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11 December, 2010

Human Tides

People come and people go from faces of the earth. Our kind are increasing here in the maritime northwest as on earth as a whole, sprawl marches along highways, farms are gulped and a hundred plots plotzed out. It seems inexorable (as if I even  know exactly what that means), this primate tide.

But if you go out beyound the sprawl, go into the dark wood and windy mountain and all manner of muddy places our modern feet fear to tread, there are the high water marks of earlier waves of first people and the 600 generations that followed. Nature west of the Cascades swallows whole towns in a generation or two. I've been in places that had a hotel and a bank, a post office, neighborhoods and cemeteries, a good-sized herd of humans at the dawn of the atomic era. But then when all the trees had been cut, it was over. Railways pulled for use elsewhere, materials scavenged, everything else made of wood rots, archaeology gets made. Blackberries and alder thickets make it hard top gain entry anymore, and in less than a human lifetime are succeeded by evergreens that eventually create a blanket of roots over the whole thing.

Humans have ebbed off lands we think are wild now, and our own dominion over earth is bound to falter eventually. The ebb is in effect at Secret Habor, where an entire school campus was demolished almost two years ago. That's the photo here. If you know what you are looking at, you can see slope cuts where the main buildings were, and the backhoe is in a basketball court about at the spot where I found an old pitcher's mound buried in the fill. I think only 3 structures remain, with another 3 cabins on nearby private land.

This human retreat happens to be intentional. The school wanted to move to the mainland for logistic and financial reasons, and the state wanted to manage the island as a natural area. One thing still to come is removal of a dike, which is also in the photo above--its the shoreline at the right. Again, the cognizant eye immediately notices that the seaward face of the dike is eroding. About a horizontal foot is gone since a year ago.

In the 1870s, the first white homesteader diked off part of the estuary and managed to do a little farming. He didn't last too long, though, and in the 1880s along came Shadrach Wooten, who had married into the local tribe and may just have been moving to his wife's family place. Same thing happened with Mr Hansen, and those two families represented the high water mark for a couple of generations. Did they maintain the dike, or let the sea flood back in? I don't know.  By the end of the Depression, none of them lived there anymore, anyway.

After WWII, a Seattleite decided that the harbor could be a haven, and over the last half of the century there was a school for boys. During this time, the dike was reinforced and raised; I found a ruler in the fill, a spray-paint can embedded in a concrete seawall.

There have been other ebbs and flows on Cypress. The capitalist alchemy of tranforming salmon, timber, minerals and even wild rhododendrons into cash came in boom-bust waves crested and fell quickly. A tourism wave was proposed, and although it never really materialized did manage to carve out a few marks on the landscape. Older peoples interested in maintaining populations of strawberries and deer, roots and fruits and wood...their waves oscillated more in time with the seasons, and were less inclined to scour the land bare on their way out.

Enough of the fluff and opinionizing. Let's get back to dirt. This is the profile of a trench, with the water table at something like 125 cm below surface. Down there, you have clay that gets sandier the higher you go, until hitting an organic layer. In some areas, this has a lot of bark, in others there is perfectly preserved grass, and in others it's a finer peat. Could be from logging, a different sea level, ancient human intervention,... Then there's another run of grey clay into sand, and then you get into modern fill.

As you can see, there's a wooden pile, driven into the lower grey, and either very short or cut off at the inception of the uppermost fill. Cypress timber was tough by virtue of low rainfall and serpentine soils, and prized for pilings; several turned up in this trench, and none were creosoted. They are neither ancient nor modern.

I'm really only starting to analyze the sediments, and at some point will have to find funds or a compelling con to get dates and expertise. I'll get back to you when I do. 

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