An Atomic Explosion

I grew up in the nuclear age and have been touched repeatedly by the devastation it has wreaked on people, both as weapon and source of energy. My father, an aircraft electrician, worked on the planes that were involved in the Nevada nuclear tests. I attended 7th grade in Albuquerque, where my father was stationed, and watched early morning local television to see if the “payload” flights had been “successful” that day. During the 1950s and 60s, some two hundred such tests were made in southern Nevada. However, my most direct brush with the power of atomic energy was in July of 1962. I witnessed the explosion of a 1.44 megaton nuclear bomb called Starfish Prime. I was in Hawaii where lights and televisions failed and power lines fused, according to one report. Satellites were disabled by radiation. This was a high altitude test conducted by the Defense Atomic Support Agency and the Atomic Energy Commission. The bomb was launched by a Thor rocket and the explosion took place 250 miles above Johnston Island in the Pacific. The “official” description of the phenomena visible in the sky up to 1400 miles away matches closely what I saw:
“…a brilliant white flash burned through the clouds rapidly changing to an expanding green ball of irradiance extending into the clear sky above the overcast. From its surface extruded great white fingers, resembling cirro-stratus clouds, which rose to 40 degrees above the horizon in sweeping arcs turning downward toward the poles and disappearing in seconds to be replaced by spectacular concentric cirrus like rings moving out from the blast at tremendous initial velocity…As the greenish light turned to purple and began to fade at the point of burst, a bright red glow began to develop on the horizon at a direction 50 degrees north of east and simultaneously 50 degrees south of east expanding inward and upward until the whole eastern sky was a dull burning red semicircle 100 degrees north to south and halfway to the zenith obliterating some of the lesser stars. This condition, interspersed with tremendous white
rainbows, persisted no less than seven minutes.”

That experience, when I was 19 years old and headed for the Sarawak, a Crown Colony on the Island of Borneo, heralded, for me, a new awareness of the horrors of war and the dangerous follies of men and governments. As a child who had been drilled in elementary school to hide under a flimsy wooden desk should the Russians come, it gave me no joy to watch the “light show” that seemed to thrill so many that long ago summer in the Pacific.

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My Trip to Mongolia

Gordon Blue and Bobby Burns…..met up once in Ulan Bataar

Said old Bobby to Gordon
I’m a dying of boredom
Let’s go in to that nice Irish bar
I rode in at dawn
On a camel named Khan
And my thirst’s just as long as my arm.

Gordon stiffly dropped down from his horse
He could could walk, but only by force
Six months in a “ger”
Done my spine in, I fear
And my lumbar is filled with remorse.

They hadn’t to go very far
The horse watched the pair in the bar
Bobby strummed on his lute
Gordon pulled out his flute
And the horse pushed its way through the door

It tripped:It was known as a stumbler
Though unbalanced, It couldn’t be humbler
Bobby told it to whistle
Gordon brandished his pistol
Then served vodka all round in a tumbler

They drank several bowls of arak
Bobby asked for a cup for his yak
The yak drank  with pleasure
Bobby sipped at his leisure
Then pulled out a pipe from his pack.

The mutton arrived with a flair
The host bid them drink more if they dare
Then the camel raced in
And it raised such a din
That they milked it; it wasn’t a mare.

The horse whistled all through the night
The camel was filled with delight
Bobby smoked something weird
Mutton greased Gordon’s beard
And the yak, full of arak, took flight.

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Easy to Empty My Mind Here: A Few Poems from Mongolia

Easy to Empty My Mind Here: A Few Poems from Mongolia
August 17, 2011 at 7:51pm
Flap of felt in wind
Outside, camels close their eyes
Sleep is hard to come.

Morning sun subtle
Dawn breaks without announcement
No trace of night rain.

Shimmery grasses.
Over there, pools of water
No! Only mirage.

Betsy’s Camel Ride:
Sad! Deflated humps!
Nother much left to hold !
Old woman’s flat breasts.

Dandylion tufts
Waving from my camel’s neck
Otherwise, naked.

Bright bleached bone trees
stand forlorn on stacked stone mountains.
Above: bunched sword grass.
Disturbed, geese cry out.
A legion of them
wing their way between the canyon walls.

Sundancer camel:
hide lashed and taut on sturdy poles.
Witness: bone of one leg.

Smoke from the bath house.
Water heating for our ablutions.
Smell of desert brush.

Our drying garments
are prayer flags
hung on camel rope:
boons for our journey.

Near the high dun cliffs,
white butterfly on my leg:
Request: bless my day.

Paws trace moonlit ridge:
Silent Mongolian wolf.
Below, mindful dog guards us.

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Babur’s Wonderful Journey 2009

Babur’s Wonderful Journey by LLyn De Danaan @2009
March 19, 2009 at 8:43pm


I am Babur. I am a Belgian Malinois dog. We are strong and confident dogs. Belgian like Hercule Poirot, and clever as he. We Malinois become attached to our human companions. I will let a stranger know that the person with whom I walk is mine. Usually a glare will do. Sometimes I must snap or growl. With my own person, I cannot give enough love.
I was born in the Mine Detection and Dog Center in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is a wonderful place for a dog with a mission in life. We are trained to find land mines. My mother and father did this work. My brothers and sisters do this work. You see, Afghanistan is covered with mines. There are over five hundred square kilometers of minefields in the country. There are many kinds of mines including some that look like butterflies or toys so that they are attractive to small children. These horrible things kill people or inflict injury on those who have the misfortune to touch and ignite them.

We mine detection dogs have such a good sense of smell that we can be trained to sniff out the explosives and alert our handlers and the deminers with whom we work. We walk slowly then use our ears, tails, and bark to let the handlers know that we have encountered a mine. Though we have inherited talent for this work, we receive schooling to hone technique.

Mine detection dogs rise early in the morning and practice retrieving balls and pacing, with our handler companions, through grids dotted with fake mines. Commands are memorized and drilled. But it’s not all work. After a good workout, we get delicious chow to eat and even special treats. And when we are ready to graduate we become part of a mine clearing team. We get to know and depend upon each other in our dangerous work. We also have some fun together playing ball and keep away and other games at the end of a long day.

Sometimes one of our own makes a mistake. And sometimes, someone else does. Once, a bomb was dropped on our kennel and I lost two of my litter mates.

But we persevere. We do the work because the children do not deserve to die and because we are born to it.

My companion is called Ayubi. I love him dearly. One fine morning, not many months after I had completed my training, Ayubi and I and a few other pairs of our team went to out to sweep a new area. We were to walk a grid outside the city in a difficult rocky outcropping. Our team was close to the end of our shift when someone came too near an unexploded mine. I learned about the details later. It seems that in an instant, people were down all around, covering their heads and eyes and ears against the blast. My dog friends snuggled against their handlers.

Ayubi was knocked unconscious but survived. One person died. Others were injured and dazed. I had been hit in the head by a piece of flying rock. With no one to call to me or restrain me, I wandered off alone and confused. This is my story.

Chapter I

The Well

The pads of my feet hurt as I walked through the bazaar. There were cuts, some deep ones, from treading on sharp rocks. I’d come miles over rough terrain in the past few days. In one pad on the left rear paw there seemed to be a scrap of metal. It dug in with every step. I’m sure I was limping slightly, favoring that delicate foot.

The wind whipped the dust around me. I felt it in my ears. I saw small funnels of it rising from the ground. I heard it whistle as it swept through small chinks in the mud bricks of building on either side of my path. It was a gritty, sandy wind. It hurt my eyes. It stung my soft nose.

I felt the dust on my tongue yet I could not help but pant. So my tongue lolled about and caught more dust. I wished to smell water but it was difficult to smell anything through the thick air. How could I find a cool drink if I couldn’t smell water? I kept my eyes down, listening and sniffing. I kept my head down, wary of human beings who might wish me harm. Sometimes I heard the Hoopoes. They were perched high above me in old trees and darted down now and then to probe in the leaf litter on the ground. At least they are still here, I thought. What bossy creatures they are. But they are here and are a comfort in my loneliness. So many ducks and cranes seemed to have by-passed us this season. The bombs scared them off. They would scare off any reasonable creature. Hoopoes are not reasonable.

Sometimes I smelled dried apricots and plums or dried melon strips and sweet green apples. Sometimes I caught the scent of mutton or melon. A melon would do. There’s lots of moisture in melon. But how to grab one without being killed for the act? Sometimes, even keeping my distance, I was struck by a stone tossed by someone offended by my presence. The stones were accompanied by a loud hiss or oath. I kept a great distance between myself and the people. I know, I know. “Dirt under every hair.” How often I’d heard that in the past few days. I know I’m unclean. It’s not pleasant to be thought of in such a way, but that day, in that place it was true. I was filthy. Nevertheless, I’m one of God’s creatures, too.

I longed to engage my tormentors in debate. I knew what I would say to them:

What about the companions in the cave? It is a very famous story in the Koran. Did they not have a dog stretching his forelegs on the threshold, watching for them, protecting them? Did not the dog sleep together with the companions, guarding that cave, for three hundred years! Did not Allah guide them all rightly?

I would tell them the story told to all pups in order that we may love Mohammed and Allah even though we are challenged by many followers. The story is that a poor dog near death came to a follower of the prophet. The man saw the condition of the despairing animal. In order to nurse it in that desert land where water was so scarce, he ripped a piece of his robe, soaked it in a small pool, lifted the dog to his lap, and used the robe to moisten the muzzle and nose of the sorrowful creature. Though he was criticized by others for touching a dog, Mohammed praised him for his kindness to animals.

You see?

Further more, speaking of dirt, were you humans not created out of mud? That’s what I imagined saying.

But the Afghan people have suffered centuries of wolves and rabid animals finding their ways to their doorsteps. Many have known only the mad mastiffs guarding their villages and the fierce dogs guarding their sheep. They fear dogs for good reason.

I could not change this. It was easy in those days to lose myself in these invitations to useless ponderings. Some say Satan sends these thoughts. I know now it was just my own confusion. One can calculate one’s spiritual strength by the number of times one is disturbed each day. How many times a day was I disturbed? Too often.

God will show the way.

Remember that, I told myself. Remember, I want to live. Leave these big questions to God.

What had happened? I could hardly remember. My head felt as if it had been struck by a mud brick. My recent memories were in fragments, though some earlier ones seemed clear.

A little girl looked at me from behind a stall of vegetables as I wandered by. She had kind eyes. I stood for a moment and looked back at her. She was lovely but sad. If this were a different land I could approach her, comfort her with big sloppy kisses. I’d put my head in her lap and tell her that I love her. And I might have been scratched behind my ears. I missed being touched. But here it is not the custom.

Surely it will come to me what I am to do, where I am to go.

I called myself Babur. I couldn’t remember what happened to my head or why I was roaming about. But I knew I was Babur. And I remembered why I had that name. I had once heard some humans talking about a mighty king called Babur. They said, I thought, that he was descendent from the mongrels and I puffed up with pride. A king descendent from dogs of mixed breeds! But the humans had really said Babur was a Moghul king. He had not a drop of dog within him. I was a fool! Still I called myself Babur. The name meant “the tiger” I thought. So I was still proud of my name.

All right, Babur. You may as well confess all.

You see, this Babur, this dog that is myself, was a very arrogant animal. I strutted around with my head held high. Tiger. Then I discovered that my name is an ancient name for “beaver.” Ha. God had shown me up for what I was again. I kept the name. It reminds me every day of my struggle with pride. It keeps me aware of my silly affectations. Beaver, indeed. Oh my. What a fool I am. But I am on the journey.

That day, walking through the market, I was not puffed and strutting. No one knew that I was Babur nor did they care.

“Watch out where you’re going you tick ridden, plug ugly mutt. Are you in some entranced communion with the saints to stumble right into my garden of delights?”

A Hoopoe of ample beak and dramatic plumage was looking up into my eyes from an uncomfortable proximity. I’d never had a bird speak to me before. This was further evidence of my affliction I supposed: a talking Hoopoe. He had a fine crest that he spread into a fan for more effect. His wings were banded black and white. I could see this as he opened them wide and came even closer. I suppose he wished to intimidate me, crest fanning, wings yawning, and eyes fixed on me. The span was impressive, but when he relaxed his arms, he looked like a feather duster. I began to laugh. This did not go over with Msr. Hoopoe.

“G’wan now. Scat. Move along. But not in this direction.” He hardly needed to add that. Had I moved an inch forward, his beak would have gone right up my left nostril.

I did not intend to move so long as the Hoopoe was speaking even though I thought he was a mere apparition.

“Watch it now. You are in my leaf litter. Sit there by the well,” he brandished a wing in the general direction of a disheveled pile of stones. “If you will stay, I’ll find some remark to make to you from time to time. But get out of my leaf litter. And do not speak to me while I am at work. I’ll tell you when you may converse with me.”

The well! There was water? Apparition or not, I looked in the direction he pointed.


The bird pouted, not easy to do with a beak, and sighed. “I can see that this is going to be a tedious relationship. Yes, dog, there is water. You can have anything you wish for if you will only give up wanting it. You can be anything you wish if only you will still your mind. There is always food if you are able to digest it.”

Not only were his words imponderable, they seemed outrageously untrue. Was I being teased? Could it be that all I wanted really was there for the taking? Had I been blinded when I was hit on the head? I looked around, right to left. I sniffed the ground around the rocks where he pointed. I smelled nothing, saw nothing.

