A Dirty Thirties Thanksgiving.

THIS IS A story of an Olympic Peninsula family celebrating Thanksgiving in the olden days.

“It was back in the Depression, the ‘Dirty Thirties.’ Pa had somehow got some turkey chicks.

The plan was to have them for Thanksgiving, Christmas and all of our holiday dinners. It’s a good thing we didn’t know how hard raising turkeys was.

I thought a turkey for Thanksgiving would beat what we had the year before, a grouse split between the four of us. Last Christmas we had a spawned-out salmon for Christmas dinner.

It was rank no matter how much salt and pepper you put on it.

When Pa showed up from town with eight turkey chicks, they were helpless little fuzz balls that had somehow survived the long trip home in a gunny sack on horseback.

We put the chicks in a box full of dried moss behind the cookstove, which smelled terrific after a few days.

Then we gave them all names.

There were eight turkeys so we named them after Santa’s eight reindeer. The only problem was the turkeys all looked the same.

We couldn’t tell one from the other.

We fed the chicks cornmeal mush, but one of them, we figured it was Dasher, looked a little peaked.

Dasher didn’t make it through the first week. Then we were down to seven turkeys.

Once the turkeys were big enough, we put them in the chicken house. They got along with the chickens at first, but after a little while, the turkeys got too big to stay inside all day.

We had to turn them loose.

That’s when the trouble started.

They spent the day out in the woods catching bugs and taking dust baths.

Pa figured it would save on feed letting the turkeys find their own grub, until a big bald eagle swooped in and got Prancer, and then we were down to six turkeys.

The real trouble started once the turkeys got so big, we couldn’t get them back in the chicken house at night. Right after sun down, they would fly up into the limbs of a big fir tree to roost.

There must have been a raccoon living up in that tree. Or maybe an owl got them.

Next thing you know there was a pile of feathers on the ground, and Comet and Cupid were missing.

That summer, what was left with the turkeys started serenading us with their gobble-gobble call, which acted like a dinner bell to every varmint in the country. Comet disappeared.

The coyotes got Dasher and Dancer.

Then we only had only one turkey left.

She was a big hen we had named Vixen.

We changed her name to Lucky and locked her back in the chicken house for safe keeping.

Lucky got some extra grain to fatten up before the big Thanksgiving dinner.

As Thanksgiving approached, we were excited about our big dinner.

Ma wanted a sage dressing.

Pa wanted oyster dressing made with some canned smoked oysters he’d been saving for a special occasion.

There was quite a disagreement, but us kids didn’t care what kind of dressing we had as long as we had a turkey dinner.

The morning before the big day, Pa came into the house with bad news.

Something broke into the hen house and Lucky was gone.

Pa left the house with a shotgun and came back long after dark with a big blue grouse for Thanksgiving dinner.

We all gave thanks at our Thanksgiving dinner. Pa said it’s better to give thanks for what you have, than feel sorry for what you don’t.”

Salmon Spawning Season.

IT WAS DAYLIGHT on the river on a dark and dismal day. It’s a favorite time of year.

When the rain cleans the river of a summer’s worth of befoulment left by the tourist hordes.

We need rain and lots of it.The rain cleans the river banks and sand bars and fluffs up the gravel in preparation for that other seasonal visitor, the spawning salmon.

It’s still possible to observe salmon performing their mating rituals in some creeks, which to some people is almost as exciting as catching them.

Tis the season to witness this miracle of nature.

Spawning salmon are the most important organism in our ecosystem. They represent a massive exchange of energy from the mountains to the sea and back again.

Every living thing, the birds, bugs and varmints, even people and the fish themselves depend on the seasonal return of the salmon.

Salmon were the most important food source to the Native Americans.

A surviving crew member of the S.V. Nikolai, a Russian ship that ran aground near La Push, left an account of the coho fishery in the upper Hoh River in 1808.

The Russians had endured a running battle in the pouring rain and gusty winds with the Quileute and Hoh people from La Push, south clear to the upper Hoh River.

The expedition members were so hungry they were forced to eat the walrus-hide soles of their sealskin boots, which would have left them barefoot until they could make moccasins out of a fresh elk hide. They ate their rain coats, which were made from the gut of a bear, and their gun covers made of sea lion hide.

They tried eating tree fungus and mushrooms. They were so desperate they even ate the ship’s beloved dog — which did not go far among the 13 shipwreck survivors.

Fortunately for the Russians, they were able to trade with Hoh fishermen. One old man traded the 90 salmon in his canoe for brass buttons.

The expedition was saved, temporarily.

The salmon were most likely coho. The chinook or king salmon are the largest, but many people prefer the coho salmon.

Fall coho generally have better meat than a fall king.

Vast numbers of coho were harvested.

They were speared, netted and caught in traps made from tree limbs set into the bottom of the river and side streams, then dried in the rafters of the cedar long houses.

The Russians “procured,” or in other words traded, threatened, finagled and extorted hundreds of pounds of dried salmon at a time from the people they met living along the river.

That, along with sealskin bags of salmon roe and a bladder of whale oil, kept the expedition from starving that winter.

A couple of hundred years later, it is still raining and blowing in November on the Peninsula.

The creeks are up and running high, and some of them are full of spawning salmon.

They have survived a migration to the Aleutian Islands and back, to find their rivers full of “nylon pollution,” a catch-all term that attempts to describe over-fishing throughout the extent of the salmon’s range.

The mouths of these rivers are packed with seals and sea lions. Very few fish make it up the river without bearing the scars of these encounters.

Once on the spawning beds, the salmon change color from blue, white and silver to red, green and black.

They grow teeth and large hooked jaws, and battle each other for the right to spawn with their mate.

It is just another sign that, despite everything, there are some things right with the world.

