Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gibraltar: One of the strangest places in the world

Surely, there is no place in the vast expanse of human civilization so puzzling as Gibraltar. 

In early 1999, as Sister Mia and I were journeying through Iberia, we spent a day there --in Gibraltar.  The previous four or five days saw us traveling through Spain, starting in Madrid and working our way through Grenada and Torre Molinos.  Even though we were traveling at a hectic pace, the laid-back Spanish attitude was beginning to take hold. (It is irresistible, that attitude.  Ask anyone who has been to Spain!)

Gibraltar jolted me out of it.   

Once we had gone through the extensive immigration and customs that separates Gibraltar from Spain, I was struck by the change in culture. 

Gibraltar is a peninsula on the south coast of Iberia, dominated by a limestone rock that towers 1400' above the Mediterranean Sea
Gibraltar is inhabited by some 30,000 souls who proudly call themselves Britons (Gibraltar is a British territory) and speak the King's English, but with a unique rhythm and accent.  Imagine English with a Spanish cadence.  I found Gibraltarians to be less reserved and less formal, generally, than Spaniards, and certainly less lofty.  (I love those Spaniards, but they take themselves very seriously.)

Ethnically, Gibraltarians are a hybrid of many peoples, including Britons, Spaniards, Italians, and Portuguese (all of which are hybrids, themselves).  No surprise there, of course.  Gibraltar sits at a natural crossroads of humanity.  To the east is the Mediterranean Sea, where mankind cut its sea-faring teeth.  To the south is the Dark Continent of Africa, humanity's birthplace.  The vast Atlantic, highway to the Americas, lies to the west.  To the north, is Europe, the center of so much of Western Civilization.

Ancient home of a lost people
Mia and I and our traveling companions were there for only a day, so we used it fully.  We joined a tour to take us through the limestone caves that riddle the mighty Rock.  Gibraltar was one of the last hold-outs for Neanderthal in his hopeless retreat before Cro-Magnon.  The caves hold evidence of Neanderthal from over 100,000 years ago.  But he has been gone for at least 20,000 years. We, the victors, Cro-Magnon, wandered through his ancient dwelling.  

Our tour culminated with a trip up to the top of the Rock to see the famous Apes of Gibraltar.  Two of our travel companions were Sarah, a young woman from Colorado, and her mother, Carol.  The four of us talked as our cab wound up the narrow, rain-slick road on the flanks of the Rock.

"Mom doesn't want to get out of the cab when we get to the apes," Sarah told us.

"Why not?" I asked.  We passed a sign by the road with the ominous warning:  Apes may bite!

"Animals don't like me," Carol informed us.

"It's true!" Sarah said, laughing.  "When we were in Yellowstone, she got attacked by a squirrel."

We had a good laugh at that and then each urged Carol not to worry.  It would be a shame to miss the Apes of Gibraltar.  She seemed to waver, but still looked unsure.

We came to a place where there were many cabs parked along the roadside.  The road was cut into the western face of the Rock, and there was a wide space with a stone wall from which you could look out on the harbor below.  We got out.

Except for Carol.  She stayed in the cab.

The apes were there.  They sat on the roofs of the cabs, or on top of the stone parapet.  They were quite regal in their appearance.  They had no fear of the many humans that snapped photos and pointed and gawked.  They took peanuts offered by some of the braver observers.

I wasn't one of those --the brave ones.  The apes were big --bigger than raccoons --and they had big teeth.  Fangs, more like.  And I couldn't forget the sign:  Apes may bite!

"I wonder if it's a good idea to feed them like that?" I said, nervously.  Mia and I timidly approached a pair of apes, a mother and her baby, sitting on the stones.  We stayed a good distance behind them.  I was ready to light out at the first quick movement.  "Sarah, get a picture of us, will you?"

Apes may bite!
She did and we moved away quickly.  I relaxed a bit and took a look around at all of them.  There were, perhaps, two dozen apes of various sizes.  Across the road, I saw Carol.  Apparently, she had overcome her fear and decided to come have a look.  As I watched, she turned back toward the cab.

