Disaster Preparedness Month.

SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL Disaster Preparedness Month. It’s time to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies.

As you read this, the forests of the Olympic Peninsula have been dehydrated by an east wind that could spawn a conflagration of epic proportions. It’s happened before. Chances are it will happen again.

As you read this, massive tectonic plates deep beneath the ocean are grinding against each other just offshore in the Cascadia Subduction zone.

It’s just waiting for a chance to slip and cause an earthquake that could be of magnitude 8 or 9, like those off Indonesia in 2004 and Japan in 2011, producing a tsunami of unknown height and speed that could slam into our coastline as little as 15 minutes later.

The destructive effects of a subduction event could destroy nearly every structure and road on the Peninsula. It’s happened before. It will happen again.

Scientists have estimated more than 40 earthquakes greater than magnitude 8 have occurred here in the last 10,000 years. The last one was Jan. 27, 1700. Our population and infrastructure have increased since then.

The carnage and destruction of another Cascadia event would be an unimaginable disaster that could leave the area without transportation, utilities, food supplies or medical care for months.

As you read this, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters are predicting a three-peat of La Nina, which is a cooling of the Pacific Ocean which can bring the Pacific Northwest below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation this coming winter. In other words, get out your long johns.

Besides finding your underwear, there are many other disaster preparedness plans.

  1. Panic. Experts are always telling us not to panic. It’s bad advice. I say panic early and often. It’s never too early to panic. Panic is your friend. Practice panicking now before the disaster hits. Maybe you’ll panic enough to check your smoke detector, get a fire extinguisher and a Disaster Preparedness Kit. It’s a good excuse to hoard extra food, water and batteries for all your electronic junk.
  2. Migrate. Millions of birds are beginning their migration down our Pacific coast from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. Get a clue. One of the best ways to avoid a disaster here is to leave home and head south. Problem solved.
  3. Bulk up.Here is another tip we can take from our animal friends, many of whom are incapable of migrating south. Bears, for example, spend the summer and autumn putting on fat to adapt to the colder winter weather. In addition to the survival benefits of having an increased blubber index, the larger you are, the more likely you will be seen by would-be rescuers when disaster strikes.
  4. Grow your hair longer. In addition to blubber, many creatures grow a thicker coat of fur in the winter. Longer hair will not only keep you warmer, it will save you money on haircuts.
  5. Hibernate. I’m not saying that everyone can attain a state of true hibernation, like our iconic Olympic marmots or members of Congress, but you don’t know until you try. Hibernation is an inexpensive expedient to disaster preparedness that will not increase your carbon footprint.
  6. Contact your neighbors.A good neighbor will loan you stuff. Find out what to borrow from your neighbors now, before disaster strikes. By then, it will probably be too late.

These are just a few of the many things you can do for Disaster Preparedness Month, besides finding your underwear. We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

 

Does It Always Rain Here?

With the blustery weather we have been experiencing lately, it seems like either the mildest January or the coldest June we’ve ever had.

Rainfall events are not a bad thing. We need periodic gully washers to hatch the slugs, sprout the mushrooms and make the skunk cabbage bloom. Where do you think the rivers and lakes come from?

I think it’s time we all developed a more positive attitude toward our wet weather.

While scientists and health care experts have warned us for years about the effects of the sun’s harmful rays, no one ever developed a malignant skin tumor while lying out in the rain, fog-bathing.

Prolonged exposure to excessive sunlight will make the woods tinder dry. One little spark could turn the Olympic Peninsula into a fiery holocaust.

Sunshine can bring another threat to our health, safety and emotional well-being — tourists. All we need is one day of sunshine for the tourist migration to hatch.

As with any natural disaster, it’s best to have a plan to cope with the tourists. Leave.

What if you’re too broke and ignorant to go anywhere? Maybe you can learn from my wealth of experience in dealing with the problem. Lie.

This last Memorial Day weekend was a good example. It was a perfect storm where a westerly Pacific frontal system met an easterly outflow of tourists in a soggy monsoon of misery. Once the tourists show up, it’s easy to remember why we put a season on them.