The Opening Day of Elk Season.

IT WAS DAYLIGHT in the swamp on the opening day of elk season.

It is a day steeped in a tradition that harkens back to an earlier time when people depended on getting an elk for their winter’s meat.

With the European invasion, the Olympic elk were market hunted for their meat, antlers, hides and ivory teeth, or just shot and left to rot by thrill-seeking lowlifes who liked to watch them fall.

In 1905, the Washington State Legislature stopped all elk hunting.

In 1909,President Teddy Roosevelt, one of the greatest elk hunters who ever lived, established Mount Olympus National Monument, a precursor of Olympic National Park, to save the elk.

The government put a bounty on wolves, bears and cougars.

Varmint hunting became respectable.

It was a way many homestead families could survive the Great Depression in the wilderness.

By 1937, the elk had expanded beyond the carrying capacity of many parts of their range.

Elk were starving and loaded with internal parasites.

The Game Commission opened an eight-day season in October and November in Clallam and Jefferson counties for any and all elk.

William (Billy) Welsh a columnist for the Port Angeles Evening News, a forerunner of the Peninsula Daily News, journeyed to the upper Hoh River that October to cover what he called “The Elk War.”

Welch, described the opening-day salvo as 5,280 elk hunters opened fire on previously unhunted elk as a “battle.”

As with any battle, there were casualties.

Before our current emphasis on hunter safety, it was a common practice for groups of hunters to surround an unsuspecting elk herd and open fire.

This meant the hunters were often firing at each other while blazing away at the elk.

One man died in a fusillade of bullets fired at a bull elk.

A boy shot himself in the leg while cleaning his gun.

Three hunters were badly burned when one of the nimrods shot a can of gasoline inside their tent.

Another drowned trying to drive through the flooding Hoh River before the invention of four-wheel drive.

The casualties might have been higher, but a gully-washer dumped 10 inches of rain. The elk hunters were forced to concentrate on just trying to survive.

Welch described the sorry spectacle when thousands of soaking-wet elk hunters tried to drown their sorrows in liquor.

They descended upon Forks, which had run out of whiskey long before the elk season had even started.

All Forks had left was some gin, which was never very popular on the frontier.

In all, an estimated 800 elk, one donkey and a pack horse were killed.

In his book, “The Last Wilderness,” Murray Morgan described a farmer’s cow that was mistaken for an elk and shot.

The farmer propped the cow up against a tree, where it kept getting shot all season long by confused hunters.

As the story goes, after elk season, the farmer melted her down for lead.

This past opening day of elk season was mighty quiet.

I did not hear a single shot fired.

Things have changed. The wolves may be gone, but the cougars and bears are protected by laws against hound hunting.

Their numbers have sky-rocketed.

Meanwhile, the elk have been hunted to near death.

The big herds of 60 or 70 elk are gone — replaced by bunches of a dozen or so with few legal bulls.

I quit and went home before noon.

There were fresh elk tracks in the lawn.

If I had just slept in and stayed home, I might have got an elk.

Oh well, maybe next year.

The Day After the Election.

“THE WHOLE COUNTRY is going to hell in a bucket now that we’ve elected those idiots,” my fancy friend shrieked the day after the election.

“Which idiot is that?” I asked, pretending to care.

There’s nothing like talking politics to ruin a perfectly beautiful fall day spent floating down the river catching salmon.

When you’re hooked up to a big king salmon, you generally don’t care who the president is.

Once the fishing gets slow, people get bored and start bad-mouthing politicians, no matter who they are.

America is a nation of laws.

I don’t make the rules, but I try to follow them.

Similarly, there are rules at the fish camp that allow a free discourse of opposing ideas about the cuisine, the weather and the estimated weight of a fish, while preserving a civilized decorum of relaxation and good taste.

I like to celebrate diversity of opinion as much as the next guy.

We have even let a fly fisherman into the fish camp in the interest of burying the hatchet on the row vs. wade controversy.

Fly fishermen typically wade the river. I row a boat down the river.

Can’t we all get along?

The first rule in any fish camp is, no arguments before breakfast.

Chances are if you wait until after breakfast, you’ll forget what you were arguing about.

Rule No. 2, no bear meat in the chili contest. That should be self-explanatory.

The final and most important rule in any fish camp is no politics.

Start talking politics and you are gone.

Politics has always been a nasty business.

Aristophanes said it best when he summed up what constitutes a popular politician, “a horrible voice, bad breeding and a vulgar manner.”

Since then, the abuse of politicians has become the great American pastime, where we conveniently forget we voted them into office against our own self-interest in the first place and keep them enthroned until they are rich and old.

But if you think we bad-mouth politicians now, it’s nothing compared to the good old days.

George Washington was the father of our country, but he had an enemy list as long as your arm.

Fortunately, these events occurred in a period of our history when journalists had a command of the English language.

James Thomson Callender, a reporter for The Richmond Recorder, called President Washington, “the grand lama of the federal adoration, in immaculate divinity of Mount Vernon.”

Callender described our second president, John Adams, as a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force nor firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

He accused Adams of wanting to crown himself king and said “it would have been best to have President Jefferson beheaded five minutes before his inaugural address.”

Journalism has always been a risky business.

Destitute and drunk, Callender was found drowned in 3 feet of water in the James River in Virginia.

Not much has changed since the time of our founding fathers.

We are still using the Electoral College to elect our president.

Journalists still use eye-catching headlines to increase sales. And if we have to exaggerate and speculate to educate, so much the better.

In this age of misinformation, all news is suspect.

Journalists have to face the facts these days that nobody will believe what we write anyway.

Still, at the end of the day, Americans can be proud that we elected the best politicians money can buy.

In these uncertain times, only one thing is certain:

Have some faith — the country will change, but it will survive.