Then I saw one of the apes, a smaller one, but not a baby, start to lope across the road toward her.  "What the fu--" I stammered.

The ape leaped into the air, hands and feet before it like grappling hooks.  It landed on Carol's back, hands clamped on her shoulders.  Carol let out a scream that I swear took a year off my life.  "Get it off!" she screamed.  I stood there, paralyzed.  In my mind, a bright-light strobe blinked the alarm:  Apes may bite!  Apes may bite!  Apes may bite!

Several of the cabbies came to Carol's rescue.  "Relax!" they told her, laughing.  They shooed the ape away, but as it leaped off Carol's back, it took her purse.  The cabbies offered chase and the ape reluctantly dropped the purse and loped away.

"I told you!" Carol admonished her daughter.  "Animals don't like me."

Still up there... those apes
The day ended with all of us going back down the Rock and getting English fish and chips in a pub. In Iberia. At the feet of a gigantic limestone rock.  Below the ancient home of the last of the Neanderthals.  Where live the apes.  At a vast human crossroads.

Gibraltar, I tell ya... strange place.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ut wvih kutt, Kintpuash

Ut wvih kutt, Kintpuash;
Let's do it, Kintpuash;

Let's end this fight
Like all others
Let's spill these men's hot blood
On lava rocks;

Let's go out brave
Let's stretch our necks
As the mallard rising
From the tules 

Let's strike a flint;
Let's light a flame
Burn down our dying world
In an eye flash;

Ut wvih kutt, Kintpuash;
Ut wvih kutt

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book review: The Modocs and Their War

My recent visit to Lava Beds National Monument in northern California awakened a slumbering desire to know more about the Modoc Indian War that occurred in the area just south of my long-time home of Klamath Falls, Oregon.

To that end, I followed up my visit by reading The Modocs and their War, by Keith A. Murray.  The book was first published in 1958, eighty-five years after the events it recounts took place.

Reading the book, I quickly became aware that my previous interpretation of events, which I constructed from flimsy research and common legend, ascribed a certain romance (to my way of thinking) to tragic and brutal events.  While my uninformed and naively poetic story might make for a good movie, it has only the most tenuous relations, I'm afraid, to the truth of the matter.  (My apologies for that, dear reader.)

Using documents from the federal government, as well as from the state governments of Oregon and Washington, newspaper articles of the day, and letters written by the principle actors, Murray depicts a mind-boggling, confused, and mishandled situation --a situation that was bound to end in tragedy and bloodshed.

Besides describing the bungling by government bureaucracies and how incompetence and bigotry made the war inevitable, the work provides fascinating depictions of the principles in the historic events of the day.
  • There is General Canby, the seasoned war veteran who is mildly sympathetic to the Modocs and impatient with the prejudice and superstition that ruled the day. 

  • There is Scarfaced Charlie, the dogged and decent warrior who showed mercy to Federal troops trapped in the lava at the Thomas-Wright Massacre. 

  • There is the well-intentioned and capable Alfred B. Meacham, with his high-placed connections (including President Grant), who seemed to honestly desire peace.
  • There is the good-hearted and brave Modoc woman, Toby (later known as Winema) who did her best to minimize the bloodshed and risked her own life to save Meacham.
  • There is blood-crazed Hooker Jim, one of the Modocs responsible for the murder of white settlers, who turned on his people to save his own skin.

  • There is Curly-headed Doctor, the Modoc shaman who claimed it was his medicine that held off the Federal troops in the early fighting and who kept the flames of fanaticism burning hot among the Modocs.

  • There are Modocs Schonchin John, Boston Charlie, Bogus Charlie, Ellen's Man, Shacknasty Jim, each with his own distinct role in the conflict. 

  • There are Federal soldiers Colonel Jefferson C. Davis, General Frank Wheaton, and the universally-disliked General Gillem.
  • There are various Californian and Oregonian civilians:  Elisha Steele, who befriended Captain Jack; John M. Fairchild, the rancher who hosted Federal troops for much of the conflict, Oliver and Ivan Applegate, the sons of the men who blazed the Applegate Trail that first brought the white men into conflict with the Modocs, and kind-hearted Reverend Eleazar Thomas, perhaps the least-deserving victim of Modoc treachery.