Abdul Haq: my Hoopoe friend was a servant of truth. I did not know that then.

Chapter II

The Beginning

First, the well. I imagined that drawing a bucket of water from a well would be no mean feat for a dog and a bird. But that’s not what Abdul had in mind.

Abdul fluttered about my head and screeched orders. I tried to follow him without becoming snappish or sullen. Though I could not smell water, I could see that these rocks marked the opening to a step well. The well, Abdul told me, connected to deep underground irrigation channels called karez. Water flowed into the channels from the high mountains of the Hindu Kush. There were glaciers there and sometimes heavy rains. The channels filled and water rushed into the channels. Haq said there were hundreds of these channels and that the well was very deep. No one knew how deep. No one knew how old. He instructed me to walk carefully along the stones that formed a rim around. He showed me that there was a steep, spiraling stairway that would take me deep within the shaft.

I began a tentative descent. Some stones were loose. Sometimes one fell and I could not hear it hit bottom. I felt my heart tugging at me to return to the top where the Hoopoe waited. All along the surface of the inside of the well were beautiful paintings of flowers. There were small niches in the walls and in these niches were barely formed lumps of fired clay. It was too dark to make out what these lumps might represent. The bird, above on the rim stones, yelled encouragement.

“Deeper, deeper. You have not even begun,” he said. I looked up. The well was dark within but I could see the light above and the bird, smaller and smaller, bobbing about muttering, singing, and generally seeming quite insane. Occasionally one of his feathers floated through the air, past my nose, and tickled me in passing. Down and down I went. Once I looked up and saw a shining planet overhead in the sky. I had heard once that one could see planets and stars in the day light from deep within a well. Here was proof it was true for there one was, bright as a lovely beckoning lamp in the dark. The Hoopoe was barely visible now, though occasionally I saw a semblance of his feather mop head nodding over the edge at me outlined by the light from the planet above him. I was frightened and wondered how I could ever return.

“Oh my friend dog,” he yelled as if he heard my thoughts, “You are on the path. Do not allow yourself the luxury of doubt.”

I reached the water. The rock I stood on was sturdy and broad. I felt certain that I could regain purchase on this stair step whenever I wished so I plunged. I swam for a moment. Ah the sweet, clear, cool water. I drank deeply. I splashed, paddled and dove under the surface. It was good.

“Oh, lonely dog. Oh love, follow me. Follow me and you will find yourself.” I heard a voice so sweet so full of breath and honey, I trembled. It was a voice like that of a soft furred animal, nearly whispering but loud enough to shake my soul. I felt myself falling through the water. I was so frightened that I squeezed my eyes shut. Then I heard a new voice calling to me: “Babur, Babur, Babur,” and this new voice I instantly knew was my own.

When I opened my eyes, I saw a huge array of stars surprisingly bright though hung in a still dusky, not quite dark, sky. I heard a howl, my own howl, a howl of mixed fear and delight, echoing in a vast stillness. And still I fell.

Then, with a great thunk, I hit firm ground. I lay dazed for a moment. But just a moment. For even as I lay trembling, wet, and confused, I saw an enraged donkey galloping in my direction.

“A dog a dog a dog” it brayed and ran full tilt toward me. “Kill it kill it! A dog.”

I cowered, and then quickly flattened myself out again on the desert floor. I felt that I was doomed. The donkey hated dogs, apparently.

Just as she reared back and prepared to strike me with her fore hooves, a large camel came between us.

“Quick,” the camel said, “Quick, dog, jump onto my humps. Quick now. No time to ask questions. Jump.” I accepted the invitation. The camel turned to look at me over her shoulder and fluttered her double lashes .

She was a lovely animal, the color of moonlight and sand. Her humps were two lovely hummocks of flesh and fur. I settled myself between them and hung on as gently as I could. She said, “Do what you must to stay there. You cannot hurt me.”

The donkey fell back. “Very well,” he said. “But keep that dog out of my way.”

The Hoopoe appeared above my head.

“We are ready to proceed.”

I had found myself, just as Babur, the king, had centuries ago, part of a wandering band, with mind awander; “in the grip of a tribe, a tribe unfamiliar”.

Chapter III

Who has the Map?

“The mule I sit on while I recite
Starts off in one direction
But then gets drunk
And lost in
The Gift

“Now my sweet companions, the way is open,” the bird said. “We travel by night because it is cool. We travel slowly. We speak softly to one another. We will not fear. We will be brave and loving and we will learn. Come, come. Together we are wanderers, but wanderers with purpose. Follow me oh sorry dog, angry donkey, vain old camel, and I will lead you to the feet of the Hound of Heaven. Together you will see God.”

The donkey was somewhat appeased by the bird’s words and led off into the desert. Because she was dark in color and the sky was growing darker where there were no stars or where clouds obscured them, she quickly disappeared. The camel, with me on her back, followed the donkey’s footprints. The Hoopoe circled slowly in the sky above. Soon the moon came out, nearly full, from behind a cloud. Its light caught the gentle movement of the Hoopoes soaring wings and the white flash of his soft underbelly.

The camel was a cheery companion. She wore a band of leather hung with small brass bells around her muzzle and neck. She had two other necklaces worn low on her shoulders. These were studded with seed pearls and tied with brass bells. Even the camel’s ankles were adorned. Around each of these were golden bands with bells attached. Sweet music accompanied her every movement and a euphonious sound rang out when she walked or trotted. This she did with a gait unfamiliar to me for she walked with her two left legs then her two right legs. The rocking motion put me almost to sleep.
Between her humps, in the place where I rode, she had a many tasseled saddle made of leather and layered with thick Mauri carpets. These were woven of madder red and indigo blue and gold wool and silk. All the tassels with which the carpets were finished were golden. The carpets were lovely with rows of octagons and many eight pointed stars. I had a heavenly place from which to view the earth: stars below, stars above.

She was called Jamilah, a name that means beauty and grace. Her eyes were lined with kohl and her small beard was stained with henna. Even the two toes of each of her feet were painted.

She told me early on, when I wondered where we all might be going, that she loved the journey and cared not a whit for the destination. In fact, she said, she did not believe that one ever reached any particular destination.

She told me that the journey would not be an easy one for me. She could not bear to walk in a straight line for long. So, she said, she would occasionally be compelled to run wildly into hills or mountains just for the fun of it. These giddy fugues had often led her into delightful places she might never otherwise have known. However, when pressed for details, she could scarce remember any particulars of these little excursions.

Oh, Jamilah. My friend, my mount, my unfamiliar spirit. Beautiful Jamilah. Jamilah, you see, dared to be crazy in ways I never could be. I was a serious dog and thought all life must be taken seriously. Jamilah, while certainly responsible in all the important ways, could leave the path and take a joyful chance. As I rode, she took me with her to unusual places I would never dare to go alone. I often wondered if we’d ever find the donkey path again. I imagined frightening consequences. But gradually I learned to let her body lead me. I hung on to the carpets. I held her with all my strength as we galloped through the night into the wild hills where the leopards and the mastiffs roamed. I held and learned to crave the ride. After a few of these mad dashes, I could not imagine life without her. My camel was prone to break out in song and I learned to sing with her. I was becoming a new dog. And this was good for I had such scattered memories of the old dog I must have been.

As Jamilah and I traveled in this zigzag way through the seemingly endless night, I was amazed that the Hoopoe, Abdul Haq, did not correct us. He seemed quite content to flutter here and there whilst we took our leave. He seemed always patient and peculiarly serene when we returned. Occasionally he pointed out the donkey path to us.

After many hours and just before dawn, the Hoopoe came to us with a message.

“There is a tavern,” he said, “just beyond that hill ahead. We will go there and eat and drink and rest for just a while.”

We found the tavern easily enough. There was a small oil lamp tied to a mulberry tree. It was burning in the still dim light of early morning. There were a few tables set for the humans who might come by. But no people were presently about.

The donkey was already there when we arrived. She had found a bucket full of millet and oats mixed with mutton fat. There was a cool pool of water near the tavern stable and it was not the bitter saline water sometimes found in desert oasis villages. Jamilah went into the stable where there were great bunches of grass to eat. The Hoopoe found a pile of millet next to a large stash of leaves that hid surprises of grubs and worms. Jamilah, noticing my fear of the donkey, said it would be safe to jump down and drink while she and the Hoopoe were close by. I quickly spied a large bone, still bearing considerable hunks of meat and muscle.

We were all in paradise. As we ate and rested together, the donkey began an apology. Her bristled grey muzzle turned an pink with embarrassment as she spoke. She kept her eyes to the ground but I could see that they were filled with agony.

The Story of Aminah, the Donkey

“I am Aminah, called thus because I am a faithful and trustworthy beast. I may not be beautiful, but I am a good creature. As a new born, I was a most adorable donkey. I had a sweet, compassionate face. My legs and ears were long and I was fuzzy all over. In my youth, I was playful. I scampered about near the sheep and goats of my master and they were always comforted by me. I slept among the flock. I was loved by sheep. If some danger came near, I was alert and ready to trample the intruder, even to the death, to save my sheep. But times were hard and my master sold me to another. I worked for a while as a soldier donkey with Ishmael Kahan in the campaign against the Russians. When a fresh donkey was needed to carry supplies, I was ready. I was Aminah. But things were hard again and I was taken to a market in Herat there to be shackled and bid upon like so much horse flesh. In fact, there was horse flesh all around me. Pitiful specimens. All sold by poor masters who could not afford any longer to feed them. And there I was, the proud Aminah among them. My master let me go for so little money. He patted my muzzle, not so grey then as now, and I was led away. My new master was unkind. I was to be used to grind the wheat. I was harnessed to a great millstone and made to go round and round. I was blindfolded, you see, so as not to be distracted. And to keep me moving, a dog was ordered to nip at my heels and bark at me all day long.”

The donkey paused for a long moment here. She briefly glanced at me, then lowered her eyes again and continued.

“That dog was my curse. That dog was the focus of all the hate that grew in me and ate at my heart. Hate has blinded me as much as the cloth that covered my eyes. When I saw you, I remembered the hurt and the rage and I wanted to kill you. I realize that I will be chained and doomed to move around that millstone forever if I keep such anger in my heart. Please forgive me, dog. Give me opportunity to make amends.”

And I did forgive the donkey and told her my name was Babur and that I was a fool on a journey and not so very different from herself.

The Hoopoe, who had overheard it all, told us to stay closer together in the next leg of the journey. “Something may begin to rub off,” he said in his usual cryptic manner.

Chapter IV

The Crossing

There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!
The Kabir Book
Robert Bly

The only life raft here is love.
The Gift

We stayed the whole day at the oasis and slept and dreamed and told each other stories. I had my head on the Jamilah’s saddle and heard her soft breathing. Sometimes her lips fluttered gently with her breaths.

The Hoopoe told us that we would leave in the evening just as dusk came on. He said that there was a difficult river to cross. He said the moon would guide that crossing, and that until we got to the mountains, we would travel mostly at night. He said we would do this to avoid the heat and to escape detection. Humans, he said, were far more dangerous to us than leopards and mastiffs. The mountains, he said, had many caves. We could hide there if need be. And they would be cool places to rest if the heat was still oppressive.

It was a robust sunset. The sky was streaked with purple and crimson against a background of lapis lazuli. The colors fell upon us and bathed us with magic. The dusk came rapidly after and the full moon rose in the east. Our shadows would be long tonight.

The sand shimmered on our path as the moon rose higher. We followed a narrow road for a while, though it was rutted and full of potholes and seemed to have been altogether washed away in some places. The donkey was in the lead, easy to follow tonight. I followed on foot and after me was Jamilah.

Venus was low in the west and Jupiter was high overhead, as brilliant as a lantern. “In these skies,” the Hoopoe declared, “no one should ever feel lost.”

I began to understand that we had direction. The Hoopoe had referred to the mountains and caves. Jamilah bent her head down and whispered to me that because we were going north, north-east we must be traveling to the Hindu Kush. She seemed pleased.

Just as Jamilah raised her head, the wind started to blow in from the north, forcing us all to walk against it. The whirling dust prevented us from talking much because each time we spoke, our mouths filled with the stuff. The wind kicked up a haze of dust so thick that the moon and stars could hardly be seen. Behind the sound of the wind we could hear the sands singing as the tiny grains blew against each other. Yet the Hoopoe drove us on and would not let us consider turning back to the safety of the oasis and the little tavern. Jamilah and I came, suddenly, upon the donkey standing still by the side of a turbulent river.

We all stared at the rushing water for a moment.

“This river,” the Hoopoe announced, “must be crossed.”

We looked to one another. I had been able to swim in the well. But I didn’t know if I could swim in a rapid river. There were no steps, nothing to hold. And the current was strong. There was foam and froth and sticks and limbs floating along the surface.

The camel studied the river. The donkey sat down. Only the Hoopoe seemed optimistic. But of course, he could fly.

“You will find a way,” the Hoopoe said.

Jamilah was solemn, “We must build a raft. I have seen the reeds that grow near these desert rivers. We will collect reeds and with them we will build a raft.”

“Of course,” the donkey said. “I would have said that myself but I thought it obvious.” The donkey instantly looked ashamed of her own remark. Her muzzle glowed red. Too long out of the company of kindness, she had now begun to notice her sharp, protective lances. We set out to find the reeds.