People come here from all over the country to complain about the weather and ask the craziest questions like, “Does it always rain here?”

As a general policy, it is a good idea to assure the tourists that a lot of the time it rains much harder. All of which could go a long way to keep the tourists from moving here.

The Olympic Peninsula has been a magnet for tourists since the Bering Land Bridge, when groups of stone-age hunters crossed from Siberia to Sequim, a paradise of big game ripe for the slaughter.

We’re talking Pleistocene mega-fauna, the mastodon and woolly mammoth. You could feed your clan for weeks on a mastodon and make a tent from the bones and hide, and heat it with the creatures’ fat — until the mastodon were gone.

A dozen millennia later, a vast armada of European tourists visited our fair shores seeking souls for their churches, treasure for their banks and the bogus Northwest Passage.

These tourists all had one thing in common: No one believed them when they got home.

Juan de Fuca said he found gold, silver and pearls in the straits that bear his name back in 1592, but he was flat broke by the time he got back home.

All he had left was a bogus map of his mythical strait that took another 200 years for others to discover.

When they did, the Spanish Captain Manuel Quimper blabbed about buying some 100-pound salmon. This set off an invasion of tourists that have been coming here looking for these mythical fish ever since.

It’s always been a proud pioneer tradition to bait tourists with tall tales about the great mineral wealth that was waiting to be discovered in the Olympics. Mountains, lakes and streams were named after the precious metals that were waiting to be found. Promotions like these put Oil City on the map.

Ever since then, it’s been a good idea to say whatever works to keep the tourists from moving here.

Just remember, the Peninsula you save could be your own.

Does it always rain here? Yes!

 

Fish Are Getting Smarter.

It was the American author John Steinbeck who said, “It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish had it coming.”

He should know. Steinbeck spent much of the Great Depression fishing and crabbing out of a small boat in order to get enough food for him and his wife to survive.

There is nothing on earth like subsistence fishing to humble a person into realizing that, on any given day, the fish can be smarter than they are. Over the years, Steinbeck’s observations evolved into some of the earliest notions of the environmental movement.

A lot of this realization occurred to Steinbeck when he was hiding out from what he described as “land owners, bankers and death threats” after writing his 1939 masterpiece, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

The book was banned for being obscene and misrepresentative.

In 1940, Steinbeck decided to get out of town. He and his marine biologist buddy Ed Ricketts went to the Gulf of California in the seiner, Western Flyer, to collect biological specimens.

Once there, Steinbeck watched trawlers dragging their nets across the sea bed, a destructive practice that continues to this day, which illustrated the interconnection of humans and the environment.

The resulting book, “Sea of Cortez,” was not a best seller. However, the “Western Flyer” still survives to this day in Port Townsend, where it has been in the process of being restored since 2015. But I digress.

This is about the intelligence of fish, which can be greater than a human’s intellect on any given day. It only makes sense.

Research has indicated the intelligence of fish matches or exceeds those of the higher vertebrates, including non-human primates and some fishing guides. This should come as no surprise.

Fish appeared in the fossil record about 530 million years ago. The first modern humans may have appeared a scant 300,000 years ago. In the evolutionary scheme of things, if the history of the fish was the length of the Hood Canal Bridge, the history of humans would be a speed bump at the end of the bridge.

Many believe that the intelligence of fish is evolving at the precise rate that humans are getting dumber.

Olympic Peninsula salmon and steelhead routinely navigate many thousands of miles across the ocean to the Aleutian Islands, returning years later to the precise stream where they were born.

I get lost in parking lots.

Once in their home river, fish use rocks to break the speed of the current to navigate upstream without fighting the main force of the river.

I hit the rocks going downstream.

Fish use rocks to break fishing lines and dislodge any lures they’re hooked on.

I had to go to the emergency room at the Forks Community Hospital to get a hook removed.

Fish use gravel in the bottom of the rivers to build nests across the stream beds that once stretched from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

The last time I made a nest in the gravel, I was drunk.

Recently, we witnessed a quantum leap in fish intelligence when a large steelhead was hooked. The line went slack. The fish was lost.

