March 25, 2009

Olympic Peninsula Adventure

Wilderness Certification Program: A few weeks back, our caravan made the long journey over land and water to the Olympic Peninsula. Our first day was spent at the Makah museum, studying the uncovered artifacts of Ozette, a large village where the Makah people lived hundreds of years ago. We learned about the life and times of these people of the sea. The men would make canoes over twenty feet long and go out in 8 man whaling fleets. The cord used for the harpoon was about 1 inch thick wrapped cedar bark, strong enough to hold a 50 foot humpback. Tied to this monster rope were seal skins full of air, to prevent the whale from diving too deep. Once the tired gigantor was brought canoe side, a sacred lance was used to impale the beast's brain. Then one man jumped into the ocean and sewed the whale's mouth shut to stop it from gathering water and sinking (wouldn't want that job on a rainy day). On the way back to the village with their catch, sharks would often wander behind the canoe. If so, a giant stone was dropped over the edge and the shark disappeared into the dark water below.

These people had a fruitful forest on one side of their settlement and a fruitful ocean on the other. It is amazing to see how intelligent and brave these people were. They built houses from cedar planks and ate salmon, deer, bear, seal, and whales, as well as greens and fruits of the forest.

On Thursday, we trekked 3 miles to the beach through an old growth spruce forest. The creeks and streams had a reddish tinge to their water, and the spruce trees were 7 feet wide and over 100 feet tall. Right before we left the forest, a huge bald eagle flew through the trees less than 50 feet from our heads. We noticed that at the coast, spring was a few weeks ahead of our campus. Nettles were shooting up to shin height, and pussies were plumping on coastal willows. We even funneled a healthy doe between Jason K. and me and watched it make perfect trotting tracks on the sand. A half dozen bald eagles feeding on something brought us to an island which had a dead whale on it. We picked up rib bones 4 feet long and 6 inches wide! After harvesting some nettles, seeing ancient petroglyphs, and finding handhold rocks for bow drills, we hiked back to the campground, started a friction fire, and played bird monopoly.

Friday was a fun day, for me especially, because we headed to the Ellwah River to look for fisher tracks. We knew it was like finding a needle in a haystack... there were only 40 fishers released over thousands of acres in the Olympic National Forest. Also, Fishers are notorious for hunting the treetops, outrunning even squirrels through the tall evergreen canopy. Luckily at the last spot we looked we found a left front track of a fisher in some dry dirt under a bridge. Whenever I see a new track it feels better than Christmas. A gift from the animals for me to learn from.

No comments: