Monday, August 25, 2008

In search of the Snake River

Settle back and be comfortable, maybe get a cold one; this could take a while. Drove south this time, looking for the Snake River canyon. It became a trip of about 300 miles into Idaho and maybe 200 years back into history. The first indication of time travel came as I passed through Lewiston. That was a relief to get past this place because skies had been clear for all of this trip, but what seemed to be a perpetual haze hung over the city, apparently smog produced by at least one large industrial installation there. I passed a huge plant owned by a company called Potlach. The odor coming from it resembled the slight scent of burning tires but it looked to be a pulp mill, though I haven’t seen much in the area suitable for logging. After descending a steep grade to river level, a grade that involved at least five truck escape ramps, the route took me out along the Clearwater River. The name rang a bell and I had the strongest sense of deja vu. I had been there before. As I looked over the terrain, I realized I had seen this country or country like it before and plumbing the depths of that thought revealed the circumstance. In my youth there were a lot more western movies than there are today and this area very much resembled what I recall from some of those movies. Then came the sign marking this as the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. That was one of my favorite episodes in American history. When it came up in class so many years ago I recall thinking I would have loved to go along on that expedition. I followed the Clearwater for several miles before crossing it and turning south into the Nez Perce reservation.
Again the deja vu came up only of a different sort. I passed their casino feeling I had already donated enough to the cause of indigenous peoples.
For a while I was out in the rolling hills of grain again. Much more activity in this area with harvesters working in several fields. The road then passed through forested canyon country with steep rock sides and pine forest. Far off to the east I saw higher mountains, These were the Bitterroots, another name that raised the sense of deja vu. In my youth before Alaska discovered me, it was this country I daydreamed about. I saw a railroad trestle that resembled all those that frontier trains crossed in those movies with outlaws or Indians in pursuit. Dozens of historic markers had been placed along the route mostly noting spots of Nez Perce history. My mind wandered to what I knew about them. It is quite a sad story though from the looks of fields, and farms they seem to be doing OK. Almost 40 years ago I read a book about Native Americans dealing with white people’s push westward. It was called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, a historian at the University of Illinois. One of the last chapters in that tortured history told the story of the Nez Perce and how in 1877 after years of trying to get along under an 1855 treaty, were ordered out of their traditional lands, won a battle or two against the white soldiers and attempted to flee to Canada. Chief Joseph was the leader at the end and when captured in Montana, uttered a long-remembered phrase, “I will fight no more forever.” He was sent to a reservation in Oklahoma where he died wanting only to return to his beloved country in what is now Idaho.

Just a side comment: Another thing I learned from the “Wounded Knee” book (think about how much a book affected you if you remember passages 35 years later). The Oglala Sioux had a word they used when they encountered white men. It was “wasichu” and in early encounters white men took it to mean them, white people. Years later when the first of those plains Indians saw the Atlantic Ocean, they used the same word. Under further analysis the word came to be understood as meaning “something without end.” Those early Oglala were wiser than they seemed to the white men who encountered them.

As I progressed farther south in search of the Snake I stopped at several of the historic markers. Eventually the route entered the Salmon River valley and paralleled the river for some while. I thought at the time it was one of the most beautiful drives I have taken. There were white sand beaches, people fishing from shore here and there and so many rafters at times it looked like bumper cars. The temperature rose dramatically as well.

I finally came to a sign that read “Cow Creek Road, Access to Snake River Recreation Area.“ I took this road. It began as about one lane blacktop, crossed a wooden bridge and devolved into gravel, then dirt as it climbed the slopes toward that elusive river. I took stock of what I had in the car, none of the kind of survival gear I carry for driving around Alaska. Then, too, I had no idea if this road was a mile, 5 miles or 50 miles to the river. Discretion took over and I turned around, figuring if this was a federal recreation area, sooner or later I would run into at least an information booth. Back on the highway, I did, in a town called Riggins, which is something of a resort community with a number of rafting companies and other tourist amenities. Toward the southern end of town I came across a recreation area information building, While the town had been packed with people, there wasn’t one car here in the parking lot. It being a Sunday I wondered if it was closed, but, no, there was someone there. I stepped out of the car into 100-degree heat. (I now own a Charlie Harper shirt for dealing with this kind of weather.) I might just as well have walked into a wall. It almost took my breath away. Inside, the woman there showed me my errors and how much of a trip I had in front of me to the Snake. Just about every access involved dirt roads as long as 20 miles and most got you to a place where you could see the canyon, but not the river. Where is Pooh when you need to launch an expotition? We talked about the university where three of her children had gone. We talked about Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce. I don’t know why that story brings emotions to the surface, but it does.

After talking with this woman for a while, I realized my search for the Snake, at least today, was futile and I would have to save that expotition for another day.

So I wandered back the way I came, stopping to make images of the harvest. My last stop was at the Nez Perce National and Historical Park museum and visitor center. The building held interesting displays, artifacts from the early Nez Perce. The exhibit raised some strong emotions. You go to these things and you see tomahawks and headdresses and other artifacts and they are disassociated from their owners so you take interest but feel little connection. But, in this display there were items actually traced to use by Chief Joseph. It was like I actually knew the guy who smoked this pipe, used this knife, wore this head dress. It held links to other leaders of the Nez Perce, people I had not read about and explained some of the names for geographic features I had encountered on that trip. For a moment the connection became intense across more than 100 years. And there was a quote from another Nez Perce chief. This is from memory and paraphrased because I didn’t write it down but it went something like this: “I and my people don’t come from anywhere like the white men. Nature put us here and this is where we have always been.” Perhaps it explains why the Nez Perce put up such a battle, fled for 1,800 miles in a running battle with federal troops and only in the dead of a harsh winter surrounded by soldiers, finally succumbed two years later only 30 miles from the refuge of the Canadian border.
And maybe why in such frustration Chief Joseph would, “fight no more forever.”

NOTE: River picture is the Salmon. The deep valley is the White Bird Battlefield where the Nez Perce fought federal troops for the first time and beat them badly. The others are obvious.


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Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

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German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

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Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

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"That was a playmaker making a play."

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