The unfortunate angler reeled in his line to find a pig-tail looking piece at the end.

To the untrained eye, it looked like the knot on the lure came undone. That’s impossible since I tied that knot myself. That would never happen.

There was only one explanation — fish are getting smarter. Now they can untie knots, underwater, with no hands!

Fishing is bound to get a whole lot tougher.

Discover Pass Disaster.

It was another tough week in the news.

Legislation to eliminate the hated Discover Pass has been introduced in the state Legislature. The $30 Discover Pass, which costs $35 with the dealer fee or a $99 ticket if you don’t have one, was adopted in 2011.

It was supposed to bail out the financially troubled state parks the way the state lottery was supposed to finance public schools.

Predictably, that’s not what happened.

Even after charging up to $50 a night for a campsite with full hookups, the state parks are still going broke.

The Discover Pass is only one of a dizzying array of passes and permits that American citizens are required to buy in order to be on their own public land.

These include the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Access Pass that comes with a fishing license, the $55 National Park Service Pass, the $30 Forest Service Pass, the $80 America the Beautiful Interagency Access Pass and various Tribal passes that may or may not be used depending on COVID quarantine restrictions.

Now, with the state government bragging about a huge budget surplus, some state legislators have suggested giving the poor people a break and not charging them to be on their own land.

Poor people can have issues scrounging the $20 for a blue tarp to camp under.

A lot of us can’t afford the gas to drive to a state park, nevermind the $50-a-night camping fee for a site with electricity and water or the $12 for the so-called primitive campsites.

Just take a look at who camps at our state parks.

There are massive gleaming motor homes and trailers pulled by huge trucks.

How about helping the blue-tarp campers who just want to go up a logging road, camp in a wide spot and maybe pick some berries and mushrooms?

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, has introduced Senate Bill 5608 to eliminate the Discover Pass.

Wilson said: “For more than a decade, the state has had a paywall between parks and the people they are intended to serve. It’s time to get rid of the regressive parking fees and free the parks so everyone can enjoy them, regardless of their income.”

More importantly, it’s time to stop charging low-income people who cannot afford to go to a state park to buy a permit to go up a logging road to pick berries and gather mushrooms as a way of subsidizing more affluent campers in their RVs.

Why should we, the blue-tarp campers, have to subsidize RV campers to camp in their state parks?

It’s a classic case of taxation without relaxation.

If the state parks are suffering financially, why not charge the people who camp in them enough money to operate the state parks?

It’s not like the poor people are asking the RV campers to buy us a new blue tarp and bungee cords for our camping trip.

We don’t have RVs, off-road vehicles, generators or satellite dishes.

We don’t need them.

We are the low-income, low-impact campers.

We just want to be free to camp.

Why do the low-income, blue-tarp campers have to subsidize the more affluent vacationers, the RVers, for their decision to drive these gas-guzzling, traffic-jamming monuments to consumer excess in the first place?

But don’t worry. We will.

This latest bill to get rid of the Discover Pass has no chance of passing.

Too bad. We would thank ourselves later if we did the right thing and got rid of the Discover Pass now.

A New Adventure Sport.

There is a new outdoor adventure sport making waves all across this green emerald recreational paradise we call the Olympic Peninsula.

While this new sport was pretty harmless last weekend, the potential for pain is always there. This recreational activity has the potential to combine the risk of Russian Roulette with the drama of a demolition derby.

No, I’m not talking about driving to Seattle. That’s crazy. This new pastime is even crazier. We call it tsunami watching.

To participate in this new adventure sport, all you need to do is keep tuned to your news or weather outlet. When they tell you to stay off the beach and head for high ground because a tsunami may hit, load up the family, pets and a picnic, and head for the beach to watch the tsunami come in.

I know what you’re thinking and you are right.

Tsunami watching is crazy, but if the crowds of people at the beach ignoring the tsunami warning last Saturday is any indication, this new sport of tsunami watching is taking the country by storm.

Throughout history and around the world, people have told stories of floods. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, every Native American tribe has a shared tradition of devastating floods that have been confirmed by geologic and archaeologic research.

One evening, the Quileute noticed a wave that stretched across the horizon coming toward shore.

The Quileute gathered their possessions in canoes and tied the canoes together. Some of the canoes broke loose when the wave hit. They floated east to the other side of the Olympics, where they became the now-extinct Chimacum tribe.

They spoke the same language as the Quileute, giving credence to this tribal legend as historical fact.

The Makah said the water rose until Cape Flattery became an island. Then receded, leaving whales stranded on dry land. The water rose again. The Makah got in their canoes and floated away. Many drifted north to Vancouver Island. As the water receded, canoe-loads of people crashed into tree tops. Many lives were lost.

Along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the S’Klallam were warned a flood was coming.

A man told them to build some strong canoes that would handle a storm. People said they would just walk up into the mountains if the flood came.

It began to rain. The rivers turned to salt water as the sea level rose. Flooding creeks and rivers kept people from walking to higher ground.

Some got away in their canoes with a supply of food and water. Only those who were able to tie themselves to the tops of the highest mountains were saved.

In fact, archaeologists determined that the Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen in Port Angeles was hit by up to five tsunamis in its 2,700-year history.

Those tsunamis were most likely caused by the Cascadia Subduction event, where the Juan de Fuca plate slips underneath the North American continent every 500 years or so, causing earthquakes and their associated tsunamis — the last of which occurred on Jan. 26, 1700.

There was no tsunami warning siren, Coast Guard air lifts or National Guard at the time. We can only speculate at the massive loss of life that must have occurred.

These days, we live in an age of information when we’d just as soon ignore the information.

We are not about to let some foreign global tidal wave ruin a three-day weekend.

So, when the nanny state tells us to stay off the beach because of the tsunami, we head for the beach to watch it.

It’s the newest adventure sport.

Thank you for reading this.

Thank you for reading this. Somebody must. I know this from all of the wonderful cards and letters you send.

In this country, we have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Which dovetails with a system of free enterprise that we call a newspaper. In which, I have demonstrated that virtually anyone, even a guy who rows a boat for a living, can write a freelance newspaper column.

The term “freelance” is newspaper talk for “unemployed.”

Meaning I don’t work for a newspaper, I just send stuff in. Writing a weekly wilderness gossip column is more than a job and more than an honor. It is a privilege. It is something that I would never attempt alone. It takes a village.

That is why I would like to take this opportunity to thank the myriad government agencies that work overtime providing the raw material for this column.

For example, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has us buy our new fishing licenses on April Fool’s Day, but they don’t reveal the fishing rules until June or July or whenever. They prefer to keep the fishing laws a secret for as long as possible so that as many people as possible will buy a license before they find out they can’t go fishing.

That’s funny. I have to write it down.

Then, in the event you actually do get your fishing license and punch cards, these documents are printed with ink that disappears when it gets wet, making it nearly impossible for you to record your catch.

You have to admit that’s funny. I couldn’t possibly make that up.

I never claimed to know everything, but I do know something. And that is you judge people and institutions by what they do.

Using this analysis, I have been critical of the so-called Salmon Restoration Industry or what I call the Extinction-for-Profit Industry, since it seems like the more tax money we give them, the more endangered our fish become.

Upon examination, it is revealed that this industry doesn’t claim it will restore salmon.

Instead, they will restore the habitat the salmon might one day return to. When asked why there are threatened or endangered fish inside pristine habitats like Olympic National Park, they say it is because of what happens when the fish leave the pristine habitat. I agree.

However, this logically would mean that habitat restoration alone will not restore our salmon.

While some environmentalists claim hatchery fish harm native populations, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals does not agree.

In its 2017 ruling, the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe prevailed in their argument to use hatchery fish to restore the Elwha River.

It is not true that I badmouth fish hatchery managers. It is true that I “bash fish and wildlife agencies.”

Just look at page 128 of our current Washington fishing regulations, where it says you must release all invasive green crabs. You know, the ones that are predicted to wipe out our Dungeness crab, oysters, clams and the eelgrass they live in.

Or check out page 21, where it says release all of the so-called threatened or endangered Dolly Varden/Bull Trout. These fish are neither threatened nor endangered — or a trout. They are a prolific predator of our salmon that endangers salmon restoration.

It’s all part of a pattern where we protect the predators of our fisheries, then wonder why our fisheries are endangered.

Exposing these and other obvious frauds is an easy job, but somebody has to do it.

Thank you for reading this.

A Hard Winter on the Peninsula.

It was daylight in the swamp. Last week’s snow was melting in the rain. It turned into a slushy mess with an icy base that made walking a challenge.

The wind seemed to be blowing from every direction at once. Although, there’s no time to complain about the weather when there are winter chores to be done. Unless the weather gets so nasty it’s dangerous to be outside with the falling trees and limbs crashing everywhere. It’s just not safe.

In that case, it is indeed fortunate that we can go steelhead fishing in weather that is far too nasty to go to work in.

Years of evolutionary genetic adaptations have allowed some people who fish for winter steelhead to grow a heavy coat of fur and a thick layer of blubber to deal with the extreme conditions.

Meanwhile, blizzards, landslides and downed powerlines can shut down our roads. This serves to keep our legendary steelhead streams from becoming overcrowded. Avoiding other people is our goal.

There was once a famous philosopher who said, “Hell is other fishermen.”

Or something like that.

Steelhead fishing is a search for solitude away from the crowds of other anglers seeking solitude. Fishing in abominable weather helps us do that.

This is nothing new.

The Earth is billions of years old. Man has only been recording the weather for centuries.

One thing seems clear: The further back in history we go, the nastier the weather seems to have been.

In 2019, when over 3 feet of snow shut down U.S. Highway 101, steelhead fishing was epic. It stopped when the snow melted.

Then there was the winter of 2007. Winds of 100 mph hit our coast, knocking down trees, flooding roads and knocking out power.

The winter of ’97 was a doozie. The Hood Canal Bridge was closed for three days. Buildings collapsed. The stores in Sequim ran out of bread.

The winter of ’85 was a bad winter that started on Thanksgiving. The knee-deep snow melted off the roof so fast it formed giant icicles overnight. One of them fell and took out a window.

The winter of ’77 was a bad one, but I don’t remember much of it because it was the ’70s.

In 1969, there was so much snow on the roof of the house, we thought it would collapse. So I went up to shovel it off. When I fell off the roof, the snow was so deep it didn’t hurt at all. I think the head injuries helped my writing.

Make no mistake, these winters were hard, but we had the modern conveniences of electricity, gasoline and telephones.

They were easy compared to what the pioneers suffered before the invention of these modern miracles.

In 1916, it was the winter of the “Big Snow.”

It started snowing in January, and kept on falling until there was up to 6 feet of snow in Port Angeles.

Twenty feet of snow was reported at the Olympic Hot Springs — which would have been a great place to ride out the storm.

There was no recorded depth at Hurricane Ridge, because there was nobody up there.

That was nothing compared to the hard winter of 1893. That’s what the old-timers called the winter of the “Blue Snow.”

Snow started falling in Port Angeles on Jan. 27 and fell every day through Feb. 7, until 75 inches were measured on the ground.

The temperature fell to 1 degree below zero.

That was the year the Queets River froze over. Which would have made steelhead fishing tough, even if there was a road back then.

Winter is not over.

We still have a chance for some good steelhead fishing.

An Historic New Year’s Eve.

In last week’s episode, we were sharing the yuletide joy of an 1859 Christmas cruise on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in a cedar dugout canoe, causing questions to be asked like, could anything be more miserable?

Yes. The 1889 New Year’s party where the Press Expedition pulled a leaky barge up the Elwha River in the snow would qualify.

The expedition was financed by the Seattle Press, a forerunner to today’s Seattle Times. Back then, newspapers sent reporters to unknown ends of the Earth to entertain their readers with stories such as Stanley finding Livingstone in the heart of Africa. It was the golden age of journalism where six men, four dogs and two mules were sent into the Olympic Mountains for a story.

