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29 May, 2010

Backroads: 142

Riding river roads north from the Columbia's southern swing is to fight a flow of beauty washing into your every sense, inviting you to stop and gaze, dazed and amazed. Climbing the Klickitat on Washington 142 from Lyle to Goldendale on a green May day, especially with almost no other cars around to hurry you, can take a while.

The river ran hard that day, swollen with silt, foaming at the mouth of each eddy. Late wet snow feeding a good flow, lupines a-blooming and the hillsides not yet be-browned, summer's scorch safely at bay for a while yet. The oaks of Klickitat at that fleeting delicacy when the leaves are full but still soft and the bugs haven't really punched in.

Right of of Lyle, the valley gets pretty tight, and the lack of easy bottomland cut off sprawl before it could crawl upstream. 142 swoops along the bank. Meanwhile, and old rail grade has been reborn as the Klickitat Trail, which I  now yearn to walk, downhill like the river, but at an even slower pace to enjoy the bird and water songs, gaze at landscapes and pollinated bees.

The valley never becomes an expanse, but it does open up a bit about 10 miles in. The town of Klickitat is here, but I didn't stop. Wahkiacus gets a name on the map, but I don't remember a town--one of the great things about this road is that so much of it is unbuilt upon. 142 zigs and zags up through the kind of torn and shorn landscape you get when tectonics are at fault, and comes out addled enough to careen eastly when the main river heads north.

Somewhere around here, the road narrows to one lane, which is harrowing only on the frequent blind curves. If I hadn't been so blissful from the ride, I'd have worried that maybe I'd misread the map (or it had mislead me), and I was on a road that pinched out in the hills somewhere, but nah, there was no need for that. As with the rest of the run, the road remained smooth and solid, unfouled and practically untravelled.

The last big uphill run, a line skewing up and across, an engineer's straight edge mocking slope and contour alike, signals the end of the river road. Once you pop over the rim, the road spreads back out into two lanes and sticks to the grid laid down over a century ago in the aftermath of the Indian Wars by men moving to consolidate their Cartesian way. On the flats, the roads run north-south or east-west, maybe cutting corners where it suits. Blockhouse Butte (oddly enough, a hill with a strategic view of the plain) is the only natural feature that causes a ripple in this grid that continues to Goldendale.

Route 142 ends in that town, where it T's out at 97. After the thrill of running the gauntlet under the guns of Blockhouse (I've since learned, much to my disappointment, that the Butte no longer has gun emplacements, there is no Corporal Agar up there making frontier warfare hilarious), 142's magic kinda fades, and it just becomes the seam between fields that ends up in Goldendale. By that time, I was already fondly reminiscing on the banks of the Klickitat, under rustle of oakleaves and scent of Ponderosa.

23 May, 2010

Another May

As each year passes, as I live through my third slow dawning of Spring in the Northwest, the rythm becomes danceable. Year one was fascinating, but pretty much saw me gawking at the beauty and confused by the unfamiliar. Last year, living through a same but different spring, I began to pick up some patterns amid the dazzle, to learn names for the things that live here, the ways water has of falling and springing and flowing and ebbing. Now this May, back again and famliar enough to be picking up more of the relationships and routines of the critters, the cycles and sequences of the plants.

Each gyre: a little wider and higher, a better view of the territory. Each time round a bit more aware.

And in Round Three: it's not just reading, watching, and listening, a sponge buffeted by the current it harvests. Bystanding days have ended, especially where the green kingdom is concerned.

In the garden: planting and thinning have gone pretty well according to schedule, opening and rehabilitating beds in a nick of time, not procrastinating myself into a corner. What I learned in the first couple of years will help feed me in the third.

On the forage trail: besides having a better seasonal round planned this year, bringing the forage home by planting wild foods in the yard has begun to show results. Also: jumping through some new windows, like the one when sap runs and cedar roots can be harvested and split. Doing this now makes it possible to make a basket this year; more than a month ago would have been wishful thinking at best (and desctructive if it got beyond the pondering), but in a month from now it will be too late.

On the preservation front: knowing a piece of good gathering land and returning to it at intervals this spring has allowed me to document the seasons within spring: yellowbells, bitterroot, biscuitroot, onion,... Seeing this place time and again and learning what different people know of it, how some other places relate to it, and walking it in various weather and light--all these have not just given me a better feeling and understanding of this landscape and where in it there are plants and sites to preserve, but also embedded seeds within me. Roots will tether me to this place, and whenever that happens, it has been mutually beneficial: I learn deeper lessons and the land gains a defender.

16 May, 2010

New Old Tools

Ever since I stopped passing myself off as a landscape professional, diverting always some share of the income to new toys, I've had to curb the buying. Garden purchases mostly come in 4-inch pots. And to avoid debt, the total budget for gardening has been cut back pretty hard this spring.

So having a couple of new tools in the past week has been a treat. And these are the best kinds of new tools: old ones.

First, I took a handle-less shovel I'd found and cut away all but the leading edge and the, uh, handle-hole, or whatever that's called. Then I ground the resulting crescent to a sharp edge all around, taking the time to douse it in cold water every few seconds, preserving the temper. Fortunately, a branch I'd just cut off an alder fit the tool just right, it's long arc perfectly swooping up so I can stand there and shuffle the blade across the ground, slicing roots quickly and ruthlessly. Works like a dream (if your dreams are as strange as mine). So there you have it: trash to tool, abandoned spade reborn as a weed-slayer.