Jamilah and I returned with reeds within a short time. Jamilah was tugging a huge pile of reeds she had attached by ropes to her saddle. I had a large bundle in my teeth. But Aminah the donkey was not about. Jamilah and I went off to find more reeds and soon returned with another great load. But still Aminah had not returned.

The camel and I decided to search for her.

There was no wind now; the last of it had cleared the sky of clouds. We could see clearly in the moonlight. We came around a large boulder by the river and there found the donkey lying on her back staring at the stars. In spite of the bright full moon, the donkey had noticed a shower of meteors. She was in a swoon. Her delight was seductive. The camel kneeled and peered up into the sky. I rolled onto my own back next to the donkey, feeling safe with her since our talk. We all yelped with joy as the bigger meteors streaked across the horizon.

Suddenly a dark form came between us and the brilliant light show. It was the Hoopoe. He hovered above us.

“To the task, to the task, foolish creatures.” the Hoopoe said. “The raft must be made. The journey must not be forestalled.”

We rolled up and onto our feet and went back to the pile of reeds.

We worked methodically and silently throughout the night. We wove the reeds into a stiff, serviceable little raft. It was big enough for a donkey, a camel, and a dog. The bird seemed pleased and added strings of grass and other bits of stick to the project.

While the meteors continued to punctuate the dark and the moon moved past the zenith in its path to the western horizon, we eased the raft to the shallow shore of the river. We stepped carefully, for the rocks under the water were slippery. The camel had found a sturdy pole with which to push us off and steer us. With a giant whoosh and a push from the camel’s pole, we were moving in the river, propelled forward in the direction of the other bank, but at the same time we were being carried down river. Jamilah put her shoulder into it and we made slowly for the far shore though rushing along with the current at the same time. The donkey and I yelled encouragement. It had seemed that we would make it when the raft began to break apart. A large chunk of reeds, the chunk upon which I stood, fell to pieces and I was in the water.

I pumped my legs, paddling as fast as I could. I kept my head up to keep the raft, the donkey, and the camel in sight. I could hear my friends calling to me. I could see the Hoopoe flying high above me. I could see the donkey and the camel, now walking on to the shore. They had made it. Jamilah waded back into the water holding the pole out to me with her teeth. I used all of my remaining strength for a final push. I was gasping. Water was coming in my nose and my mouth. But I kept my goal in site. I snapped at the pole and held it tightly with my teeth. Jamilah trod backwards out of the water, onto the shore, and back up the bank, all the while dragging me along.

Jamilah and Aminah, my dear friends, embraced me and licked me all over with their great tongues and picked the twigs and sticks from my fur. They told me to lie down for a while and rest.

As I rested, the donkey began to gather what was left of the reed raft together and put it on her back.

“I will carry this raft for the rest of the trip,” said the donkey. “We will have no trouble making a crossing again.”

The Hoopoe swooped in and stood on Aminah’s head. “What are you doing?” the Hoopoe asked.

“I am carrying the raft that will allow us to cross the next river,” the donkey said.

“Fool. The raft did not allow you to cross the river. Your brains and dreams and souls eliminated the obstacle to your journey. The raft was just a tool. Leave the raft. It was for this crossing. You will not cross the same river twice. The raft will be a burden to you. Leave the raft for the next one who must make a crossing.”

We picked ourselves up and continued our journey, tired but wiser animals.

Chapter V

Dawn Comes

The moon slipped below the western horizon as bright hues of blue and orange made the sky blaze as if there were a fire in the east. There were no words for what we felt then. We had been up all night meeting danger, fording the stream, clinging to life, and saving our souls. And now, at this enchanted moment, we danced. I ran in great circles around the others, yipping and snapping at the earth. Jamilah galloped across the desert floor toward the nearest hillside followed by the donkey, Aminah, braying and kicking her heels. I followed them as quickly as I could. There were, as I have said, no words for what we felt; there was no right or wrong or best or better way to be. Something had happened to us all and we were drunk with love of each other and of the morning. The journey seemed delightful.

We walked on and came suddenly to a valley of lush grass. The fields were irrigated by thin ribbons of water that cascaded down from the high hills that surrounded the valley. We had, during the night, left the desert and begun our ascent.

Some friendly cattle lived there in the valley amidst the grass. They called to us: “May you never be tired. May you always be in harmony.” We called back the same to them.

The steep sides of the valley were terraced and planted with walnut and apple trees. As we walked deeper into the valley we came upon a flock of pleasant fat tailed sheep. “May you never be tired,” they called to us. “May you always be in harmony.” We called back the same to them. We came upon a little settlement where shepherds had recently pitched their goatskin tents. A stream ran nearby and there were the cold remains of a little dung fire. Near by there were trellises that bore ripe, full bunches of grapes. There were ancient pomegranate trees, their low branches laden with fruit. There were apricot trees There were wild roses in bloom. We found flat wheat bread to eat, left behind by the shepards, drank deeply from the stream, and settled to rest the day there.

The Hoopoe said he would watch for the humans but believed we would be safe until evening. The humans, the Hoopoe believed, had made butter from the milk of their flocks and were off on a journey to trade the butter for hats and shirts and other things they loved. He had seen a small convoy of sheepherders carrying large tubs of butter on one of his fly overs. By their clothing, he imagined that they came from this valley whose customs he knew. He lighted briefly amidst them and listened to them talk as they put down their heavy panniers and rested for a moment. The Hoopoe was convinced that these were their tents. I wandered near the stream with this good news and fell asleep under a willow tree. I had never felt so peaceful, so blessed, and so refreshed.

At dusk, the Hoopoe bid us wake, drink, breakfast, and commence our journey. We were headed toward the mountains now, there was no mistake.

The sun went behind the distant hills and we noticed that the air here was considerably cooler than the desert air. Though we were well rested and amply fed, we all shivered. But it was more than the chill that made us shiver. We could hear wolves in the distance. As we walked we gained elevation and the sound of the wolves seemed closer. Wild pigs roamed this territory, as well. I did not fancy a meeting one of those on a dark night.

I had been trekking along on my own feet since before the river crossing. But now, I jumped upon Jamilah’s back and stood there on the saddle so I could watch the path ahead. The donkey, as was her custom, was some distance ahead. She, too, seemed more cautious than usual. Jamilah had an idea. Rather than imagining that we could make ourselves invisible to the wolves, she suggested that we make ourselves seem to be many more than we were.

“Let us sing and talk loudly with different voices as we jog along,” she said. “Let us be noisy and obnoxious. Let us exaggerate our presence.” No wolf would be so foolish as to strike an entire caravan of fools.”

And so we did begin to sing and talk and shout and laugh out loud. Jamilah took up a rapid gait so that her bells chattered ceaselessly.

The donkey brayed and bellowed. I snapped, growled, howled, and barked in turn. We created a cacophony of sound that flushed partridges and terrified snow cocks.

Soon we were far out of the valley. The moon was high again in the sky and we could see above and not so far beyond us the ice and snow on the Hindu Kush peaks..

Much to our alarm, the Hoopoe, who had been flying ahead of us, set a course that seemed to take us straight up into the mountains. We began to scramble over the scree on the lower slopes in order to keep the bird in sight. The moonlight, unobscured by clouds tonight, made our long shadows bounce about over the uneven rocks. Sometimes, we could not tell if these were our shadows, or the shadows of some other creatures tracking us.

As the camel, with me on top, stepped gingerly along a narrow path on a ledge, she stopped abruptly. The donkey ahead of us was standing stock-still. Her ears were laid flat back against her head. Her knees trembled. She said nothing. The camel, being taller, and I, being on her humps, could look over the frightened donkey’s head. There on the path facing the donkey was a gigantic goat like creature. It surely was a large male goat but its horns, at least a yard in length, were enormous ridged things that curved up and over his back. The hair on his body was patchy, worn to the skin here and there, as if the goat had traveled through thickets of briars and rubbed against rough boulders on his journey. His eyes were tired and sad though he attempted to look fierce and strong. The camel, who was far more traveled and worldly than the rest of us announced, “It is an ibex.” She then called out to the ibex in its own language. “May you never be tired,” Jamilah bellowed, “May you always be in harmony.”

The ibex suddenly jumped up through a rough and narrow break in the higher rock. It balanced beautifully on its small hooves and stopped for a moment to tear off a few leaves from one of the few trees that grew on these slopes. Then it looked down at us and began to speak in a language that we could all understand.

The Story of Basil, The Ibex

“I am Basil, the brave. I come from the north, from the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. I lived among my friends and kin. There were usually ten or twelve of us traveling together in the high mountains just at the tree line. The peaks and crags were our refuge. Few could reach us there.

On these mountains, we grazed, lazed about in the sunshine, and gamboled over rocks and through the defiles. There was plenty to eat.

Sometimes a hunter would come from the valley. We understood that the people occasionally needed our meat or hides or desired our hair for their weavings. We had lived with this knowledge for centuries The hunters were few, however, and though we mourned our losses, they were not frequent. And the hunters honored us. We visited their tombs sometimes, stealthily of course. Atop their tombs were mountains of the horns of our own ancestors. Our pilgrimages to the hunters’ tombs were to glorify and show respect for our own dead. We sometimes brought branches or spring flowers to lay there by their beautiful, massive horns. We grieved and remembered. And accepted the way of the world.

One day we saw a giant bird flying over our mountain. Inside the bird were humans. They seemed to be looking at us through glass. We feared them. We ran down the mountain to the woods for cover. The bird flew away. But our refuge seemed less safe to us and we were wary.

One day in our wanderings we noticed, just below us, a group of yurts. These did not seem to be the yurts we were accustomed to seeing. There were no flocks of sheep or goats nearby. We could see smoke coming from the stoves within the yurts. There were other tents, too.They were quite fancy colored tents made of a fabric we did not recognize. As we hid behind large boulders and watched, humans came from within these dwellings. Fires were started without wood and food was prepared as if by magic. Some of the humans did nothing but eat. They were large, light skinned men, dressed in red shirts and vests with many pockets. They wore caps with bills upon their heads. Other humans seemed to be their servants. They were thin and dark men, sturdy mountain men, the men we were accustomed to seeing. These men cooked food and gave it to the burly pale ones. Then we noticed one of the capped ones looking up the mountain through the glass. We ran quickly to a higher place. But even from this distance, we could hear a voice echoing through the canyons: “There they are. There they are. Let’s get going.”

The humans were relentless, then. The big bird seemed to find us wherever we were. The humans carried things we had never seen on the old hunters whom we knew. Things they had made of metal and glass. Things they had that buzzed and beeped. They seemed to send messages to one another. They seemed somehow to know where each other were and where we were.

Finally they came from above us on foot. As we struggled to run, we saw one of them to our left flank and two or three to the right. We could only run down, the most awkward running for us because our front legs are shorter than our rear. One of our number, a young fellow, slipped in his fear. A human raised a rifle to his shoulder and shot him. Our friend had fallen, but the human shot again and the others cheered.

Our friend and our companion lay wounded on the rocks. His life was going from him, and he from us. And as we stopped to mourn, more shots came. One by one my friends fell. The heavy men in boots, the men from some strange place, drew their knives and made for my dying companions. I ran from them. I chose to live. I left my friends. I ran and ran and ran. Over passes, beyond reason, beyond knowing. I am Basil but I am not the brave. I was a coward. I left all whom I loved that day.”

Basil was weeping now. All his magnificence was bowed in the telling of his story. We begged him to come near us and be comforted. Oh, Basil, I thought, how like all of us you are. We carry the sorrows of our losses within us, heavy packs of grief and despair. And always the question, could I have done more?

The goat came down from his perch and rubbed against us. He was so lonely for his little flock. Jamilah was particularly gentle with him. “Like the calluses on my knees, we develop thick protective layers. Much is hidden. We don’t wish to feel so deeply, perhaps. Basil you are our friend now. You may stay with us so long as you wish. We will journey on together with the Hoopoe as our guide.” The donkey nuzzled my own ears as Jamilah embraced us all.

As if on cue, the Hoopoe dove toward us in great spirals from high in the cloudless sky.

“Do not tarry longer. I have surveyed the territory. It is time to move on. You are all ready now. Whoever wishes to explore the Way, let him set out.”

Chapter VI

The Final Push

He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind
And you can never gain the longed for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
will drag you back and plunge you in despair
No creature’s Self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.
The Conference of the Birds
Farid ud-Din Attar

Never let success hide its emptiness from you, achievement its nothingness, toil its desolation. And so keep alive the incentive to push on further, that pain in the soul which drives us beyond ourselves. Whither? That I don’t know. That I don’t ask to know.
Dag Hammarskjold quoted in Thomas Hornbein
Everest: The West Ridge
The Hoopoe set a course.
It was dawn, but the Hoopoe said it was safe now to travel by day.

The climb would be difficult. We could carry no more burdens with us. We were passing into another world now. The jumble of rocks would be left behind us. Ahead were the serác, towers of ice surrounded by frigid crevasses. We could see them glinting in the morning light. There were huge falls, large glacier like deposits broken from high banks of ice and stone. This frozen landscape would be treacherous and unpredictable. Rocks tumbled around us every time the earth groaned or rumbled high ahead of us.