It was claimed the Olympics were so rugged no man had ever penetrated their vastness. The Native Americans were said to be afraid of a war-like tribe of cannibal giants and the Thunderbird, a huge creature that picked up whales and dumped them on the glaciers.

This ignored the fact that Native Americans had inhabited the interior of the Olympics for millennia, where they hunted and gathered, warred and traded. Indian Creek and Valley were named for a Klallam village. They had a village up the Elwha at Boulder Creek.

The southern Olympics had been crossed by five loggers from Lilliwaup to Lake Quinault in 1878. They weren’t working for a newspaper, so it didn’t count. As the Press Expedition was organizing, another newspaper, The Buckley Banner, proposed an expedition from Lake Cushman to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Another group said they went up the Pysht River and crossed the Olympics, but their geography was questionable.

The pressure was on the Press Expedition to be off. This seemed to be the deciding factor for the bad idea to head up the Elwha in the dead of one of the most severe winters ever recorded on the Olympic Peninsula. The snow began falling on Dec. 23 and hardly stopped until it was 4 feet deep.

On arrival in Port Angeles, the townspeople told of a giant lake in the interior of the Olympics. James Christie, the leader of the expedition, eventually concluded he could not glean “one sensible idea” from them.

The second mayor of Port Angeles, Norman R. Smith, offered to help the expedition. Smith was a promotor extraordinaire who became famous for building the world’s shortest railroad. He cut a 30-foot rail in half and laid the pieces together to make a 15-foot section of track between Lake Sutherland and Lake Crescent to “secure the pass” for an imaginary railroad.

Smith’s brother had a sawmill. He convinced Christie to build a boat and drag it up the Elwha all the way to the imaginary lake.

Christie bought the lumber. The expedition began packing 1,500 pounds of bacon, beans, flour, tools and fireworks to signal Seattle, along with Smith’s green lumber, into a 200-foot-deep canyon somewhere under the present Highway 112 bridge.

On Dec. 30, the 30-foot boat, christened “Gertie,” was loaded with the expedition’s supplies. She took on water like a “thirsty trout” as the crew pulled her upstream through 4 feet of snow. The New Year was celebrated in the snow under the stars on a gravel bar with pea soup, boiled ham, baked beans, corn bread, prune pie and coffee.

The expedition eventually ditched Gertie and headed upriver, emerging from the Olympics five months later in Quinault with nothing to eat but salmon berry shoots. All of which gives us hope that our New Year will be better than that.

A Christmas Canoe Cruise Continued.

LAST WEEK, WE were comparing our modern system of transportation with a Christmas canoe cruise from Neah Bay to Port Townsend in December 1859 by James Swan and five Makah friends.

Swan was a Boston ship chandler who sailed to California in time for the gold rush of 1849. Then headed north to Shoalwater, now Willapa Bay, and then to Neah Bay in 1859.

Swan was the first working journalist on the Olympic Peninsula, writing a series of columns for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. These stories were published by the Washington State Historical Society in 1971 as “Almost out of the World, Scenes from Washington Territory.”

In his ethnography, “The Indians of Cape Flattery,” published by the Smithsonian in 1869, Swan described the 100-mile journey between Neah Bay and Port Townsend as taking seven days in the winter and making the trip in a little over 24 hours in the summer.

The average passage was about three days. This journey could only be accomplished by using the tidal currents.

Take a moment, look up from your newspaper and look out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a frosty, windy December morning and consider if any of us would survive the seven-day, 100-mile canoe journey these days.

Makah canoes were ocean-going vessels carved from a single cedar log in the shape of a clipper ship hull. The largest canoes were traded from the Clyoquot and Nittinat of Vancouver Island. Swan once went to Victoria to purchase a canoe that was between 75 and 80 feet long. The canoes were powered by paddlers and sails made of cedar bark and, later, cotton.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca flows like a river, changing direction with the tides. To catch the tide, you might have to travel at night, which could make the journey even more terrifying. However, night travel was a good way to avoid hostilities with other tribes with whom the Makah were at variance.

The Makah had a grudge with the Clallam, and it went both ways.