  • And, of course, there is Captain Jack, the leader of the Modoc band.  It is easy and alluring, some 150 years after the fact, to ascribe romantic notions to the legend of Captain Jack, and the man was certainly endowed with admirable qualities, among them courage and loyalty.  But there were no innocents in this conflict.  Captain Jack murdered the unarmed General Canby knowing that it was a futile and pointless act.
Murray's work does an excellent job of describing all aspects of the Modoc conflict.  Murray outlays the chronicle of events beginning with the hostilities that occurred between white settlers and the various Native American tribes (Klamath, Paiute, Warm Springs, and Modoc) in the decades before the war, the war itself, including the political, diplomatic, and military maneuvering, and the war's aftermath, including the trial and execution of the Modoc leaders, and the exile of the surviving Modocs to faraway Oklahoma.

Although Murray does at times inject his own (considered) opinions, he mostly relies on facts. At times, the narrative is hard to follow as the reader is bombarded with names and events, but considering the complexity of the subject-matter, Murray can hardly be blamed for that.

All in all, I found the book to be gripping --one of the more entertaining histories I have read.  I recommend it for anyone interested in this fascinating piece of local history.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Anda al Señor, querida

Traté llamarte, tía.
Pero tú no podías responder.
Ya estuviste andando al Señor.

Años largos han pasado
Desde que te fuiste mis ojos
Aunque estuviste andando al Señor.

Pero el corazón
Nunca te saliste ni no podías
Mientras estuviste andando al Señor.

Me alegro de saber
Lo que tu siempre supiste
Estamos andando, andando al Señor.

All my love to my Auntie Josie, who always called me "Dadie," and never showed me anything but kindness and love.  I am sorry I could not reach you at the end, Auntie.  I love you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Graffiti punks desecrate mural

Nice work, *ssholes.
Walking up Hawthorne Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon, I was appalled to see that graffiti punks had defaced the mural on the side of the building at the corner of SE 33rd Avenue.  Just goes to show that, while Portland may be one of the best places in the world, we've got our share of disturbed, anti-social punks.

I find it perplexing.

What motivates someone to do something like this?

Is it an expression of contempt?  And, if so, toward whom or what? 

Well, contempt breeds contempt and I've got nothing but contempt for the punks that did it.  I imagine them to be whiny, sniveling, over-privileged truants; persons who squander their lives and everything they've been given; persons forever trapped in an adolescence in which they were neglected by indifferent parents.  No one ever taught them how to do or be anything and they never had enough pluck to learn for themselves.

Punks like this are incapable of creation.  And since they can't create, they settle for creation's perverted substitute, desecration.  Truly, a miserable existence.

Nice work, *ssholes.

Update: Apparently, the punks who did this are known to the police. They call themselves the TMR (This Mural is Ruined) taggers. Punks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coastal denouement

Wind-sculpted vegetation
On Sunday, June 12th, Brother Calee and Kris Ross deposited me in Portland, where I picked up my beautiful and sweet wife, Maty.  The two of us drove that night to Otter Crest, where we'd reserved a room.

Looks sharkey to me
The unrivaled beauty of the Oregon coast provided the perfect denouement for a rewarding week in which I reconnected with my two brothers and the country in which I have spent so much of my life.

The colors of the coast are cooler and more vivid than those of the desert.  While high desert country is stark and sun-baked, coastal terrain is wind-sculpted and somehow less harsh.

Coastal rock near Devil's Punchbowl
The coast seems more forgiving of human frailty, although only a fool would discount Pacifica's fierce temper.

Rock at Otter Crest
Frigid water and treacherous tides have claimed thousands of lives over the years. Barnacle-covered bones litter the deeps, forever beyond human knowledge.

Devil's Punchbowl
From the sea, all life began.  And to it, all must return someday.

Stony strata tally the eons
On the beach at Otter Crest, I scrambled around the rocks admiring the tide pools.  They are fascinating and perhaps provide a fractal model for the Universe.