We walked slowly, in a line, up and up. Here we were, four four-footed fools, animals without ropes or ladders, only our hooves and paws to carry us.

Clouds came in during the early afternoon’s climb and these clouds, full of ice particles, made the snow and rock beneath our feet seem to glow a strange pinkish white. As more clouds gathered, it was hard to see far ahead. We were seeing as if through gauze. My whiskers were frozen. Snow clung to my frozen outer coat. But my inner coat was dry and warm. No, our bodies were not so cold. But our eyes stung with the ice and our noses and pads suffered, as much from the sharp granite stones underfoot as from the cold.

We stopped to drink from snow melts in giant granite basins. We rested now and then on these outcroppings, enjoying the occasional sun breaks. Still the bird bid us upward. Our breathing was difficult now. We drew long, raspy breaths through our moist, warm noses instead of our mouths so that the air did not shock our lungs. Finally, the sun began to set behind a distant western slope and the Hoopoe bid us bed down for the night. We had less than two hours before total darkness, a dark we feared even though we knew the moon was still large and would give us some comfort in the night.

We mounded snow in an area that seemed safe. The mound we made was big enough so that we could tunnel out a cave in which we all could sleep. In the cave, we construct a platform of hard snow on which to sleep. We made the platform inside the cave as long as Jamilah, the biggest of us, and built it higher in the back, away from the entrance, so that our heads would rest in the place with the warmest air. We prevailed upon Jamilah to take off her rugs and place them over the entrance of the cave. We took her bells and hung them across the entrance so that we might be on notice if any other creature tried to seek entry.

As we completed the cave and prepared to crawl through the rug opening, we could just see a few stars above us in the deep velvety sky. The clouds had cleared and the air had a crisp, bright quality. It was mesmerizing for we were all short of oxygen and entranced by our day and the adventure. We were hungry, but, oddly, we did not crave food.

As we settled to sleep, I could hear a soft cry from the camel.

Jamilah’s Story

I am Jamilah. My rugs. My bells. Oh my beauty, all gone. I am nothing now but a ragged old camel. The henna on my beard is faded. The kohl on my eyes is washed away. My eyelashes have gone straight. My teeth are yellowed. My pads are cracked. I seem to be in perpetual molt. All I have been has left me. I was a desired camel, a camel to be reckoned with. What am I without my bells and rugs? I thought it was you, dog, and donkey and ibex who had lessons to learn. I was just along for the ride. But now I see what I have to lay aside: youth and vanity. Oh how hard this is. Tomorrow I will stand naked and unadorned. Will you still love me?

Jamilah was a camel who had seen better days and the journey had taken its toll. And what did it matter? Jamilah was not her eyelashes or rugs. Jamilah was a beautiful soul, a generous friend, a camel who would give up her life for any one of us.

And because of her words, we understood the journey. Just as Jamilah must surrender vanity, Basil must give up shame and the need to be brave, Aminah must give up anger and hate, and I must leave behind my pride. All of these burdened us and kept us from knowing truth and our true work.

The next morning we woke rested and exhilarated. It was a beautiful dawn and the sun gave us new energy. In fact Aminah, who feared that we were moving too slowly, charged ahead bellowing and breaking trail. We could not see her or keep pace.

But still we moved steadily. The Hoopoe circled overhead.

Chapter VII

The Summit

You have slept for millions and millions of years.
Why not wake up this morning?
The Kabir Book
Robert Bly

We climbed for another hour or two, but now the way was easy. The world we entered was full of beauty, even more beauty than we had seen before. There were towers of ice and granite all around us. There were waterfalls frozen solid, caught in mid-flow. And now, at this altitude, all was quiet. We were all humbled and silent, overcome with the wonder of this place, this sacred place. The donkey walked slowly. The ibex’ head was bowed. And I felt nothing but absolute serenity. The camel who had feared giving up the mask she wore, was full of joy and moved with a new strength. What were we doing here? Why had we been lead here? We did not come for gold or gems. We’ll find no earthly treasures here. We came, we knew now, to meet ourselves for there as we attained the summit was a giant wall of ice, clear and clean as a mirror. As we came to gaze upon it, we saw reflected images of ourselves. We were ragged and torn, uncombed and unwashed, and bleeding here and there, but free and pure. The journey had brought us to our deepest selves, devoid of all imaginings. The Hoopoe perched atop the wall and called to us.

“The journey is complete. Well done.” he said and flew away.

…the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Journey
Mary Oliver

I do my work now with a new passion. Yes, I found my way home again. Sometimes, when Ayubi and I are out looking for mines, I hear a little whistle from a tree branch or from behind a rock. It is the Hoopoe. She reminds me of our journey. She reminds me of all that I have learned. I stand quietly and listen and remember. Ayubi doesn’t question me. He scratches my ears and whispers so that no one can hear:

“If only dogs could talk! What a story you must have, my boy.”


Thanks to Crystal Ashley for the idea and for reading early drafts; to Mary Oliver for the inspiration of her poem The Journey; to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the transcendentalists at least some of whom believed that a conscious, intuitive being could come to understand all that there is to understand; to Unitarian minister Art Vaeni for his homilies; The Buddha and The Koran; the Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-Din Attar, which provided a model for Babur’s journey and, of course, the fabulous Hoopoe; to Hafiz, Kabir, Joseph Campbell, and Fr. Anthony de Mello. Babur’s journey is inspired by stories from these sources and by spiritual literature from around the world. Thanks to Thomas Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld for their journey to the top of Mt. Everest and Hornbein’s book about it.

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A Hare’s Breath


A hare’s breath or a hair’s breadth?

I’ve come that close to the edge so many times.

I choose the sweet hare’s breath then use her whiskers to measure how nearly I’ve come to missing my appointment with destiny.

In old age, I decide I’ve made it to the end and the right place by a nose.


(Upon mishearing Edna O’Brien this morning on the Diane Rehm Show.)

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Bipedalism is Uncritically Accepted as a Given

Bipedalism is Uncritically Accepted as a Given Among Humans


“Walking assuages or legitimizes…alienation.” Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit         July 32 2014


I did not crawl.

Some say that’s a shame

And did something to the development of my brain.


I struggled gravely,

Against gravity,

To stand on two hind legs.

Alone, I overcame my fear of edges

And countless other obstacles

Then walked across a carpet to my smiling Nan.


This monstrous victory was applauded

And from that I learned

That going against nature

Has its own rewards.


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Katie Gale: The Cover Story for University of Nebraska Blog


The Story of the Cover / Katie Gale

LLyn De Danaan in collaboration with Justine E. James, Jr.

At a recent Pacific Northwest history conference in Vancouver, Washington, I was given a small display table in the sales room so that I might attract and talk with attendees about my book, “Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay”. The focal point of my modest exhibit was an 11 x 17 laminated poster of the book’s cover. I’d just finished standing the poster on its easel when I saw an old acquaintance across the room. He had me in his sight and was making his way across the room. He had a rather coy grin on his face. Everything about that smile and his eyes signaled that there was something he knew that I didn’t. It was Justine James, Jr., a cultural resource specialist with the Quinault Indian Nation and someone whose personal cultural roots within the coastal nations are deep. James pointed at the cover photograph on the book poster, a float house on a body of a water with mist banded highlands behind. The photograph is stunning, made by a once well-known Seattle photographer Kyo Koike. Koike was a founder of the Seattle Camera Club, a group of Japanese-American pictorialists in the 1920s. Their work was shown around the world and widely published but their reputations diminished with anti-Japanese feelings during WWII. Koike was incarcerated at the Manzanar facility in California. His health apparently failed while there, though he was busy writing poetry and encouraging others to do the same throughout those harsh years. He died in 1948. There are others whose names are more commonly known as regional photographers from the early 20th century (such as Ashael Curtis and Imogen Cunningham) but Koike was right up there with them and held in high esteem. His work is exquisite. From the notes in University of Washington Special Collections archives, I knew the year the cover photograph was made but there was nothing to confirm location. I sent the photograph to the University of Nebraska Press with others I thought important to my book because it was the best, most detailed photograph of a float house I had found. Though the image was made in the 1920s and the principle stories of my book are set before 1900, I knew enough about float houses to surmise that this one was built and lived in within the right time frame. The designers at University of Nebraska selected this beautiful photograph, originally spotted, serendipitously, in a University of Washington alumni magazine by my friend Connie Ruhl, as the cover for my book. The image, they thought and I agreed, would draw a potential reader’s attention and evoke a certain mystery. There was no doubting that.

James pointed at the photograph and said, “How’d you pick that photograph?” I knew he had a story to tell. He smiled again. Then he sat beside me. And I waited. I was almost as excited as when I first saw Katie Gale’s tombstone, a life changing moment described in the first chapter of my book. “That’s my great great grandmother’s house,” he said. She was known as Sally Freeman though her full name was Sarah Shileba-Legg.

James’ story of Sally Freeman, while wonderful family history, is one that that exemplifies the dynamic relationship between and among coastal people and the United States Government. It is also a story of a burgeoning tourist industry that brought people to enjoy the wild Olympics, fish with Quinault guides, buy Indian baskets, and even enjoy the spectacle of story and performance provided by the Quinault people, including Justine James’ forbears, within the cavernous lobby of the splendid Lake Quinault Lodge. Indeed, James’ father and father’s siblings sang, danced and drummed for the Lake Quinault Lodge guests and were paid with what money was tossed into a blanket at the end of their display. James’ father said that Sally Freeman, James’ great great grandmother, the woman who lived in the float house, often sat in the lodge weaving baskets and talking with tourists. Sally Freeman was well known in the area during her lifetime. In fact, she helped to dedicate a new Lake Quinault Lodge in 1926 (built after a fire destroyed the first one), James recalls. Her photograph, with the note that she “blessed” the lodge, appears in “A History of Lake Quinault Lodge” by R.H. Jones. Jones, as well as family members, recall that the wife of the owner of the lodge and Sally were good friends.

One of the few known photographs of Sally Freeman was featured on a 1937 Lake Quinault Lodge Christmas card.


The float house, “constructed entirely of cedar shingles and boards,” James says, was built before or around 1890, most likely on the Gatton Creek Cove site, near the mouth of Gatton Creek. Gatton Creek is a stream that drains into Lake Quinault on its south side. The James family have occupied and used that site for many generations. Lake Quinault covers an area of nearly six square miles and is 3.79 mile long. It is located in the Quinault Valley and is the property of the Quinault Indian Nation. The Quinault River Treaty was signed in 1855 and was one of territorial governor Isaac Stevens’ treaties that sought to consolidate many tribes or bands on reservations. Quinault and others who were assigned to the Quinault Reservation on the coast continued to pole their canoes, as they always had, up the Quinault River to reach the lake to fish. They often used the lake as a stopping off place and seasonal “base camp” on their way further into the mountains to gather berries or hunt or obtain basket-making materials. The majority of the seasonal camps were at the outlets of streams on the south shore of the lake, according to James’ father, Justine James, Sr. Other camps were at the mouths of the upper Quinault River and the lower Quinault River. The “north shore was very turbulent,” James, Sr. says, “so the only occupied area was near what is now (called) July Creek.” From these camps, groups ascended to high country for elk and deer, berries and spirit quests. Others would stay in the lower regions to gather bark, bear grass and edible roots. “They returned to the Lake Quinault base camps around September to harvest the ‘Blueback,’ (Sockeye) the most prized of salmon.” The lake lies within the Olympic rainforest. The surrounding forests can receive up to 130 inches of rain a year. The original forest was dense with Douglas fir, western red cedar, pacific silver fir, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. The lush undergrowth includes ferns, salmonberry, thimbleberry and many other useful and beautiful native species. The glacier fed Quinault River still hosts steelhead, cutthroat, coho, and Chinook as well as sockeye. These fisheries are managed and regulated by the tribe in an increasingly fragile environment that includes receding glaciers. The Quinault are investing heavily to save the runs and protect the habitat on the Upper Quinault.

This attractive area didn’t stay isolated from white settlement and development for long after the treaty was signed and the reservation was established.

By the 1890s, the peninsula and the rain forest area were the site of many land claims. A lake front store was opened in 1891. Lake Quinault was soon a destination point for tourists. Amenities were offered in a well-publicized log hotel. After a fire in 1924, a new and grander hotel was built and is still in business.


Jake Freeman, of Chinook, Hawaiian, and African American came to Taholah around 1905 where he was eligible for an allotment on the Quinault Reservation through his mother. Little is known about his Hawaiian and African American ancestors but the name “Freeman” suggests that his family were former slaves. James says that Jake’s mother was Chinook and that Jake was apparently a fisherman and handyman who found good work around Taholah, the Quinault coastal village, and Lake Quinault. He married Sally, James’ great great grandmother in about 1910. “In the early days,” James says, “the occupants of the houseboat were Sally’s immediate family; then later, after grandfather David’s parents passed way (he was orphaned by the age of five) he moved in with grandmother Sally. “ Grandmother Clara Bremner (from the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana) joined David and they and their four children lived with Sally. Justine James’ father was the youngest. After his grandfather David divorced, he remarried and “brought two more boys” into the household. James’ dad and his brother Shillup stayed on the float house but their sisters went back to Montana with their mother. Three more daughters came along following David’s second marriage.