Swan had noticed the burnt remains of a Clallam village at Pysht, where the Nittinats of Vancouver Island killed 20 or more people. The Makah were implicated in the attack.

That night, Swan and his friends pulled their canoe up the Lyre River to where the smoke from their campfire could not be observed by the Clallam.

The next day, they stopped at Salt Creek to build a fire and eat lunch where they found another burnt village. Swan’s Makah friends took credit this time, saying the Clallam had not let them fish in Salt Creek. The Makah left and returned at night, killing 12 Clallam and taking women prisoners.

Swan had friends among the Elwha Clallam. He feared being caught in the middle of the endless battles of retribution.

All of which calls for some historical perspective. The Strait of Juan de Fuca could be a dangerous passage in 1859.

That same year, France and Austria were at war. Over 20,000 Austrians were killed, wounded or missing in just one battle. Shortly thereafter, the American Civil War began, killing as many as 750,000 soldiers and an unknown number of civilians.

Humans can be bloodthirsty critters.

Swan’s canoe slipped by the Clallam village at the mouth of the Elwha at daylight without incident. When they eventually reached Port Townsend, Swan said, “I was entirely satisfied that a winter’s trip on the Fuca Straits is anything but a pleasure cruise.”

Words worth remembering when missing the ferry or getting a flat tire while riding in a heated vehicle this Christmas.

A Christmas Canoe Cruise

As the holiday season progresses, we ask ourselves the question, “will we be at home or on the road?”

This year, staying home for the holidays makes a lot of sense since the road can be risky. Look at the road between Clallam Bay and Sekiu where the side of a mountain fell down.

This is nothing new on the “wet end” of the Olympic Peninsula. State Highway 112 was barely passable during the dry season.

Driving on Highway 112 was like riding a bucking bronco if you dared exceed the 15 mph speed limit over the top of Twin Hill before descending to the “Devil’s Elbow,” a nasty hairpin turn at the bottom near Deep Creek.

Local legend says Highway 112 was built by a logger in a cat following a bull elk in the rut, since it seems to go in complete circles when you least expect it.

Once the monsoons hit, the mountains slid down into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, taking the road with it.

Coincidentally, U.S. Highway 101 is facing the same problem. South of Forks, the effects of gravity and water are clearly seen in the giant cracks in the road, which seems intent on sliding into the Bogachiel River.

Highway 101 is down to one lane just south of the Calamity County line, which is better than no lane at all. Once the single lane slides out, the Olympic Peninsula will have come one step closer to becoming an island, a geographic designation many of the locals would prefer.

Traveling east is no picnic either, given the tendency of the Hood Canal bridge to shut down at any time. Our magnificent State Ferry system is no guarantee, either. They can shut down for low tides, high winds or the lack of any crew to run the darned things.

All of which makes us long for the good old days when our transportation was so much easier, safer and modern. Just don’t go too far back in the good old days or you’ll see just how tough it was to get around.

In December 1859, James Swan was in Neah Bay waiting for a schooner to take him to Port Townsend. The winter hit early that year, and rather than spending it in Neah Bay, Swan “persuaded” a party of Makah to take him “up to the Straits.”

I often think of this journey while complaining about our roads or waiting to get on a ferry.

There was Swan in an open canoe in December with five Makah companions, one of whom was an elderly woman.

They departed Neah Bay on a dark day with a light head wind and every indication of a storm. Though wrapped in several blankets, Swan complained of the cold while he noted the Makah blowing on their hands to keep them from freezing.

The Makah kept close to shore in case a storm should hit. They paddled through tide rips, heavy swells and surf between the rocks with what Swan described as a “consummate skill” that made him feel as safe as a being on a mill pond.

There were, however, other dangers. The Makah were almost always at war with the Clallam. At Pillar Point, they passed the burnt remains of a Clallam village where the Nittinats of Vancouver Island killed 20 or more people. The Makah were implicated in the attack.

That night, they pulled their canoe up the Lyre River to where the smoke from their campfire could not be observed by the Clallam.

This is where we will continue our canoe cruise next week.