It is the last week of summer: not only by the calendar, but also by the weather forecast. A high pressure ridge is building in over Cascadia, and sunny, even hot days are forecast this week. It feels like a last hurrah of the season...
I decided to follow one of my wild hairs. I confess that I get them frequently, and take turns cajoling, coercing or luring various friends and relatives into coming along. My wild chase today is the Black River.
I grew up less than a mile from the Deschutes river; it is the largest river in Thurston county, and I have come to know it well. The Black River is more of an enigma: it arises from some obscure wetlands south of Black Lake, and drains the high country of the Black Hills as it moves south, meandering 25 miles, heading for the confluence of the Chehalis river in south county. The Deschutes river cuts through the heart of our cities (Olympia and Tumwater), behaving like a “real river” with falls, with rapids, with scouring floods and concurrent fire hose velocity. In contrast the Black River shifts and shimmers, seemingly without a current, finding its way south by guess and by golly. There are no cataracts, no surging rapids, no roaring deluges. There are sometimes huge floods in winter, when the Chehalis backs up into all its tributaries, including the Black. In these events, the waters of this river rise and seep, soft water fingers parting pasture grasses and tickling into backwater sloughs. This is a dream of a river.
This river was an important highway for the Coast Salish peoples on their trade routes. Here is what they say: “The waterways were our highways, and our people traveled extensively along them, as far north as Vancouver Island and south along the Pacific Coast. As our ancestors traveled by canoe, they listened the elders tell stories that were passed down through many generations and taught important lessons about life.
Our ancestors also traveled the extensive trade routes of the North American continent, taking well-established trails across the Cascades into Yakama Country, the Columbia River Basin and far beyond. One familiar route ran from the Pacific Ocean, up the Chehalis River, into Black Lake and across the Black Hills to Steh-Chass at the head of Budd Inlet and Squi-Aitl at the head of Eld Inlet. Many of today's highways were built along existing trail routes, worn deep by years of continuous use.”
And the European-American perspective: “ The Hudson's Bay men knew the waterways well (thanks to Native American guides). As early as 1824 an expedition left Astoria for the Puget Sound country. Led by James McMillan, it made its way by canoe and portage from the Columbia River to Grays Harbor. Through a dark and tangled wilderness, it paddled its way through November rains up the Chehalis River to the Black River, up the Black River to its headwaters in Black Lake, just west of the present site of Olympia. From there the men portaged to Eld Inlet and made their way up Puget Sound to the Fraser River”
There are some lines from a favorite poem from my youth that come to mind:
“In a wonderland they lie
Dreaming as the days go by
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream
Lingering in a golden gleam
Life, what is it but a dream?”
Lewis Carroll says it best.
• Black Hills photo by Nancy Partlow
• Alfred Waite photo from 1898
• Gordon Newell’s book: So Fair A Dwelling Place
• Poem by Lewis Carroll