Jake Freeman was apparently Sally’s third husband. She was the daughter of John Shul—whul according to James and based on Quinault allotment files. She was born around 1865.[1] Her first husband was Charles James and the second was Charles Mason, known as Chief Taholah II and Captain Mason. She was known as a basket maker. The recent book, “From the Hands of a Weaver”[2], notes that her daughter Maggie Kelly, born in 1886 and also a noted basket maker learned by watching her mother, Sally, and her grandmother Sally Chepalis.

Living on the lake, Sally Freeman would have had ready access to many of the materials she needed for her work and a place to process and dry these. Of course, as James’ father says, “Indians were travelers.” They traveled to acquire resources all throughout the Pacific Northwest. For example, James says, the Quinault River did not have a spring salmon run, so groups went to the Columbia River for to fish.

Sally Freeman was trained in the old ways, James says, and would swim across the lake in the mornings, winter and summer. That was a one to one and a half mile swim from Gatton Cove to Bergman’s Resort, now The Rainforest Resort. Each year, she poled her way up the river from Taholah to reach the lake and her float house. That was likely a two-day trip. Sally Freeman was clearly a strong and capable woman with many talents. Perhaps very like Katie Gale herself.


The day we visit Gatton Cove to see the site from which the cover photograph was taken, the lake is calm, the water is low, and we can see the forests and snow packed mountains that rise from the river valley across the lake to the east. These cannot be seen in Roiko’s photograph for the mist that often lies low on the hills. Up on the bank behind us is the house that still stands on the property. David E. C. James, Justine James’ grandfather, built a “new house on land” in the mid-1940s after Sally Freeman had passed. The new house was placed, “on pilings 6 feet in the air.” But even then, it “flooded during high flow events.” A warm day can create a massive melt and that plus heavy rain sends water rushing down the river from the mountains and the lake rises almost to the road above the house. James was told that his grandfather had a rope and pulley system to raise the furniture when the water came above the six foot level and others recall seeing James’ grandfather “loading furniture in his canoe” to save it.

Justine James’ father built the cabin that stands on land today. It is high above the ground on 10-foot pilings and even so, the house occasionally floods. “He placed his electrical outlets four feet off the floor.” He worked on this new cabin from about the mid 1960s until the early 1970s. It is still used. Justine James calls the house HOS, “house on stilts.”

Because the house is within the ordinary high water mark, it is considered to be the property of the Quinault Indian Nation as is the lake itself. When the reservation was established, James notes, “tribal members were not allowed to inhabit the shorelines on a full time basis,” thus the float house. But the James family, “constantly reminds the Olympic National Forest of the James family’s long-term occupation of the Gatton Creek area and of the Quinault treaty.” The current cabin stands well below the ordinary high water mark and, in any case, the treaty establishes tribal rights to use traditional areas and it clearly “predates the formation” of Washington State and the National Forest Service.

There is still a Native American presence in the Lake Quinault Lodge during the summer months. Well-known Quinault storyteller Harvest Moon tends the Gatton Creek property and works at the Lodge to keep history alive in lively performances and reenactments.

In the little museum at Lake Quinault I saw one of only a few photographs I’ve found of Sally Freeman. Dell Mulkey, a local Grey’s Harbor photographer, made these images in the 1930s. One of these can be seen framed placed above a basketry display.   Two of Justine James’ father’s racing canoes are in the museum too. We admire them and learn about how they were altered and reworked, sometimes not so successfully, for racing. There is a photograph of James’ smiling father on a shelf beside them. After a while, Justine shows me a topographic map of the Olympic Peninsula and uses his finger tip to trace the route his ancestors would have taken up through the river valley, through the Olympic Mountains, all the way to Klallam Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to visit relatives and friends.


The next day out, my companion on the trip and I drive into the valley along the Quinault River, just a few miles of what that journey to Klallam Bay would have entailed. We marvel at the majesty of the river as it rushes over shelves of rock, large reefs of stony rubble, and fallen logs that nearly jam it but don’t. An immature eagle soars to a perch above us and turns its profile to us, one a Barrymore would be pleased to have. It is still and silent as it considers its domain. Massive old growth trees, some breathtaking in their girth, rise above us on either side of the roadway. Cascades of water fall in sun struck cataracts down rock and moss walls just behind a wall of bright green ferns. Light barely breaks through the thick canopy the trees weave overhead. The lush underbrush of salal is dappled by it. We think about the complicated thicket of history that’s made this area what it is. It would be almost impossible to traverse without the proper knowledge, tools, and time to understand. The lake, the lodge, the Quinault people, the white settlers, and the tourists have walked a tangled past over these years. Sally Freeman is a legendary part of that past and she is present in the lives of her descendents and to others who take the time to listen.







[1] Credit the book here

[2] Credit to the book here for date of birth



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Katie Gale: The Back Story for University of Nebraska Blog

Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay

The Back Story


The publication of Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay is the happy product of many years of work. Katie Gale’s story started in the mid 19th century. My path to her began in the early 1970s when I was searching for a house and a little land. I didn’t want anything fancy. I wanted a basic structure, one I could live in while making improvements. It had to have a well and power. That would save me money and inconvenience and I could get right on fixing the place up. Of course, it had to have a road. I didn’t care about waterfront or a view. I had a partner then who had built a house in the New Hampshire woods. We believed we could tackle the humblest little dwelling and the most rugged of circumstances.   My real estate agent was a soft-spoken elegant woman with a slight German accent that attested to her origins. She wore her blond hair in a sophisticated French twist, walked like chilled champagne, and drove a bright yellow Cadillac in which she transported clients for a look at her listings. I had Janis Joplin hair, wore jeans and safari boots, and had a faculty position at a brand new, controversial local college. I had managed to buy a house in Olympia with most of the first year of my salary. It was an okay house, but my new friend wanted to live in the woods. She had already jumped her first local ship for a loft in a barn out the rural Steamboat Island Road. I thought, having no particular ties and being ready for adventure, why not make a move? I called the real estate agent and we began the search. When we drove to the house I ultimately purchased, the lovely, classy blond behind the wheel was nervously apologetic. This property was not something she would normally show or be caught dead in. The main structure was all but smothered by locust trees, Douglas firs, and Himalaya blackberry vines. Indeed, there was no hint of a view or Puget Sound, much less Mt. Rainier. All these yet-to-be-discovered perks of the place were well hidden and not even known to my agent. Several goats were dancing around in a barely fenced bit of land next to a large but shabby shed build on a framework of logs. There was nothing but mud between the shed and the house. The house itself was a simple 30’ by 30’square. It was heated by an oil stove the misuse of which had stained the ceiling over it badly. But that was of no concern because all the other ceilings and walls were covered with moss– or was it mildew? The bathtub was settled into the sagging, termite-infested floor by several inches. In my enthusiasm, I declared the house “perfect.” And it was. During the next couple of weeks, another friend bought the defunct oyster company digs below my place. The company extends out over the water and adjoins the beach that I was soon surprised to discover was “mine.” Bleached oyster shells were everywhere. But then, we knew nothing about what that meant for the history of our new homes. After my house and the company were secured another friend approached the people who lived in the small cabin next to mine. Though the place had not been for sale, the couple had decided just that week to divorce and would my friend like to buy? Both of these friends are still in residence. Something, some great luck, some brilliant understanding of what our lives could be brought us to Oyster Bay and we stayed.

We moved in and the work began. First, my housemate pal, the one with the experience in building took a sledgehammer to a kitchen wall. We were lucky enough not to have the ceiling fall on us. Though her method may not have been elegant, the result was a vastly more expansive room. I began to see possibilities. I rushed to buy chickens and geese and ducks and rabbits. (The goats had not been permitted to stay.) About this time my parents came to visit. After a first look, my mother took to her bed. My father declaimed in my favor. He prophesied that the house and property would eventually be a “showplace.” Even I wouldn’t go that far. Over the years somethings didn’t fulfill the bright promise of those first days. The house got some attention every year, was changed out when I had money or when someone else joined me on the Bay. My professional work and interests changed. I had devoted my early years as an …rr..

In those days, the cultural resource and law offices were housed in the old Cushman Indian Hospital on the Puyallup Reservation in Tacoma.[1] The hospital building, a former federal Indian hospital and site of enormous pain and suffering for many years, was crumbling and the surrounds so hazardous that chain link fencing was erected around the perimeter to contain the falling bricks. The old edifice’s failing elevator stuck between floors. I hollered for Judy when it faltered and I was trapped. We powered our coffee pots, computers and lamps by snaking long extension cords up and down the hallways. The whole enterprise was a challenge and an initiation into my new life.

I was poised, then, to “meet” Katie Gale. I lived on Oyster Bay and I had my teachers. When I first saw Katie Gale’s tombstone, just down the road from my home, I was ready to tell her story and begin the real work.

[1] The Cushman Hospital was taken over by activists   and claimed for the Puyallup Tribe in 1976. Ramona Bennett led the takeover.

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Salmon and Puget Sound Tribes

I was hired to do a part of a NEPA report several years ago. I worked with Karen James and Barbara Lane. I was responsible for the bulk of the writing. This report seems not to be available anywhere else, so I am putting it on my blog for future reference.  I don’t believe this was ever published, at least not in this form. It was used, in part, as a section of a more extensive report.


Table of Contents

Table of Contents i


Definition of Terms 2

Tribes 3

Method 4

The Ethnographic Record 4

Post Treaty Period Fishing 7

Obstacles to Fishing Pre-U.S. v Washington 7

Indian People: Resistance and Resiliency 8

1930s-1960s 8

1960s and 1970s 9

1974 and Later: Co-Management and the Centrality of Salmon to the Culture 9

Summary 9


Species and Differences 10


Fishing Areas

Gear 12


The First Salmon Ceremony and the Cultural Foundation of Contemporary Management Practices 12

Tribes and Relationship to Salmon: Responsibility and Stewardship 13

Summary 14


Introduction 15

Personal and Family Consumption 16

Distribution and Sharing Within and Between Tribes 16

Informal Interpersonal Distribution and Sharing 16

Formal Community Distribution and Sharing 17

Ceremonial Uses 18













The seventeen Indian tribes located on or near the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound, all have adjudicated fishing rights. Salmon is a key resource for each of these tribes. Their right to fish salmon is guaranteed by 1854-1855 treaties (Treaty of Medicine Creek [December 26, 1854] 10 Stat. 1132, Treaty of Point Elliott [January 22, 1855] 12 Stat. 927, Treaty of Point No Point [January 25, 1855] 12 Stat. 933, Treaty of Neah Bay [January 31, 1855] 12 Stat. 939). Their rights to fish were reaffirmed in 1974 U.S. v. Washington, Civ. No. C70-9213 (W.D. Wash.). They were further affirmed in 1978 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in 1979 by the United States Supreme Court,[i]and in subsequent court proceedings.


Salmon is regularly eaten by individuals and families, and served at gatherings of elders and to guests at feasts and traditional dinners. Salmon is treated ceremoniously by Indians throughout the region today as it has been for centuries. Salmon is of nutritional, cultural, and economic importance to tribes. To Indians of this region, salmon is a core symbol of tribal identity, individual identity, and the ability of Indian cultures to endure. It is a constant reminder to tribal members of their obligation as environmental stewards. Traditional Indian concepts stress the relatedness and interdependence of all beings including humans in the region. Thus the survival and well-being of salmon is seen as inextricably linked to the survival and well being of Indian people and the cultures of the tribes. Indeed, many Indian people share traditional stories that explain the relationship between mountains, the origins of rivers, and the origins of salmon that inhabit the rivers (Ballard 1929, page 90).[ii] In traditional stories, even the humblest of creatures play important roles in sustaining life and balance in the ecological niche that has supplied food for Indian people for generations (Ballard 1927, page 81).[iii] Stories recount the values Indian people place on supporting healthy, welcoming rivers and good salmon runs. Salmon is also a symbol used in art and other representations of tribal identity. Salmon is ubiquitous in Indian culture in the region. Its significance to the health of the tribes and that of individual members cannot be overstated. To Indian people of the region, the absence of salmon is unthinkable because it is central to their cultural identity.


The seventeen tribes discussed here are Makah, Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, Squaxin Island, Nisqually, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Tulalip, Stillaguamish, Sauk-Suiattle, Swinomish, Upper Skagit, Nooksack, and Lummi.


Definition of Terms


Salmon is used to refer to all of the six species of Oncorhynchus found in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound. All these species are fished for by the tribes. The term salmon includes steelhead, formerly classified by biologists as Salmo gairdneri. Steelhead, along with other salmon species, has always been treated as an important food by regional tribes. Most, if not all, of the tribes in the study area have a general word that encompasses all salmon and steelhead, though each species also has an individual name (see, for example, Hess 1976; Bates 1994; Gibbs [1877], 1970). In practice, all of these salmon have been fished and consumed by Indians throughout the area.


The word sustainable, or sustaining, as we use it, refers to the way that indigenous people use resources to meet their present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This use is consistent with that employed by tribal members with whom we conferred. Many Indian people speak of current environmental concerns regarding salmon in the context of their concern for children and grandchildren.