Señor Ardillo contempla la eternidad
Each tide pool is a self-contained world, with its own laws and hierarchy of powers.

A diversity of life within a hollow in a rock
But when the tide comes in, everything is reset. Old worlds are obliterated and the seeds of new worlds are planted.

Seaweed forest
All of it reveals the impermanence of our little human reality.  Someday, the tide will come in on our tide pool and our world will reset.

Tide pool:  A self-contained reality
Until that day, live!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CwtBC (Pt. V): Captain Jack and General Canby

Camping with the Brothers Cariaga: My woodsy brothers, Eric and Calee, and our friends, Mike Bellmore and Kris Ross, have over the past six or seven years established a tradition of camping and fishing the Klamath River Canyon in late May and early June. This year, I joined them...

Read Part I, In search of the morel, here.
Read Part II, A beacon for those to come, here.
Read Part III, Rugged beauty in the lava beds, here.
Read Part IV, Fishin' the Klamath River Canyon, here.

Note To write this post, I relied on the excellent recounting provided by the Prineville Territory website.  It's a fascinating read which I highly recommend.

Update:  After writing this post, I read Keith A. Murray's excellent book "The Modocs and their War" which provides a detailed account of the conflict.  I urge this book on anyone interested in a more accurate recounting of what really happened in the Tule Lake Basin in 1873.   

Canby's Cross
The morning of April 11, 1873, dawned cool and clear on the shores of Tulelake.  At Gillem's Camp, at the base of a great bluff on the lake's western shore, General Edward R S Canby gathered together his party of peace commissioners and interpreters.

Canby was a well-respected and distinguished officer in the United States Army.  His list of military accomplishments in the War Between the States was impressive.  He drove Confederate troops from New Mexico territory.  He captured Mobile, Alabama, where he destroyed or captured the remains of the rebel navy.  It was he who accepted the surrender of all Western Confederate troops in 1865.

Captain Jack's cave within the stronghold
But on this day, he had a different mission.  He was to meet with the leaders of a band of renegade (as the white men termed them) Modocs to convince them to return to the reservation assigned to them on Upper Klamath Lake.  The agreement was that they should meet at a place between Gillem's Camp and the Modoc Stronghold a mile or two to the east to discuss terms.  Both parties were to come unarmed. 

For General Canby, the truth must have been obvious.  The way of the Modoc, moving with the demands of the seasons from place to place in the Tulelake Basin, could not be reconciled with the way of the encroaching white man.  The Modocs had no fences, nor plots of land, nor even permanent dwellings.  They had no cattle.  What harvest they took from the land --whether the wocus water lilies, whose seeds they ground into meal, or the ducks and geese that nested along the lake shore --was wild, a gift of the earth.  The white settlers who continued to arrive through the recently-blazed Applegate Trail, wanted to drain the lake and plant crops.  It was simple fact:  two incompatible cultures were crashing headlong into each other.

Major General E. R. S. Canby

And apart from the right or wrong of the matter (General Canby was a soldier, after all), it was also a plain fact that when two cultures collided in such a way, the stronger would overcome the lesser. So, when Winema (wy-NEE-ma), the Modoc woman who had married the white man, Frank Riddle, warned the General about the possibility of treachery, Canby would not believe it.  “The little handful of Modocs dare not do that—kill us in the presence of a thousand men. They cannot do it.”

Canby believed the inevitable course of events could not be clearer. He had enough respect for the Modoc chief, Kintpuash --or Captain Jack, as the white men called him --to assume that Captain Jack could see it as clearly.

But there was a deeper truth that General Canby missed.

Natural trench in Captain Jack's Stronghold
There was no question about the good fighting qualities of the Modocs.  They were very brave and very skillful also and repulsed our attacks with great loss to the troops and no particular loss to themselves. --Sgt. Michael McCarthy on the fighting abilities of Modoc warriors
Captain Jack and his warriors had spent a long winter sheltering in the caves of their lava bed stronghold.  They'd been holed up there for months.  The natural defenses afforded by the jagged ridges and lava tubes, which the Modocs knew intimately, made it possible for them to fire from concealment and then disappear, only to reappear in a new vantage.  It was ideal defensive terrain.