Then there's the thing I picked up at a local school yard sale. Lovely leaf-shaped blade, tapered also from a stout center to the sharp edge, worthy of a lance in some forgotten emperor's honor guard. The handle is basically a D welded to the base end, hammer marks evident. The name engraved on the blade is "C Wells & Sons, Rochester NY," which turns out to be a firm operating in the 1890s. No idea what it is, but the history alone is worth the 5 bucks I paid (maybe even $5.50), and I've already used this to pop some old growth dandelions from their earthfast homes, slice some edging to crisp perfection, and scare the kids. Once again, yard sale preservation at work.

07 May, 2010

Repeat Places

Most archaeologists end up caught in a peculiar bind, either working in many places fleetingly, or one place interminably. A lucky few may pull off both, usually in the order I've presented, retiring after a long stint in some national park or such. A bunch see a place twice: once when they experience the wonder of finding sites in the pristine landscape, and again when they come to dig up the sites. A few are cursed with a third visit, reduced to watching heavy machinery lay waste to the remnants, maybe pulling a shard from the backdirt, and praying that no burials emerge.

An infinitesimal few work for states or other entities that manage large, dispersed areas of land. They get to see a lot of places, and get to return to certain ones time and again. When I worked for Hawai`i State Parks, Kona and Kaua`i were such places. West Moloka`i was another, but didn't need any state involvement to reel me back time and again. These are all places I orbit, and though I am far off for the moment, eventual return to perigee or another landing won't seem strange or unexpected.

Now, I've been in my Northwest job long enough that some of the repeaters are emerging. Cypress Island has enough to do to keep me busy for years, and though it has been many months, its scent is in my brain, and one day the call will come and I'll make my way back as surely as the salmon returns to its childhood stream. Badger Mountain, and in particular a spot where traditional root foods grow, demands my attention to understand the plants and help safeguard them for grandmothers who are just being born.

To go back to these and other places, to experience them under different skies and seasons, is a treat. Most I have seen only in daylight, and won't know so well until I can be there for days at a stretch. Most I have walked in solitude (un-distracted aloneness in a landscape is a precursor to understanding, I think), though I have begun to visit some with people who have known them for decades, hearing the stories and feeling their love of the land. Most I have begun to understand, even if it is the understanding of a kid who knows the joys of a place without the responsibility to feed a family from it.

When I used to map sites more often, or plan for their restoration, I ascribed to a friend's thoery that 'gestalt cartography' was best, that the best representations of a place came through immersion, via awareness not readily encapsulated in words, and beyond the ken of a passerby. The best maps I ever made took many days, weeks even: flows of points shot and rocks drawn, punctuations of equilibrium in which mapper stood still watching and listening amid the silent stones.

Also: the places I've felt most attached to have the dried iron of my blood and the faintest scent of my sweat in their dust. The joy of being in a beautiful place has always counted high, but has never been more than pencilled in on the tally without some sacrifice, some trial, some critical question left hanging for an uncomfrotably long spell and answered with epiphany. Places where thorns ripped and machetes slipped, where scorpions stung or ears rung with exertion, where eyes burned from staring in blazing sun or deep into the fading light--these are the places that went beyond my mind and into the soul. A place that is nothing but lovable, that gave and gave without taking a bite, that place is imaginary, maybe devious, but not capable of everlasting bonds or enilghtenment.

So. I wait and wonder which places here will maintain a hold, demand a sacrifice, reel me in time and again. Where will I find this state's Kamaka`ipo, Nu`alolo Kai, Kona?

Or when will they find me?

06 May, 2010

Post 100

Just noticed that this is the 100th post.

02 May, 2010

Forage Garden

Been while since I posted anything about foraging. The days keep getting longer, pumping more lumens to feed leaves. But other than the greens, the plants haven't begun to pass the bounty along to us. Now it's just berries busy setting fruit, strawberries and apples blooming, fish in the sea maybe getting that itch that will send them riverward. Mostly in winter I gather stones: colorful and stripy pebbles for my crowy eye, road-cut salvaged slabs for the garden walk, all the rocks in between that will one day be a wall, a fireplace,...

This Spring also brings first fruition to some other gathering--growth of forage food in my yard. Over the past couple of years, I've sometimes come home with a pocketful of camas bulbs not to eat, but to nestle back in the earth close at hand. The prairies where they once blanketed have been farmed and developed to a torn lacery now, but camas and onions and fritillaries hang on in some spots.

Besides burning the prairies to open them to beast and bulb, the local tribes were known to transplant, to carry some of the giving plants to welcoming soils, later feasting on the results. So I've done the same. Camas and strawberries have been multiplying in the flower beds this year, bunchberry and huckleberries in the dappled alder shade. Not all has been gathered--nursery--started blueberries and caneberries spread roots here too--because cheap as I am, I will spend money now to get yummy dividends later. True frugality can take a few years to play out.

So I keep adding bushes (like this saskatoon) that will bear fruit one day, bulbs that will multiply. Soon enough, they'll burst the bed boundaries, turn the yard's sunny spots into prairie, fill the understory with strata of sustenance.

And foraging will be ever easier.