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21 July, 2009

Modern Foraging Update

Here are a couple of the prettier foods availble in the Olympia metropolitan area. Both native, both feeding people for millenia.

This is camas, one of the only words English borrowed from the original Northwesterners. Lewis and Clark saw fields of these so blue they looked like ponds. These are a kind of lily whose bulb is toothsome and nutritious, and local Tribes have been burning prairie and cooking these babies in ground ovens since at least 8,000 years ago. That's according to archaeologists, who we can assume have not yet located the earliest one.

So think about it: there are meadows here that would have been swallowed up by forest thousands of year ago without the original resource managers intervening. Meadows full of root food and four-legged food as well. There were strings of these prairie landscape threaded through the western Washington forests 150 years ago, forests that covered less ground than they do today.

These nice salmon-colored berries are, um, salmonberries. Really. I pick them on the trail home from work at this time of year.

These love the prairie edges as well, and I am sure benefited from the fire regime as well. Now they seem to benefit from disturbance, succeeding logged land and abandoned lawns. They come in in July, ahead of blackberries. Trailing along the ground beneath, often as not you'll find the native blackberry, a bit ahead of the invasive (but tasty) alien Himalayan blackberry.

19 July, 2009

Urgent Matters of State

Friday afternoon communication in a guvament agency is rare, so the urgent email (followed by urgenter Sunday call at home, no less) told me something big was going down.
Yeah. Earthshattering.

Or at least earth-moving. On Cattle Point, so they need an archaeologist, stat.
And for rapid-response toilet-vault removal-replacement ops? I'm your man.
Then it's a fierce contest of wills pitting me against heavy machinery. In a trance-like state of super attention, I await the merest glimpse of midden, whiff of once-greasy charcoal, flash of a shiny object, ready to pounce into action.

But not this time. No bullet from the Pig War. Did get this stratigraphy shot, with old toilet pit-fill (Yay! No leakage!) on the left and prairie soil atop glacial stuff on the conveniently sun-lit west profile.
The prairie was burnt for who knows how long by the native people, multiplying the root-foods and feeding the deer who might later return the favor. Then the state burnt it. Now the neighbors object, I think, or at least enough of them do to make it difficult to continue and age-old practice.
But enough of that, Here's a shot of the place looking south. The building was a radio compass navigation aid til the Depression put and end to such frivolities.
I like the rocky point. It looks like a humongous flat-faced guy looking up at the sky, jaw jutting up at the right.

Anybody still reading at this point is now like, "Huh? A giant? This dude's nuts. I'm clickin' the hell outta here!" but I'm one step ahead of you

14 July, 2009

Backroads: 23 and 141

Last time I was talking about Skate Creek, but what I didn't say was that getting there took a while. From Olympia you can go through Yelm and up the Nisqually to the flanks of Rainier, then turn down Skate Creek Road (aka Road 52) to reach the Cowlitz at Packwood. Or at least you can when it's open, and this year that happened a week or so after I traveled, so it was back-track and waste an hour.

No prob, though, since I got to see more land. I like to vary my routes to avoid monotony, traverse more terrain, and keep the terrorists guessing.

Not long after I had to go to Trout Lake, which normally means hopping on the freeway down south and following the Columbia up to Bingen before hooking back north. But I figured it would be more fun to abandon the interstate (the governor wouldn't want me going into Oregon anyway, even if the up-river trip is faster on that side), so I hightailed it east on route 12.

Not soothed enough on this beefy two-laner, it was south on 131, where the soothing embrace of a conifer canopy closed in. Then Forest Road 23 beckoned, narrowing further and further until pavement petered out into gravel. Washboard and some loose gravel, but not ever bad, no back-tracking. Two other vehicles in an hour of driving. I got out and played solitare in the road for a while, but eventually the stakes got too high for my cheap self, and I moved on.

And even though it was too cloudy to see Mt Adams, I could feel it. A mass to the left, glacial waftings from time to time.

Then after a while there was a bridge, and pavement, and before I could adjust, I was in the rat-race of downtown Trout Lake. Then it was time to work. 9AM and 4 hours driving already behind me.

Uneventful as the drive down had been, after work it seemed like a good idea to take 141 from its Trout Lake headwaters down to the Columbia, maybe get something to eat. Pushing 5PM and 12 hours of driving and struggling to beat the machine drill already behind me.

141 takes you down the White Salmon, a beautiful river. Not a narrow valley, enough room for cows and orchards. In the north, there are lava outcrops, a treat for pahoehoe lovers like myself. Locals probably feel beset by outsiders sometimes, but there are places with far worse infestations of urban vacationers and second homers. Cheap gas in BZ Corners, where transportation signage designers have decided a hamlet should be labeled "Congested Area," as if it were a phlegmy bronchial tube, like Newark.

Right above Husum, there is a very cool optical effect. You see some trees along the road and a mountain behind them. As you continue and the trees get closer, the mountain rapidly shrinks.

And then as you approach White Salmon, the Columbia Valley comes into view, and Mt Hood on the other side. Exquisite. Which may explain why most of the rich people live up there, and the riverside town a stone's throw down (not that rich people literally throw rocks at the proletariat anymore) has a different name (Bingen), a different sewer system, and has cornered the local market on abandoned and industrial real estate.

And that is the end of 141. Taking 14 along the Columbia is a fine trip, but that's another post yet to be born.

Skate Creek

So, since last time, where have I been?

Trout Lake, pulling a John Henry as I tried screening as fast as a Bobcat with a 12" auger (and after falling further and further behind, finally snapping off a leg...screen's leg, not mine). I'd show you pictures, but it was a cloudy day and all I found was that the ash is thick downwind of Mt St Hellions.

Before that was east a ways on highway 12, near Randle and Packwood. Not too far from where the Cowlitz as a river gives way to manifold montain headwaters.

You're looking down Skate Creek here, not all that far from the Packwood megalopolis, but even closer to where one of the mountain chiefs kept house. He's most famous in print as the go-to guy for crazy white men who wanted to climb Rainier.

But you get out on the land, or even just peek at the GIS, you can get the bigger picture. The "Indian's Cabin" shown on an old survey map is by Skate Creek, which feeds the Cowlitz from headwaters near the upper Nisqually River, which flows in a completely different direction, down to the Puget Sound instead of the Columbia. Besides which, there are big meadows up there, so people and ponies can eat.

My humble tent is shown within a few hundred yards of Sluiskin's place, near the big boulder dividing the stream in the top photo. The one where you could stand and net or spear fish. Because yeah, it's nice to have a trail up-valley and all, but food is what's gonna make it worth having a house.

Spent a day and a night there, and even though the Indian's House was obliterated when somebody went ape-shit with a dozer, the place is still great. Just before the hills close in, not too far from the village, lots of strawberries, plenty of room to dry fish, elk trails everywhere, and tasty water.