In January, the Modocs repelled an assault by 400 Federal troops, inflicting 60 casualties (35 dead) without losing even one of their 53 warriors.  It was a victory on a scale that the Modocs could not have imagined.

But the Federals would not leave.  In fact, after the defeat, they only renewed their efforts, moving their camps into positions that threatened Modoc access to the life-giving water of Tule Lake.

Modoc triumph must surely have turned to disquiet when they saw that, even after inflicting such a stupendous defeat upon them, the Federals were not dissuaded.  At some level, Captain Jack and his warriors --fiery Schonchin John, the shaman Curly-Headed Doctor, Shacknasty Frank, black-hearted Hooker Jim, and the rest  --could not fail to see it.  The Modoc way of life was at an end.

So even as the peace talks were progressing, the Modocs were confronting this new truth, with all its earth-shaking consequences.  A deep rift within the warrior band was exposed.

Schonchin John's cave
One faction, led by Captain Jack's second, Schonchin John, called for treachery.  Yes, go to the parley, they argued.  But bring weapons, concealed beneath clothes.  Then, when the moment is ripe, strike!  Kill General Canby and the other officers and decapitate the Federal army!  Just as with previous enemies, when the Modocs slew their leaders, the white men would withdraw. 

But Captain Jack and his faction advocated negotiations.  Although peace talks had broken down, perhaps there might be some future for the Modoc people.  Captain Jack was a tribal leader.  He had a responsibility toward all his people.  And perhaps he was tired of the killing, the murder, the atrocities that had raged all across the region for the last score of years.   He argued against Schonchin John's plan.

At council, Schonchin John and his followers rejected Captain Jack's arguments.  They dressed him in women's clothes, saying "“You’re a woman, a fish-hearted woman. You are not a Modoc. We disown you.”

“Why do you force me to this coward’s act?” Captain Jack demanded.

Kintpuash (Captain Jack)

Captain Jack was no stranger to the white man.  He had been many times to nearby Yreka, had seen first hand the strength of the white man's society.  He understood the futility of treachery.  The truth that was so obvious to General Canby was no less so to Captain Jack:  two cultures in conflict; utter and inevitable defeat for the Modocs.  Jack knew that his people would never again be allowed to live along the shores of the great basin lake that defined them.  They would no longer be Modoc.

And, just as had the ancient people who carved their secrets into the cliff faces at Petroglyph Point, Captain Jack chose to etch a mark in the chronicle of human history.  Perhaps in dying, the Modocs would be heard.

Captain Jack agreed to the ambush.  I believe he relented not to the disrespectful words directed at him, but to the agony that existed behind it.

He said, “I will kill Canby, knowing it will cost me my life and all the lives of my people….”

Another jagged tragedy in the Long, Long Chronicle
The morning of April 11th, the two parties faced each other on a piece of flat ground midway between the two camps.  Winema, the Modoc woman, and Frank Riddle her white husband, were on hand as interpreters.  At General Canby's side were Reverend Doctor Eleazar Thomas, whom the Modocs called "the Sunday Doctor," Klamath Federal Agent A. B. Meacham, and Indian Agent L. S. Dyer.  Beside Captain Jack were Schonchin John and six other Modocs.

Captain Jack set forth demands:  complete pardons for all the Modoc warriors, withdrawal of all federal troops, and the right for the Modocs to choose the location of their own reservation. General Canby informed the Modocs that the Federal government would agree to none of those demands.

Then someone from among the Modocs uttered the words “Ut wvih kutt” (let’s do it) and Madam Fate stepped forward to make her irrevocable pronouncements.

Captain Jack drew the pistol hidden at his back and fired directly at General Canby's face.  The pistol misfired and for a moment time froze.  Agent Dyer and Frank Riddle turned and ran, each in a different direction.  Captain Jack fired again, hitting General Canby below the right eye.  At the same instant, Schonchin John and Boston Charley fired.  Schonchin John hit Agent Meachem, knocking him unconscious.  Boston Charley's shot killed the Sunday Doctor.  Canby turned to run, stumbled and fell.  Bogus Charley slit the General's throat as he lay on the ground.  Winema threw herself over the wounded Meacham, saving his life.

