The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, December 29, 2016, Page 4, Image 16

Below is the OCR text representation for this newspapers page. It is also available as plain text as well as XML.

Books, gardening, hiking, hobbies,
recreation, personalities, travel & more
Traveling from Yakaitl-Wimak to Willapa Bay by canoe
Winter was harsh on the
Columbia River, on the tidal
and upriver waters that the
Tsinuk or Chinook called
Yakaitl-Wimaki. Long before
the jetties that stabilize
each side of the giant
river — long before Point
Adams and mountains of
sand accretion fi lled in the
Long Beach Peninsula and
the Oregon beaches — the
Pacifi c Ocean and huge
surging storms buffeted the
Native Americans that lined
both sides of the infamous
Calmer by far, Willapa
Bay (Shoalwater or Wil-
lapah) offered shelter and
tranquility to these hearty
peoples. These were water
people. Canoe people.
Barterers on par with the
Venetians and other vener-
ated sea traders. One didn’t
easily venture overland.
Sheer cliffs and dense forests
encroached on their aque-
ous landscape, pressed upon
the traveler with an almost a
trance-like grip.
In those dense woods of
the 19th century, a man felt
and smelled the weight of so
much verdant growth, thick
and impenetrable fl ora and
fauna, blowdown, man-sized
ferns, bramble and a lacework
of streams and creeks that
interrupted a day’s expected
travel and stretched it into
an overland hiatus of days
or weeks. Old growth cedar,
fi r, and spruce rose tall and
straight, frequently over 200
feet into the often quicksilver
and water-laden skies. Rain fell
better than a hundred inches
a year. Seemed to sometimes
devour a human, or at least his
spirit. Four-legged predators
Above: James Swan’s cabin on Willapa Bay in 1852. This etching was
scribed in 1852. The pioneer home was built on Bone River.
abounded: lynx, bobcat, cougar,
and larger and more dangerous,
the thick -haired and powerfully
muscled black bear. A traveler
had to remain vigilant.
Not that the surly waters of
bay and river were to be under-
rated. Wily currents and angry
waves were more common an
obstacle than those few blue-
bird days that photographers
and tourists in the next cen-
tury might covet as becalmed
and peaceful. There were not
many Kodak moments in this
infamous corner of the Oregon
Territory. Death by drowning
was never an uncommon event
to either the Chinook or those
later Boston interlopers who so
quickly inundated the land of
the Native People, their Tsinuk
Illihee (homeland).
The Chinook were world -
class seamen. Ask William
Clark, cached with his boys
in a cold and wet winter camp
alongside the north side at the
river mouth (Hungry Harbor),
afraid to move because of the
sou’westers that punished the
Corps of Discovery. Looking
out upon the huge river, Clark
watched the Chinook quarter-
ing the 20-foot combers with
dexterity and skill.
“Certain it is they are the
best canoe navigators I ever
Saw,” proclaimed the captain
in an astonishing moment as
storm followed huge seas.
Meanwhile they fed their
campfi res and hunkered down,
miserable to their core.
“It would be distressing to a
feeling person to See our Situa-
tion at this time all wet and cold
with our bedding &c. all wet,
in a Cove Scercely large nough
to Contain us… ,” strikes out
Clark again.
Meanwhile the Chinook
were hunkered down in their
cedar lodges, warm and toasty
beside their seemingly endless
campfi res. The long houses
were warm and smoky. Stores
of dried berries, salmon and
roots lined the rafters of the el-
egant cedar structures. Even in
winter, clams, crabs and oysters
lay easily at arm’s length in the
shoalwater bay.
Most of these First People
had already made their annual
pilgrimage to the shores of Wil-
lapa Bay. If we are to believe
the bulk of historical evidence,
they were content.
Like the seals and whales
that seemed to frolic in the
currents and eddies of ocean,
bay and river, the Chinook,
too, appeared at home on these
ferocious waters. This is hardly
surprising — the Chinook had
eons to adapt to the realities of
this ever-fl uctuating environ-
ment. Call it hostile at times,
or sublime at other quieter
moments, but, simply put, the
Chinook knew the waters of
Willapa Bay to be far more
peaceful than with the volatile
nature of the Big River. Here,
winter simply didn’t lash them
as severely as did those icy east
winds that scooped down the
Yakaitl-Wimak from the tall
steep cliffs that soar above the
Columbia River Gorge. Perhaps
angry spirits sent them. High on
the cliffs that was the domain
of She Who Watches, life styles
remained relatively unchanged
for centuries.
But a man or his family
still had to cross the narrow
isthmus that separated the big
river from Willapa Bay. That
meant a major portage. In the
winter of 1805, the Chinook
had already made their annual
move. The diaries of the Corps
of Discovery report the de-
sertion of lodges on the lower
Some of that was a result of
the Native American rendez-
vous to their winter homes on
the bay and their prized cedar
lodges that seemed to nearly
kiss the highwater marks of the
full-moon tidal surges. Anoth-
er truth must be told: by now,
smallpox had already ravaged
the proud First Peoples. For the
most part, among the numerous
handcrafted lodges and villages
that lined the big river, nobody
was at home.
And how and where did they
cross the 5-mile isthmus? Let
that be the story next month.
Let’s hike and kayak that
stretch of land in the Chinook
Illahee that is now forgotten
and transformed after a century
and a half of modern inunda-
tion, a civilization of immi-
grants with new roads, clear cut
forests, villages, farms and
homes. In other words, the 20th
century had arrived and left its
mark in full force.
Travel then, as the Chinook
or those fi rst pioneers on four
water trails that lace like spider
webs through the tail end of the
coastal range. We just might
discover a worthy patch of rich
history that lies mostly forgot-
ten and so Close to Home.