We use the words “traditional” or “traditionally” frequently in this document. We most often use these words to refer to continuity between the past and the present in terms of Indian perception and use of salmon as well as Indian ideas about allocation and management. Many attitudes and beliefs as well as practices that involve salmon are based upon ancient teachings. These teachings, beliefs, and attitudes underlie current practices even if it is not readily apparent. Traditional, in our use of the term, does not imply unchanging. Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound indigenous people have made enormous adaptations to their changing circumstances over the past 150 years. Old teachings are repeated and revered by many and are called upon for assistance and guidance today. We also occasionally use “traditional” to refer to the ethnographic description of practices and beliefs of the region’s indigenous people at the time the United States government made treaties with western Washington Indian tribes.


We use the term subsistence in the anthropological sense. In part, subsistence refers to the ways in which indigenous people utilize the environment and resources provided by it in order to survive; that is, to meet nutritional needs of the members of the society. The interplay of resources, technology and work created a unique economy in which Indian people of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, and North and South Puget Sound thrived. Work, distribution, and consumption strategies were developed in the context of values that included reciprocity and high regard for the resources themselves. Salmon species provided a major part of the region’s subsistence resource. George Gibbs, the lawyer/ethnologist who helped to draft and negotiate the Indian treaties in western Washington, wrote that “the great staple food” of the region was salmon and noted the extraordinary quantities available in Puget Sound and elsewhere in the region. “Salmon,” he said, “form the most important staple of subsistence”(Gibbs [1856] 1877).[iv]




In the mid-nineteenth century, at the time of the 1850s treaties, Indian tribes occupied river drainages and marine areas throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound. Tribal members fished in the lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, bays, inlets, and open waters in the region. Salmon returned to and were taken from any stream that was not otherwise impassable for the fish. For example, some high falls would not allow fish to travel further upriver. Occasionally landslides or other natural damming may have inhibited a run. But in general, where there were fish, there were Indian people fishing. Anthropologist Marian Smith, who worked with the Puyallup and Nisqually people, wrote that, “Fishing was the most constant occupation and whatever a man’s economic specialty, it did not greatly interfere with the fishing routine” (Smith 1940, page 253). Reservations established by the treaties were located on or near these drainage systems or marine areas because the framers of the treaties recognized the importance of the fisheries.[v] The treaties acknowledged that tribes reserved their right to continue to fish; access to traditional fishing grounds was guaranteed by the treaties.




During December 2002 and January 2003 we conferred by telephone with some members and staff of all tribes in the study area. We held in-person interviews with some staff and members of all but two tribes in the study area. Tribal members with whom we conferred include elders, cultural and historical resource officers, museum directors, and fishery managers. We also reviewed tribal publications, regional publications that have commented on tribes and issues regarding salmon, and the ethnographic record for the region.


The Ethnographic Record


The ethnographic record is unequivocal: all tribes share a long tradition of fishing. The cultures and societies of Indian people in the region at treaty time were well adapted to the riverine and marine environments of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound. Indian people developed economies based primarily on anadromous fish. These cultures and economies developed subsequent to the stabilization of shorelines in the region, that is, around 5000 years ago. After that time, the conditions of water in the rivers and streams could support the returning fish populations. The abundance and predictability of the fish supported permanent human settlement along these rivers and streams as well as along the saltwater shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound.


Some archaeological surveys have been conducted in the region. Data from these sites by no means provides a comprehensive view of ancient fishing practices. Geological research demonstrates significant alterations in elevations and land deformations in parts of Puget Sound associated with a major earthquake approximately 1100 years ago. Older sites may have been submerged at this time. The few sites that have been systematically excavated and analyzed demonstrate a long tradition of fishing. These are dated to at least 1000 years before the present, the time of the alteration in water levels (Stein 2000; Croes 1996). Some indicate occupation up to and through treaty time (Stein 2003).


Fisheries, for the most part salmon fisheries, were the defining feature of the cultures and economies of indigenous people of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, and North and South Puget Sound in late eighteenth century descriptions of the area. The entire region was characterized by its dependence upon seafood (Gunther 1950, pages 190-191). In anthropological terms, the relationship to salmon among indigenous people formed a “culture core.” Salmon were the focus of economic activities, technological development, and ideologies. The interface of these supported the invention and application of highly successful harvesting, processing, and storage techniques. The Indian people of this region acquired finely tuned local knowledge regarding salmon resources; and developed sustainable methods of harvesting catches.


Salmon were taken using a variety of techniques, including, for example, trolling, spearing, gaffing, and taking fish in nets. Gear included several kinds of weirs, traps, dip nets, gill nets, seines, and, in certain localities, reef nets. Technologies were developed for particular circumstances, locations, and species. Harvesting technologies were extremely successful. Efficient taking techniques made it possible to harvest large numbers of fish as they ascended the rivers. These techniques were designed to allow selectivity in harvest, shaping of runs, and adequate escapement to the spawning grounds. Weirs that spanned streams and rivers had the capability to block a run of salmon. They did not because these weirs were managed so as to allow fish to pass. William Elmendorf, an anthropologist, produced an ethnographic monograph describing the Twana (Skokomish) people of Hood Canal based upon his field work in the 1930s and 1940s. He wrote that, “Ordinarily one or more lattice sections were removed for a time each day or at night except during dip-net operations, to allow some fish to proceed to the spawning grounds or to weirs farther upstream. The Twana people believed that the ‘salmon people’ would be angered if this was not done, and would refuse to return for the next year’s run.” (Elmendorf [1960] 1992, page 65-66)[vi] Arthur Ballard, whose observations of South Sound Indian peoples were made at the end of the nineteenth and during the early twentieth century also discussed the practice of opening weirs (Ballard 1957, page 44). Escapement allowed sufficient fish to continue upstream to spawn. Escapement also allowed sufficient fish for Indian people fishing further upriver. Fisheries were managed with an eye to sustainability and runs were interrupted only by unanticipated natural events such as climatic or geologic incidents or, later, by impediments made by non-Indians including dams and water diversions.
Winter village sites were established along drainage systems of salmon rivers and streams. Indigenous peoples’ economic lives were organized around the seasonal runs of fish in these streams. The abundance of these fish, along with the technologies developed to harvest, process, and store the fish, sustained families and communities year round. Salmon were eaten fresh, were cured in a variety of ways, and were stored to be consumed later or traded. Trade and commerce in fish among Indian people in western Washington and with tribal people beyond this region were extensive. Curing methods assured that harvest could be kept over an extended time for later consumption and for inter-tribal commerce.




Post Treaty Period Fishing


Obstacles to Fishing Pre-U.S. v Washington


Tribal fisheries in Washington were faced with many obstacles during the decades following statehood in 1889. These included state fishing regulations, dams, diversions of rivers, development and urbanization, and pollution.


In the early years following statehood, fishing continued to be a primary subsistence activity for Indian people. Indian fishermen were a common sight in and around the region. Photographs from this period show western Washington Indians fishing or processing fish. Some of these photographs have been identified by archivists as Puget Sound Indian men fishing at weirs (1890-1895), Makah women drying fish on racks (1900), Snohomish people at Tulalip processing salmon (1907), and Lummi men trolling for salmon (1900) (American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Digital Collection). By the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, Indian rights to fish off-reservation had been undermined repeatedly by the state. Indian people were often arrested for “unlawful fishing” by state game wardens.[vii]


Fishing regulations passed by the state prohibited use of traditional Indian fishing gear such as weirs and traps. Indians were not allowed to fish in usual and accustomed places and were often challenged by enforcement officers. Treaties were invoked by tribal members who asserted their right to fish. Dams, lacking fish passage facilities, were constructed in the years just prior to World War I. Urban populations grew, non-Indian fishing proliferated, and development destroyed prime salmon habitat. Fish runs were clearly threatened. Tribal members predicted serious environmental consequences for fish habitat. They also saw that the decline in fish habitat and runs threatened Indian livelihoods and indigenous cultures. Tribes struggled to retain their access to salmon and their rights to harvest salmon.


Indian People: Resistance and Resiliency




In the mid-twentieth century, with increasing state regulation of fishing, salmon became less available and harder for Indian people to fish for in their traditional places, or with their traditional gear. The salmon retained their symbolic and nutritional significance to Indian people. Fishing itself retained its value and importance as a focus for cultural teaching, learning, and activity. Tribal people found ways to fish and continued to value and consume fish whenever they were available. Countless stories circulate about fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, and aunts and uncles who, in order to obtain traditional foods from traditional locations, defied state laws that ignored treaty rights guaranteed by the federal government. Indian people risked grievous consequences yet continued to fish in order to put food on the table and affirm their core cultural identity and treaty guaranteed right to fish. Many tribal members regularly recount stories of fathers and uncles who fished under cover of darkness or grandmothers who confronted game wardens. Indian people went to jail and to court in the 1930s to assert their treaty rights.


In spite of the harassment, during the depression in the 1930s many Indian people fished and ate salmon year round. Some Indian people report that because Indians were part of a fishing culture, they fared better through this period than some of their non-Indian neighbors. Indian people continued fishing in the 1940s. Adults born and reared during this period remember being taught how to fish by elders. Some elders were still making nets and fish spears and passing the knowledge on to the youth. Indian people continued to cure and smoke fish and eat fish year round. Youth were expected to help in all chores connected with curing fish, including helping to hang the fish in the smokehouse and keeping the fires stoked in the smokehouse. Young people were taught to maneuver canoes in the rivers and witnessed and participated in the expression of tribal values such as the distribution of catches to elders and other family members.


1960s and 1970s


Even more stories of courage are told about those who participated in “fish-ins” in the 1960s and 1970s and were beaten or jailed for their actions in asserting treaty rights. Local knowledge of streams and fishing technologies were retained and passed on to young people all through these troubled times. Traditional methods of welcoming salmon continued throughout the period, though less publicly than now. Ceremonies were observed by families rather than by the community at large. The struggle in some ways reinforced the value of the fish to the people and their cultures. The oral and written histories of tribes have incorporated the story of the struggle for treaty-protected fishing rights (Isely 1970, Deloria 1977, Wilkinson 2000, Wray 2002).


1974 and Later: Co-Management and the Centrality of Salmon to the Culture


The 1974 decision by Judge Boldt in U.S. v. Washington litigation affirmed tribal treaty rights to fish. It mandated that the state share management of fisheries with Indians throughout the case area. Tribes adopted new technologies. Tribal people of the area engage in ancient fisheries with up-to-date equipment, such as modern boats (just as non-Indian fishermen do not use 1850s era fishing gear). The Indian fisheries continue to be informed by generations-old social and cultural traditions. No culture stands still. Technologies are always changing, being modified, reinvented, or refined. Core values, beliefs, and traditions and their practice in daily life, that is, the non-material components of culture, sustain community and relationships despite these material changes.




In brief, salmon fishing has been a focus for the economies, cultures, lifestyles, and identities of Puget Sound tribes for more than 1000 years. These fisheries continued without interruption during most of the nineteenth century, barring natural disasters such as floods, droughts, or landslides. Significant interference with Indian fisheries began after statehood in 1889 with the introduction of state fishing regulations, development of large urban areas, suburban areas and farms, the construction of dams, and the destruction of fish habitat. Indian people in the region continued to fish but were faced with many obstacles, including the depletion of resource as a consequence of development. Tribal fishermen continued to assert their treaty-protected rights, sometimes at considerable risk to themselves. The Boldt decision in U.S. v. Washington, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court affirmed those rights and ushered in a new era for Indian fisheries.




Species and Differences


Six species of salmon have been fished and continue to be fished by Indians in Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the Strait. They are:

Sockeye or blueback salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

Chinook (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha)

Coho or silver (Oncorhynchus kisutch)

Chum (Oncorhynchus keta)

Pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)


Species vary as to nutritional value, including fat content. Many Indian people express preferences regarding the desirability of certain species for consumption. Some species are appreciated as good smoking fish. For example, chum is a leaner fish that can be smoked and kept for a year or more. Smoked “Nisqually chum,” is relished as a special treat even by those who live outside the Nisqually area. Coho are said to have similar qualities to chum for drying. Indian people look forward to the first spring chinook for fresh eating. Spring chinook is cured with a special soft smoke. Some Indian people say that salmon caught in salt water has a different flavor than that caught in fresh water and that flavor differences vary even by the part of the river from which the salmon is taken. Some fish of the same species are thought to be better (fatter and tastier for example) in some rivers than in others.


All species do not enter each river. All species are available in the open waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, and Puget Sound. It is likely that there was year round availability in these open marine waters in the past. Wild salmon are more viable and there is more variability in their behavior and habits.


Depending upon availability, all of these salmon species are harvested today by tribes. Some are taken more generally for commercial purposes and others, depending upon individual and tribal preferences, for ceremonial and personal or family consumption


Fishing Areas


The boundaries of traditional fisheries were fluid rather than confining during and before treaty time. Indigenous people in the area traveled seasonally and often shared or traded resources and engaged in commerce outside of their winter village territories. Fishing areas for individual tribes today are not as fluid. Tribes generally fish within defined management areas. These areas have been allocated and established in accord with Facts and Findings U.S. v. Washington in 1974 and in subsequent court rulings. Some tribes take fish almost exclusively from marine areas, some almost exclusively from fresh water, while others participate in both marine and river fisheries.



Gear used in contemporary fisheries include: set gillnets, drift gillnets, purse seine, trap, hook and line, dip nets, trolling gear, and beach seine.