General Canby's troops saw the massacre from their observation point at Gillem's Camp, but were helpless to intervene.  The Modocs stripped the bodies of the dead (and the unconscious Meacham) and returned to their stronghold. 

Before the massacre, the Modocs enjoyed some sympathy with the public.  There was a peace movement afoot in Washington, DC, (referred to scornfully by local settlers as the "Lo! the poor Indian" bunch).  International newspapers in London and Paris had taken up the Modoc cause.  Pressure was growing on President Grant to change his Indian policy.

After the massacre, public sympathy evaporated.  The Modoc War became a case of simple, barbaric murder.

Four days after the massacre, the Federals again assaulted the stronghold and were again repelled with losses.  But the Modocs by then knew better than to expect the troops to withdraw.  Modoc destiny was set in stone.

Fifteen days after the massacre, one last military victory came to the Modocs on the field that is now called the Thomas-Wright battlefield.  A detachment of troops set forth to establish an artillery observation post on Hardin Butte, south of the stronghold, and stumbled into disaster.  They stopped to rest at midday, but sent scouts ahead.  The scouts unwittingly approached Modoc positions on the butte.  The Modocs were vastly outnumbered and, fearing discovery, opened fire on the scouts.  The main detachment of troops was caught at unawares and when one of the two commanding officers was killed, discipline collapsed.  The slaughter was terrible, with two-thirds of the Federal troops either killed or wounded.  The Modoc leader in the engagement, Scarfaced Charley, mercifully ended the battle, allowing the remaining Federals to escape.  "All you fellows that ain't dead better go on home," he said.  "We don't want to kill you all in one day."

Soon after this victory, the Modocs suffered a terrible defeat at Dry Lake, where the warrior known as Ellen's Man was killed.  For the Modocs, even more divided now than before the massacre, the defeat provided the final rift that split them into two groups, each of which attempted to escape.

Captain Jack and his faction, retreated west to Willow Creek.  The other faction, which included Hooker Jim and Bogus Charley went west and south, but were captured.  In exchange for amnesty, the captured Modocs agreed to help the Federals track down Captain Jack and his band.  On July 1st, when they captured him along the upper reaches of Lost River, Captain Jack still wore the tattered remains of General Canby's uniform.  “Jack’s legs gave out,” he said.

Captain Jack, Schonchin John, and four other warriors were put to trial at Fort Klamath.  Four of the defendants, including the two leaders, were convicted and hanged.  After the executions, the corpses were beheaded.  The detached heads found their way onto display at the Smithsonian Institution. The surviving Modocs were relocated in faraway Oklahoma on land and among people they did not know.

It seems unlikely that Captain Jack and the Modocs held out hope that the alien ways of the white man, whom they knew they had not the strength to fight, would ever work in their favor.  And so, even had they understood the complex currents that ran within the white man's world, they would have known that there was nothing on which they could stake their fate.

Captain Jack and General Canby each had seen the future.  General Canby made the mistake of seeing it as the fate of the individuals trapped in the stronghold.  Captain Jack saw it as the punctuated ending, not of those individuals, but of an entire culture of ancient people.

This concludes the Camping with the Brothers Cariaga series.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A crazy Portland interlude

You just never know what you're gonna see in Portland.

Maty and I were making our way home Saturday evening at about 10pm when we found Hawthorne Boulevard blocked by police cars at 12th Street.

People were gathered on the sidewalks looking expectantly up the slope to the east. "Maybe a parade is coming," Maty suggested. "Let's park and go see." And so we did.

Before long, we saw bicycle headlamps speeding down Hawthorne from the east. A cavalcade of bicyclists.  Thousands of them.  Naked bicyclists. A cavalcade of naked bicyclists.

A cavalcade of thousands of naked bicyclists.

Like I said, you never know what you're gonna see in Portland.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

CwtBC (Pt. IV): Fishin' the Klamath River Canyon

Camping with the Brothers Cariaga: My woodsy brothers, Eric and Calee, and our friends, Mike Bellmore and Kris Ross, have over the past six or seven years established a tradition of camping and fishing the Klamath River Canyon in late May and early June. This year, I joined them...

Read Part I, In search of the morel, here
Read Part II, A beacon for those to come, here
Read Part III, Rugged beauty in the lava beds, here.

Klamath River Canyon
My brothers told me the water is very high this year.  A result of the late snowfall that started in mid-February and didn't let up for six weeks.  The snow pack covered the Cascade Mountains, approaching record levels. Now, the run-off swells waterways throughout the region.  The river was as high as ever they had seen it.  

High water volume doesn't make for the best fishing, they told me.  I'm not a fisherman, but it makes sense.  High water means that more insects, crayfish, and frogs get swept into the water, making fishing lures and tied flies less alluring for hungry trout. 

Kris Ross, pullin' one out
And, indeed, in the several hours we spent scrabbling and climbing among the rocks, the lads had only a half-dozen hits.  They landed two of the native red-band rainbow trout that rule this river, but most days they do better than that.  "The bite never really turned on," Kris Ross mused that evening, in camp.

They're catch-and-release fishermen, those men.  Occasionally, they kill a fish in the act of landing it, but they never do so purposefully.  They have enormous respect for the trout and for the river.

Stinging nettle
It is a rough go, down into the canyon.  The ground is broken and severe.  Rocks, tumbled down by the river over thousands of years, litter the canyon walls.  Swift water and deep, roaring rapids raise the stakes. One wrong step and a man could be carried off in the blink of an eye.  There are rattlesnakes and stinging nettles.

Red-band rainbow trout
When we were boys, Dad would take Eric and me to this canyon, to his secret fishing holes in the rugged country where few fisherman go.  I lost interest as I grew older.  But for Eric, it became a ritual and a way of life.  He has never stopped coming back.

Rugged, beautiful country
The return to Klamath River Canyon was quite an experience.  This trip evoked dim memories from my youth, before I turned away from the earthly knowledge that my brothers and friends embrace.  And although I don't regret that I've chosen a different life --a life of books and travel and playing guitar --the raw, honest beauty of the canyon made me once again wonder if I hadn't taken a wrong turn somewhere.

The river was like an almost-forgotten brother from whom I had so long been parted that we no longer knew each another.  As with all things challenging and mysterious, the river offers a gift for those who have the wisdom and the grit to seek it out.

It all made me realize just how proud I am of these brothers of mine.

Brother Eric in his element
To be continued...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

CwtBC (Pt. III): Rugged beauty in the lava beds

Camping with the Brothers Cariaga: My woodsy brothers, Eric and Calee, and our friends, Mike Bellmore and Kris Ross, have over the past six or seven years established a tradition of camping and fishing the Klamath River Canyon in late May and early June. This year, I joined them...

Read Part I, In search of the morel, here
Read Part II, A beacon for those to come, here

Devil's Homestead
On Saturday, Rick Means and I took a cruise through Lava Beds National Monument.  It is a young land, indeed.  The lava flow that formed the Devil's Homestead poured forth from fissures deep within the earth a scant 12,000 years ago.  As you look out across it, you can see that life is only just beginning to take hold among the jagged ridges of solidified magma.
Lichen-clad lava rock
Lichen clings to the rocks.  Sagebrush colonizes wherever enough dirt has collected for it to take root.  Near Tulelake's water, the air is full of the music of red-wing blackbirds.  Away from the water, in the grass and scrub we heard a western meadowlark (Oregon's state bird) singing.

Stark beauty
My heart was heavy because I had Captain Jack and the Modocs on my mind.  I wondered how it might have been for young Modoc lovers who maybe stood in this very spot, listening to the birdsong in the evening, in the centuries before the new people came and changed everything. 

Western rattlesnake
We spotted a rattler, a young one, only 9 or 10 inches long, sleeping in the sun on the lava rock beside the trail.  No sooner had I snapped a photo than it became aware of us.  It raised up its triangular head, wider at the base than the long, sleek body, and in an instant slid over the lava rock to disappear in the brush.

