that was killed 13,000 years ago. Tooth wear patterns of the mastodon show the creature was extremely old, proving Sequim has always been a retirement community.

The mastodon hunters may have been related to the invasion of Siberians that came across the land bridge to settle a new world. These people were blamed for the extinction of the mastodons, mammoth and other Pleistocene megafauna long before game laws were invented.

Once the mastodons died off, the trees sprouted. The most important tree was the cedar. It provided everything from clothing to canoes to the people of the Pacific Northwest. They were a wealthy people, rich in timber, salmon, animals, and artistry, with a spiritual and societal relationship to the land. Most of which was swept away by an invasion of Europeans that began in the 1500s when either Sir Francis Drake or Juan de Fuca may have been the first to sail into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The further back in time we go, the less we really know.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver noted abandoned villages and Natives displaying “evidence of the pox” along the Strait, an indication that Europeans had been here.

The Spanish, who had just conquered, slaughtered and enslaved much of South America, and what is now Mexico and the American Southwest came north to build a fort at Neah Bay from which they hoped to find gold to send back to Spain and stop the expected Russian invasion.

The Russians followed Vitus Bering south from the Aleutian Islands, building a fur empire by kidnapping and enslaving entire villages of Native Alaskans, as indentured hunters chased sea otters to extinction as far south as California.

About this time a new country arrived. The Americans were a former British colony that found itself deeply in debt and economically depressed from their Revolutionary War.

America sailed into a global trade where ships from Boston traded commodities such as steel, gunpowder and alcohol to the people of the Northwest Coast for furs traded in China for tea, porcelain and cloth that were traded in England for manufactured goods that were brought back to Boston.

During the course of this trade, the American Captain Robert Gray discovered the Columbia River, which along with the Lewis and Clark expedition, gave the United States a right to claim what Drake called, “New Albion.” Vancouver called it ” New Georgia.” Spain called this land “Quivira,” or “New Spain.” The U.S. called it Oregon. It would become Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

At the time, it seemed as if the U.S. had almost no chance of owning this vast territory when the most powerful nations in the world were also laying claim to it. But these Europeans were going broke fighting among themselves and the Native inhabitants who were engaged in a constant struggle to reclaim their lands, natural resources and culture.The British beat the French and Spanish. The Hoh, Quileute and Tlingit people beat the Russians. The Americans out-numbered and bluffed the British. It was an invasive exploitation that took our salmon and cedar, but left us with the Olympic Peninsula we love today. Happy 4th of July

The Longest Day.

It was daylight on the river, on what was almost the longest day of the year. It was a day when anything could happen and I did not want to miss a minute. Some call it a fisherman’s hazing ritual, having to get on the water at first light, but that’s summer fishing. The early bird catches the fish. Being on the water early is a good way to watch the creatures of the rainforest engaged in the nerve-wracking work of raising their young in a hostile world where everything wants to eat them. 

The mother merganser is feeding her tiny hatchlings on a diet of baby salmon that just popped out of the gravel. The fact that these tiny birds even made it to the river is a miracle. The mergansers nest in tree hollows that can be over a hundred feet from the ground. The baby ducks take their first flight out of the nest without being able to fly. Watching baby ducks tumbling out of a tree can be a disturbing episode for us sensitive types but a thick net of salmon berry breaks their fall and they hit the ground running after their mother. The number of chicks that a hen merganser is able to hatch is a valuable clue to the health of the eco-system. The all-time-near-as-I-can-tell- record of baby mergansers in one hatch stands at 21! That was a bird watching triumph from the ’90’s that stands to this day. It was sweet revenge for all the times I found the pages of my bird identification book glued together and Vaseline on the lenses of my binoculars. Bird watchers play pretty rough. Emotions run so high because well, the stakes are so low.

Whoever dies with the biggest bird list wins. Even if they are mergansers, saw-billed, fish-eating machines that every fisherman hates. When those worthless fish ducks disappear, the fishermen won’t be far behind them. This year the most baby fish ducks I have seen with one mother has been 7. Even more disturbing are the hen mergansers that are flying downriver to the ocean when they should be swimming with their chicks. If their chicks haven’t hatched by now, they are not going to. This would indicate a dismal nesting season with grave but as yet to be determined consequences.

While extracting specific data about the health of the planet by observing baby ducks or the lack of them can be problematic, I think it’s safe to say from the initial phases of this study that humans as a species are doomed. Until then we are content to watch the birds.

Bird watching is almost a blood sport when it is done right. Watching eagles hunt the baby ducks is one of the greatest thrills of nature, unless it is an eagle hunting baby otter. The eagles are not particular this time of year. The eagles have young of their own back at the nest squawking for food from dawn till dark so they are liable to tackle anything.

One day we saw half a dozen eagles circling an elk calf that was curled up in a ball on a gravel bar along the river. The poor thing must have been lost or swept down the river because no elk would leave her baby out in the open like that. All hands wanted to save the baby elk but that is not the birdwatchers way.

The next day there was just a patch of hide and bone with a bunch of eagles standing around posturing as if they were waiting for more. Life goes on.