“We’re salmon people and the Northwest is salmon. We still have hope.” Billy Frank (Clausen 2000)

The First Salmon Ceremony and the Cultural Foundation of Contemporary Management Practices


Traditionally, Indians throughout the region have treated salmon ceremoniously (Gunther 1926; Gunther 1928). These ceremonies, based on ancient teachings and practices, continue today and underscore the need to welcome the fish by providing a clean place to which the salmon will want to return. According to Indian teachings the fish come to feed the Indian people but they will not come back if the environment is not suitably maintained or salmon are not treated properly. Elmendorf is specific about this requirement: “Most ritually determined acts with reference to river fishing had to do with the salmon run and were directed toward insuring its continuance. The river had to be kept clean before salmon started running. HA (informant) defined the period as starting in early August (for the Skokomish), before the first king salmon came. From this time no rubbish, food scraps or the like, might be thrown in the river; canoes were not baled out in the river; and no women swam in the river during menstrual seclusion. The object of these precautions was to insure that the salmon would want to come.” (Elmendorf [1960], 1992, page 61) Traditional first salmon ceremonies varied from location to location, depending upon species, time of the run, and cultural differences from tribe to tribe (Gunther 1927, Stern 1934; Smith 1940). Several of the tribes in the study area use the spring salmon (chinook) in their first salmon ceremony.


These ceremonies are, once again, public in many communities, especially since U.S. v. Washington and the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. The ceremony reiterates and reinforces the Indian peoples’ special relationship to the salmon and their respect and concern for the well-being of the salmon.


Modern fisheries and fishing practices of tribes are built on long-standing traditional ideas of responsibilities to fish and habitat. These practices and ideals underlie tribal approaches to “micromanagement” of drainage systems and commitment to do what is necessary to sustain runs, including voluntary suspension of fisheries. As one tribal member put it, “the first salmon ceremony contains the elements of fisheries management that we use today.” That is, tribes manage with the assumption that fish need a clean, welcoming environment and a respectful, nurturing approach to maintaining and restoring habitat, especially spawning grounds.


Tribes and Relationship to Salmon: Responsibility and Stewardship


During this post U.S. v. Washington period, tribes have developed fisheries that promote the centrality of fish to the community and the community’s responsibility to the fish. This responsibility is, as articulated by tribal people, based upon traditional teachings. While fishermen are trained in the use of new equipment and safety regulations, the status and role of the fishermen is based upon traditional understandings of the resource and habitat. The fishermen continue to contribute to the health of the tribal members by bringing in food for the tables of the community. A role that had been problematic and hard to fulfill in the years of struggle is once again one of public honor. Tribal hatcheries and stream restoration projects take advantage of new science but are developed in the context of local knowledge and traditional regard for responsible stewardship of the land, the rivers, and the fish runs. Tribes are working in partnerships with local, state, and federal governments, businesses, and farmers to repair degraded habitats and the polluting effects of urbanization and agricultural practices. New processing plants are being developed at the same time as traditional and contemporary preservation methods are taught and passed on to younger tribal members. Fish cured in traditional ways are still a focus of community trade in fish, carrying the added value of history and custom. In many ways, since U.S. v. Washington, because fishing is open and religious practices are protected, fish have become even more central to the tribes’ identities than they were fifty years ago. Fishing is not the under cover of darkness activity that it was by necessity for so many years. But because of the difficulties encountered during those many years, salmon are not just a food or even simply a symbol of a long and proud tradition, but a signal of the struggle that the tribes undertook to assert rights. Many of those who fish today lived that struggle and pass on their commitment to their history and their right to fish to the younger generation (Deloria 1977). In the words of one tribal person, the fish “feed the Indian” not just in body, but in spirit.




The relationship of tribal people to salmon is spiritual, emotional, and cultural as well as economic. Salmon evoke sharing, gifts from nature, responsibility to the resource, and connection to the land and the water. Salmon are strongly associated with the use and knowledge of water, use and knowledge of appropriate harvesting techniques, and knowledge of traditional processing techniques. The struggle to affirm the right to fish has made salmon an even more evocative symbol of tribal identity.






Indian people of the region remember teething on smoked salmon and talk about eating salmon eggs for breakfast, salmon egg soup, or eating the eggs as a snack. Adult fishermen today remember catching fish, sometimes by hand, as children. Youngsters made a fire, and cleaned and cooked the salmon on the river bank as a treat. Those who fish today and carry on the salmon culture were raised in that culture and identify whole periods of their lives in relationship to the salmon. Salmon is not just the primary traditional food but a food that nourishes the spirit, some say. It is served during naming ceremonies, funerals, during one-year memorials after a death, and when students are honored. It is served to guests and during winter ceremonials. It is served to elders for their dinners, and shared or donated widely by fishermen with elders or family members. If a person doesn’t fish him or herself, “all it takes is saying ‘I’m really hungry for fish’ and a salmon appears.” If there is an abundance of fish, they are delivered around the reservation so everyone has a share. Some fishermen are known to fish regularly and to be ready to give some to tribal people who want to smoke fish or have some fresh fish to eat. Though, between tribal people, the exchange of money for fish is not always a concern, some people make a substantial amount of their livelihood by selling smoked salmon to other members of the tribe or to members of other tribes. Some fishermen, hit hard by the low per pound return of commercial fisheries, have turned to “roadside sales” of fresh and smoked salmon to supplement income.


When salmon is available, the word goes out. Salmon is a favored food and, with other indigenous foods, must be present at all traditional ceremonies and functions. Sometimes boats are sent out to take salmon for these special events.


In brief, salmon is more than food; salmon, in these contexts, represents to the Indian all that is his or her history, a spiritual connection to the resource, and responsibility to that resource. No ceremony, no gathering, is complete if salmon is not present.


The sections below comment on some of the many ways salmon is present in the culture of regional tribes. These comments also represent how salmon is present in the lives of many individual tribal members today. Examples here are taken primarily from interviews with tribal members. Examples are also drawn from tribal newsletters and other publications. The ways in which salmon is part of Indian peoples’ lives are as varied as the individual Indian people and Indian cultures of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound. There are some significant commonalities and most items commented upon or enumerated in the lists below express those commonalities.

Personal and Family Consumption/Everyday Eating


Indian people in the study area value and eat salmon whenever it is available. This includes fresh, frozen, vacuum packed, canned, and smoked salmon. Salmon is prepared in many ways. Some Indian people consume nearly every part of the salmon in some form, including eggs, flesh, skin, and bones. Some tribes help individual members with processing and storing salmon for home use. Some tribes have community smokehouses, pressure cookers (for canning), and machines for vacuum packing that tribal members may borrow.


Distribution and Sharing Within and Between Tribes


Informal Interpersonal Distribution and Sharing


There are many informal, everyday ways that salmon are shared and distributed within each tribe and between tribes. For example, some community members are not able to acquire salmon for themselves. Other people fish for them or share fish from their freezers or smokehouses. Sharing and informal distribution of fish help to bind the community in a system of relationships and obligations. Indian people speak of driving around the reservation with salmon and gifting friends and neighbors with the fish. Surplus is distributed or placed in tribal lockers and freezers for future distribution to individuals (or for traditional dinners or ceremonies). Windfalls are distributed. Smoked salmon is sold from the back of trucks and cars in tribal parking lots. Tribal people who have smokehouses take shares of fishermen’s catches in exchange for smoking fish for them. Fish, fresh, frozen, or smoked, is given as a gift to those who help a friend or relative with a task. Fish are commonly given to food banks for the needy, both Indian and non-Indian. The tradition of feeding others and sharing with non-Indian neighbors is one that goes back to the earliest accounts of Indian relations with Europeans and Americans in the region. This way of distributing a resource cannot be fully understood without an understanding of the ethics and morality that inform it: reciprocity and exchange among kin and even non-related groups, including those with whom connections have been established throughout the region, is a foundation of meaningful human interaction between and among Indian peoples in the area.


Formal Community Distribution and Sharing


As noted above, salmon are distributed among and between Indian people and tribes in many informal ways. There are also formal, frequent or periodic occasions during which salmon is expected or required to be served. Among these are:


  • Feeding elders as in elders’ dinners or lunches. Salmon are contributed by fishermen to these meals. Tribes buy salmon or they stock donated salmon for these lunches and dinners. Salmon is served often, if not at least weekly, at luncheons. Some tribes serve lunches to elders at least three days a week. Dinners for elders are held frequently. These dinners include reciprocal intertribal dinners held for elders throughout the area. Traditional food is always present at these dinners and salmon is an essential part of the dinners. Elders are often offered salmon to take home at the conclusion of both luncheons and dinners. When available, salmon make up a substantial portion of an elder’s diet.
  • Community wide and intertribal traditional dinners. These may be held for any number of reasons. Again, fish are contributed or special boats sent out for “C and S” (Ceremonial and Subsistence[viii]) harvests in order to have the proper food for these dinners. Those who fish commercially may put aside a portion of the catch for personal subsistence use and also donate or be paid by the tribe for a portion to be stored and used for traditional community dinners. Tribes provide storage facilities so that catches can be kept on hand for these dinners. Some tribes tax fishermen and use the tax money to buy additional salmon from other tribes to keep on hand for traditional dinners.
  • Salmon is part of the traditional meal served whenever a wedding takes place.
  • Cultural dinners with other tribes. For example, welcoming dinners that feature salmon are provided for those on the summer Canoe Journey. The Journey involves tribes from throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and beyond.
  • Health fairs during which special traditional foods, including salmon, are featured. The value of a traditional diet comprised of traditional foods is emphasized among many tribal leaders and educators who voice concern with health issues, such as diabetes, prevalent among tribal people. Many of these health issues are, they believe, linked to the loss of plant, fish, and animal diet available to and followed by their ancestors.
  • Dinners for guests and invited outsiders. Dinners for guests feature traditional foods. Often these meals, featuring salmon, are to honor someone or some event. Hosting guests and serving traditional food, including salmon, is an important part of traditional culture.
  • Honoring students and others who have special achievements.
  • Some tribes distribute food baskets to tribal members at Thanksgiving and Christmas and include smoked fish in the baskets.
  • Tribes commonly deliver salmon to elders. Some tribes make fresh salmon available at central distribution points for elders and others to take home and cook. When available, salmon make up a substantial portion of a person’s diet.


Ceremonial Uses


In addition to tribally sponsored dinners, salmon is a key food, among other traditional

foods, in ceremonies. Tribes whose fisheries are depleted are helped to put out a good table of traditional foods by buying salmon from other tribes or receiving donations of fish. Tribes make an effort to keep salmon on hand or send out special boats for these occasions.


  • Winter ceremonials. Winter ceremonials require meals that include salmon. Ceremonies may last many days. Guests who have traveled from throughout the region must be served. These ceremonials are held frequently during the winter months.
  • First salmon ceremony. First salmon ceremonies as practiced today focus on thanking the fish for returning and assuring the entire community of a good harvest. These ceremonies also draw attention to the responsibility Indian people have for providing a clean, welcoming habitat for the returning fish. Many tribes incorporate a blessing of the Indian fishing fleets or individual fishermen or fisher women with these ceremonies. Some ceremonies welcome non-Indian people to witness and these witnesses are typically served salmon dinners. This welcoming of non-Indian people to be present at first salmon ceremonies is an effort to engage more of the region’s residents in sharing responsibility for the salmon and for the habitat.

First salmon ceremonies, as suggested above, were not always publicly or even communally celebrated during a period of years preceding U.S. v. Washington. Some fishermen and fisherwomen continued a more private version of this ceremony, individually sharing out the first catch of the season with other community members. This practice still continues in some tribes in addition to the public ceremony.

  • Naming ceremonies require that traditional meals, including salmon, be served. These are common throughout the area.
  • Giveaways and feasts feature traditional foods, including salmon, and are held frequently.
  • Indian funerals in the study area are large gatherings typically attended by more than 100 people and often many more. Funerals are accompanied by traditional meals that include salmon. Meals take several days of preparation. Those who cook and serve must be fed as well. The death of a tribal member is marked by remembrances or memorials a year later. Burnings are held to feed the deceased at other times. All of these events require the use of traditional foods, including salmon.




Youngsters, as in the past, are taught from an early age to fish and to understand that they, as tribal members, have a special responsibility to the salmon and for the habitat in which it thrives. Indian fishermen and women take their children fishing and remember being taken fishing by relatives when they were growing up. Fishing with older friends and relatives is a time when one not only learns the skills of taking and processing fish, but also hears the history and tradition of the tribes and is taught how to be a responsible member of the community. Some fishing, for example beach seining, is a group, multigenerational activity. Elders sit on beaches watching and advising while younger adults and young people take the fish. During the work of fishing, everyone joins in conversations about the place, the salmon, and the history of salmon fishing, and youngsters listen to stories elders share.


Youngsters are also taught skills by their elders. Fishing is considered to be an activity that is a critical part of a tribal member’s identity. No matter what else one does, learning to fish is part of one’s education.


Specific examples of this education are:


  • Young people are taught how to work with fishing gear, how to maintain gear, how to fillet fish, and how to prepare fish for curing, freezing, and canning.
  • Young people are encouraged to help elders and relatives or older tribal members with smoking and thus learn all the skills required for traditional smoking. This includes learning to fillet the fish, how to carve the sticks on which the fish are smoked, how to gather and split wood for the smokehouse, how to thread the fish on sticks and how to hang the fish in the smokehouse, how to assure proper air circulation in the smokehouse, and how to tend the fires.
  • Elders teach younger tribal members about smoking and other traditional skills associated with fish in less direct ways: For example, an elder may sample fish smoked by a younger tribal member and comment on flavor and degree of dryness. An elder may visit and assess a smoke house put up by a younger tribal member
  • Elders teach awareness of the environment and the place of fish in it. The whole landscape is a reminder of the salmon and its centrality to the culture. There are many associations. For example, in South Puget Sound, the elders watch and comment on the salal berries. If there are plenty, then they say there will be plenty of salmon. Because the sword fern is part of the First Salmon Ceremony, even seeing sword fern in the environment reminds one of the salmon and is commented upon.




One has to participate in a culture in order for it to survive. Fishing for salmon is a part of tribal life among the Indians of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound. Tribes have developed many ways for tribal members of all ages to feel connected with the tribe and tribal culture and participate in community life. Fishing and responsibility for salmon and salmon habitat is a core area for participation. There are other ways to make a living, but fishing is “in the blood” Indian people say. You “develop a relationship with salmon” from the time you are a youngster. Tribal members continue to invest in boats and nets and go fishing even if fishing is not always economically viable. Family members, countless generations of them, have fished. Family members have died fishing. Their stories are kept alive and told to the younger generation. Indian people teach younger family members to feel responsibility to the fish. To lose touch with the fish and to ignore the decline in habitat and runs, one tribal member said, is to “lose touch with a culture you’ve always known.” Ways other than fishing that sustain participation in the fish culture include:


  • School programs: transmission of culture through curricula and special school programs, including language programs that feature stories of salmon and first salmon ceremonies
  • Headstart participation in restocking programs
  • Fishing derbies for children and teens
  • Strategies for protection and restoration. For example tribes created, with the State of Washington, the “Wild Stock Restoration Initiative” in 1996. Tribes have voluntarily reduced harvests in order to respond to the issue of endangered fishing stocks; tribes have shown that they are willing to live with self imposed restrictions to get the fish back–if we don’t take care of the fish we too will expire. Large numbers of fisheries biologists are employed by tribes and further signify the tribes’ commitment to the resource.
  • Publications/public relations that depict tribal involvement with fisheries, habitat enhancement, and fisheries programs in general. Tribal partnerships with businesses and state, federal and local government to enhance fish habitat.
  • On-the-job options within tribes to take time off work to fish. These options recognize both the importance of the food to families and the value to tribal identity of supporting involvement with fishing.
  • Creation of culture and heritage and tribally operated cultural resource management programs to enhance and celebrate relationship with the past and especially recognize and maintain cultural resources that support long-standing relationship to salmon.
  • Tribal plaques and logos on shirts, hats, and tribal stationary that feature salmon.
  • Art that features salmon iconography.
  • Museums and exhibits that feature fish technology and relationships to water and fisheries; repatriation of items of significance to salmon fisheries. Also exhibits, including historic and contemporary photographs, that honor generations of fishermen and their contributions to the tribes.




The availability of salmon as an economic base and a cultural, ceremonial, and religious staple has provided for enhanced social cohesion and promoted cultural vitality particularly since U.S. v. Washington. Some refer to it as “a calling back home.” In many instances, Indian people came back to live with relatives and friends on reservations because there was economic opportunity. The enhanced fisheries opportunities demanded that new generations of fishermen and women be trained. The core group of elders and fishermen who had local knowledge of the waters, the currents, the tides, the habits of fish, and the requirement of habitat came forward to train others in this specialized cultural knowledge. New technologies were learned and taught along with the guidance of local, traditional knowledge.


Indian people express a holistic relationship to the land and the waterways, as well as to the salmon and other creatures dependent upon the health of the land and environment. Little differentiation is made between and among spirit, nature, and culture when they speak of their obligations. Tribal people characterize their relationship to salmon as a dynamic and demanding one. The relationship draws upon indigenous teachings and insights. Though explained in a number of ways, and in many stories, the fundamentals are the same–we have a responsibility to the fish, to the land, and to the waters. We are, from ancient times, of these lands and waters, and the quality of our relationship to fish and its sustenance reflects on the quality of our communal and spiritual lives.


The obligation to salmon articulated by Indian people is one concerned with renewal, reciprocity, and balance. Salmon is of economic importance to Indian people and it embodies cultural, ceremonial, and social dimensions of peoples’ lives to the degree that it is a significant symbol of Indian and tribal identity. Tribal identity, to be sure, is realized and expressed in the many daily acts in which one engages. For the Indian people the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound and South Puget Sound, many of those acts involve or include salmon.


Tribal people have a strong present connection with salmon and share a passionate concern for the future of salmon in the marine waters, rivers, lakes, and streams in the region.


This concern is reflected in voluntary reduction or suspension of fishing on endangered or weak runs of salmon over the past decade and more, and by efforts at stream restoration and stock enhancement described elsewhere in the Affected Environment document.

















[i] United States v. Washington, 384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D.Wash. 1974), aff’d, 520 F.2d 676 (9th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 1086 (1976), enforced, 459 F. Supp. 1020 (W.D. Wash. 1977), aff’d sub nom., Puget Sound Gillnetters v. U.S. District Court, 573 F.2d 1123 (9th Cir. 1978), substantially upheld sub nom., Washington v. Fishing Vessel Ass’n, 443 U.S. 658 (1979).

[ii] An example of this kind of explanatory tale is The Origin of Tolt River as told by John Xot (also known as John Hote). The Tolt River watershed originates on McClain Peak in the Cascade Crest.

[iii] For example in the tale, How Grandmother Bullhead Brought the Salmon, the little bullhead is given salmon eggs in exchange for helping to bring rain and the salmon. Though her powers had been doubted, she helped the people.

[iv] George Gibbs’ Tribes of Western Washington and Northwestern Oregon was published by the Department of the Interior in 1877. It was based on observations in Washington in 1853-1856. Another treaty period resource on tribes in the region is Gibbs’ 1854 “Report of Mr. George Gibbs to Captain Mc’Clellan, On the Indian Tribes of the Territory of Washington.” This was reprinted by Ye Galleon Press as Indian Tribes in Washington Territory (Gibbs [1854], 1967.

[v] For example, see Journal of the Expedition from the Conclusion of the Treaty of Nisqually (Swindell 1942, page 333). The entry for January 1, 1855 notes that the reservation, “affords a good site for a village, with ground for potato patches and a small stream at which the Indians take their winter salmon.” George Gibbs, the scribe, further notes that “the Indians will require the shore only, this tribe being exclusively fishing Indians.” Microfilm copies of the original records can be found in Documents Relating to the Negotiation of Ratified and Unratified Treaties with Various Indian Tribes. 1801-1869. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (Record Group 75)T494, Roll 5. National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, D.C.

[vi] Elmendorf’s Structure of Twana Culture was originally published as a Monographic Supplement No. 2, Research Studies, a Quarterly Publication of Washington State University, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3. September 1960. For further notes on the weir and other fishing technologies see, among others, Herman Haeberlin and Erna Gunther, The Indians of Puget Sound (1930), T.T. Waterman, Notes on the Ethnology of the Indians of Puget Sound, based upon his early twentieth century field work ([1921]1973), Arthur Ballard (1957), and Marian Smith The Puyallup-Nisqually (1940).

[vii] See 1916 cases: State v. Towessnute, 154 P. 805; State v. Alexis, 154 P. 810; and Kennedy v. Becker, 241 U.S. 556. and Wash. Sess. Laws Ch. 31, Sec. 72 (1915) for examples of legal actions that interfered with Indian treaty rights during this period.

[viii] “C & S,” or ceremonial and subsistence is a “term applied to Indian harvest of many fish…”In general a fisherman engaged in a commercial fishery may take part of his or her catch for C & S and designate that as “take home fish” on the lower portion of a “Treaty Indian Fish Receiving Ticket.” “If a tribe opens a fishery specifically to catch fish for a ceremony or other community use (i.e. there is not a concurrent commercial opening) then the catch is recorded on the same place on the ticket but with an annotation that the source of catch is ‘C & S’” (Beattie 2003).

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Roots Music in Shelton


After stopping by Shelton’s Treasures Thrift Shop and ridding myself of a backseat-full of unwanted items that had inhabited an upstairs closet for many years, I stopped in Lynch Creek Floral for a latte. I love Lynch’s for its good Batdorf Bronson brew and its line of beautifully chosen gift items. This particular early January morning, a man ahead of me at the counter was whistling. I liked this because I had been whistling as I walked down Railroad Avenue toward Lynch’s. I do this now and then, though aware that some people a. loathe whistlers b. think it is unladylike c. think it bring bad luck, especially if done inside. I felt an instant camaraderie with the whistling fellow.. I’d been whistling “How Can I Keep from Singing.” I didn’t recognize his tune. He offered his place in line to me and said, almost under his breath, “There will be music soon.” This announcement took on the gravity of a prophecy. I didn’t know what to think.

After a few minutes, one of Lynch’s proprietors, more forthcoming than the gentleman who had now headed to the rear of the store, told me that there was about to be a “bluegrass jam” in the back and why not take my coffee, pull up a chair, and stay awhile. I did.

The whistler, John Rodius, a quiet, self-effacing man, set up a few chairs and pulled his Tacoma guitar out of its case. Turns out, I’m told, he is one of the founding organizers of Shelton’s Blue Grass from the Forest, an annual music festival. (It’ll be May 17, 18, 19 this year.) He and others play at the Senior Center in Shelton as well. When the group isn’t practicing or jamming the members play under the name “Down Home Fiddle and Bluegrass” at venues like the Puyallup Fair.

John has lived in Shelton for thirty years. He grew up near Mt. Rainier in Graham. It was his brother-in-law, a musician with Buck Owens in Tacoma, who got him started on guitar, he tells me. That made me curious. Turns out, Buck Owens (1929-2006), who had 21 number one hits on the Billboard country music charts and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, moved to Puyallup in 1958 and had a live TV show on KTNT in Tacoma. Don Rich (1941-1974), a young and talented Tumwater Hill fiddle player and guitarist, was recruited by Buck and helped develop, “The Bakersfield Sound.” Rich and the Buckeroos even produced a song and album called “Tumwater Breakdown” named for his hometown, still considered to be a suburb of Olympia in Rich’s day. So John listened to his brother-in-law and the pre-fame Buck and Rich and the others who made up Buck’s entourage.

When he got older, John says, he went to work and stayed on the job for 37 years. During that time, he says, he didn’t play at all. He talks slowly while he takes out some bandages and tape and begins to wrap his fretting hand. He was working on a house project recently when someone dropped a 2 x 4 for him to catch. It slid through his hands and deposited some nasty splinters. He is in pain and there is some nasty looking red swelling where he says he extracted a sharp fragment of that board. He says that spot is healing. It looks iffy to me.

While waiting for his colleagues, I asked John if he does indeed play bluegrass as in Bill Munroe. “No.” He says. “We don’t play any Bill Munroe.” He pauses. “We play old music and Civil War stuff.”

A man enters from Lynch’s backdoor, cold and slim as a reed. “There’s Herb,” someone calls out. Herb has fiddle in one hand and a small plastic bag of cookies in the other. Another man, Al, has come in a little earlier and sits across from me. He calls himself a wannabe. He says, as a boy, he always longed to play guitar but discovered he has “no music in me.” He’s wearing what look like stiff new blue jeans, a bit oversized. He says, “They play at my house sometimes.” Then he says, “My nephew plays the banjo.” Someone jokes later that Al thinks he is a music critic. If so, he is an awfully quiet one.

The nephew and his banjo get seated. This is Paul. Paul wears jeans that ride very low on his body. He has to give them an occasional tug to keep them up. He wears a billed cap with a construction company logo, a work shirt with ticking stripes, and heavy soled work boots.

We’re sitting in a circle. Behind us women are making bouquets and taking orders for wedding flowers. It smells good and feels cozy. I’m sorry I won’t be able to stay long. I chat between the warmup songs.

I ask John if the group members have song books or just call out tunes. He says they just call them out but “might have to guess for a couple of licks” til they are together. He says someone’s always coming up with something new. Later, I notice he has a stack of cards with tune names and chords. Someone else says, “I forgot my session book” so there is, somewhere, a list of favorites.

Last to arrive while I’m there are two women, a grandmother and granddaughter named Janice and Danielle. The men have done a little warming up, but things get started for real when Janice and Danielle get their fiddles out. Danielle seems to be a real spark. She is young and well practiced.

As the group prepares to play in earnest now, someone suggests “Up Jumps the Devil.” Instead they strike up “Whistling Rufus,” a popular cakewalk from circa 1899. Paul says, “There’s one song I want to learn before the year ends.” It is “Pig Ankle Rag,” a tune that shows up in “traditional” collections and has been passed around in jams probably for at least a century. The fiddlers seem to know it, but Paul needs practice he says. Next tune is “Ice on the Road,” another traditional tune and one that shows off Danielle’s talents.


Before I leave, Herb asks the group to play a waltz and he bows his fiddle sweetly. He tells me that his wife died just before Thanksgiving. He was her caretaker for many years and he is just beginning to get out and play again. It’s been ten years, he says, since he’s picked up his fiddle. I’m hoping for Herb that this is the beginning of a new, joyful musical life.





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