I was wearing sandals and shorts at the time and my exposed shins and feet felt very vulnerable.  From that point forward during our hike, I became hyper-aware of every rustle in the grass, every chirp of insects.  As we hiked on, I would stop and listen.  "Did you hear something, Rick?" I would ask.

Lichen paints the land
This is not a gentle land. Ancient Modoc or late-century settler, one would need grit to survive here.  So harsh is the climate and so rugged the terrain, that the people who lived here, who live here yet, might not be blamed for seeing the earth as a culling predator, claiming the lives of the weak and unsuited.

But even in the eternal war for survival, there are quiet moments.  Moments of great beauty.  Moments that one can cling to, when finally and inevitably one succumbs.  Brief eternities that serve to remind:  although one's part in it is ended, the music continues... forever.

To be continued...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

CwtBC (Pt. II): A beacon for those to come

Camping with the Brothers Cariaga: My woodsy brothers, Eric and Calee, and our equally woodsy friends, Mike Bellmore and Kris Ross, have over the past six or seven years established a tradition of camping and fishing the Klamath River Canyon in late May and early June. This year, I joined them...

Read Part I, In search of the morel, here.

For thousands of years, this volcanic tuff, known as Petroglyph Point, formed an island in the middle of massive Tule Lake
Kamookumpts rested on the east shore of Tule Lake.  There was only the lake in all the world.  Kamookumpts decided to make land.  He dug mud from beneath the lake and piled it up, forming a hill.  He used the mud from the hill to create land and mountains.  Then he created rivers and streams.  Then Kamookumpts created plants and animals.  When he had finished, Kamookumpts was weary from his labor.  So he dug a hole beneath the lake for his bed.  As he went to sleep, he scooped a last handful of mud and made a hill to mark his bed. --Modoc Creation Myth
This is a young land.  The Tulelake (TOO-lee lake) Basin was shaped by lava flows erupting from deep within the earth over the last several hundred thousand years.  The tectonic subduction that continues to mold the Cascade Mountains spews out molten lava, which cools over the years and forms the jagged rock. 

The last big lava flow, the Black Crater flow, occurred some 3500 years ago.  Just yesterday, in geological terms.  As it cooled, life encroached.  At first, the harsh environment suited only lichens, fungi, and hardy grasses that needed little water.  But life begets life.    

What does it mean?
Man came to the Tule Lake Basin some 11,500 years ago.  When first he beheld it, the lake stretched all across the basin floor.   Man hunted the ducks and geese that nested around the lake.  He took shellfish from the shallows.  He fished for trout and other fish in the deeper waters.  He hunted deer and mammoths.  The lake became his home.

In time, as man became ever more reliant on the lake, he would canoe out to an island in its midst, there to carve on the rocky cliffs that raised it out of the water.

Forever beyond our ken
It is unclear whether the people who made these markings are the ancestors of the Modocs or another people entirely; perhaps some clan that moved on or was lost in some prehistoric disaster.

A memory fades before our eyes
Nor is it certain how old are the markings.  Some archaeologists have attempted to estimate the age by comparing the height of the markings on the cliff face against the historical water level of Tule Lake.  Estimates range from 2500 to 4500 years.

An ancient call from a lost people
But now, the lake is withered.  The island that once stood among the water and the tules is a bluff known as Petroglyph Point.  It rises up out of the irrigated farmland that was lake bed for hundreds of centuries.  Its cliffs are home to swallows, hawks, and owls.  One can yet go there to see the markings of the ancient people.

Tule Lake is a shrunken memory of what it must have been to the peoples who lived beside it for thousands of years. Would they grieve to know what has become of their home? Or would they rejoice that their memory yet lingers in the world, though they are long gone?

Rick Means pointed out that the symbol in the middle looks vaguely like the Ace of Spades, while the symbol to the right somewhat resembles a certain part of the male anatomy.  His translation:  "Somebody got f*cked at cards."
I believe the symbols on the cliff walls are gifts.  They are a haunting beacon that would guide us to a world that no longer exists.  They express the wisdom gained from living for thousands of years along the shores of a great, shallow lake in the middle of a young land.

To be continued...