Monday, January 24, 2011

Place-Based Learning On Beaver Creek Marsh

The importance of place in culture became clear to me as I attempted to outline the early aboriginal inhabitants and their culture near Beaver Creek marsh from sources of ethnography and archaeology for the area.  Few sources of information are available on the Alsea people that lived here before European and Asian settlement.  I listened to the stories that the marsh tells every day living here.  The living Alsea people and their culture have been lost in the passing of time.  Their stories live in nature.  Their possible ancestors may live among the Siletz Confederated Tribe.  
A new book “The People Are Dancing Again” by Charles Wilkinson (2010) documents the history of the Siletz Confederated Tribe of western Oregon.  The Siletz Tribe was originally composed of people from numerous village cultures in western Oregon and northern California that were forced onto the Siletz reservation in 1856.  In aboriginal times, each individual village had political authority and was autonomous.  The ethnographic concept of tribes was not supported.  The villages were exogamous, with men taking brides from other villages and the women becoming citizens of their new places.  In the beginning chapter on aboriginal village societies, Wilkinson gives a clear explanation of the importance of place in culture:
“The village as a place carries powerful emotional content.  The multidimensional Athapaskan word duh-neh means “the people of the place” and also encompasses “the blood line”.  It is “the place where your family has always been buried.”  There is no comparable concept in the English language, and I have seen Siletz people strain to articulate the intensity and specificity of the term.  The village is at once concrete and dynamic.  While it is a fixed place on the land and the people are tied to it, the population changes because of births, deaths, and the law of intermarriage, causing some people (women) to move from one village to another.  Yet for both men and women the tie to the village is immutable.  Duh-neh: This is the one place where a person is from, where the ancestors are buried.  This is the only place, the heart place.  There can be no other place.”
This heart place is the singular place where we learn from our elders, teach our children, and return to in our death.  It gives us the connection to living that sustains our breath and life, sparks our imagination and gives us the stories that support our narrative to explain existence and give meaning.  We all come from the one place, which can be different for each of us.  This one in the many and many in the one is an important recognition of how to get along with each other and the world.  Place-based learning is an effort to bring the resources of place to education and learning.  In this way culture can be made stronger by linking with wildness and the wisdom of nature that is heart place.

Posted by michael

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Alsea Ethnography And Beaver Creek Marsh

The Alsea people lived near Beaver Creek marsh before homesteading and farming began in the area after 1850.  Two important sources for ethnographic information about the Alsea people are articles by Frachtenberg (1920) and Drucker (1939).  
Frachtenberg collected Alsea texts and myths, which give a picture of characters and cosmology that are important to the Alsea people.  He made extensive comparisons between Alsea myths and those of other tribes in surrounding regions.  He concluded that the Alsea did not have unique mythical traditions, instead sharing myths with other tribes and acting as a transition region between southwestern and northwestern tribes by combining collections of myths from both regions.  The Alsea did not have creation myths, but instead accepted that the world was always created.  They told tales about the characters inhabiting the world.  
A prominent feature of Alsea myths is the prevalence of the explanatory element and its importance.  Many examples are recorded by Frachtenberg and these reflect the detailed knowledge about the natural world that the Alsea lived in.  Why Robin is timid.  Wren’s small size.  Why Crane spears fish at low tide.  Why Snipes cry during a fog.  Why Black Bear likes to dig up graves.  Beaver’s superiority over Black Bear.  Why Whale never comes to the mouth of a river.  Why Whale is washed ashore only near the village of a chief.  Why people fish with poles.  Why Snakes shed their skin.  Why Hawk bites off heads of other birds.  Why Woodpecker’s head is red.  Why Woodpecker’s head is white.  Why Flies crawl even after they are cut in two.  The existence of a legendary mountain that reaches to the sky.  Why Wolves like to kill Elk.  The origin of Salmon in the several rivers.  Names of certain places.  Origin of camas.  Rocks instead of a waterfall in a certain locality.  The differentiation of the People into various tribes.  Why Fur-Seal seeks refuge on land during a storm.  The existence of Fleas.  Why People boil and smoke Salmon.  Why Thunder lives in the sky.  The knots on a thimble berry stalk.  Why it is a bad omen to hear the cry of Kingfisher, especially as he flies over a smoking chimney.  Why Hawk has a twisted neck.  Why Black Bear acts occasionally like a human being.  The origin of Elk’s name (“Food”).  
There is an Alsea myth called “The Lost Seal Hunters” which is about people who lived at Seal Rock.  The story probably refers to the midden site at Seal Rock that has been studied with archaeological methods.  The story tells that there were two houses and two canoes at Seal Rock.  The people made all sorts of things for fishing, including ropes out of seal sinew and spears.  The story tells about hunting a seal and the things that needed to be done to capture and kill the seal.  One day, the hunters spear a seal which takes them far out into the ocean and south and they travel for several days until finally killing the seal.  They cut the seal loose and land where they do not recognize the people.  They beg some food, leave their canoe with the strange people, and walk north for several days along the shore until coming home to Seal Rock again.
Drucker collected information on Alsea ethnography including subsistence, houses, canoes, technology and weapons, dress, utensils, textiles, fire, tobacco and smoking, musical instruments, dogs, games, calender, eclipse, wealth, social life, individual life, first-salmon rites, and shamanism.  
The Alsea were fisher folk, with salmon being the most important species captured.  Traps and spears were considered the most effective means for fish capture, while nets and hooks were used less frequently.  Land animals were hunted with traps, snares, and bow and arrow.  Sea mammals were captured with harpoons and spears. Women prepared and preserved food that had been captured by fishing and hunting and contributed food that was gathered in carrying baskets.  With curved digging sticks, they dug camas and fern and skunk cabbage roots.  They also collected clams, mussels, berries, and greens. 
Winter houses were constructed as long houses in pits lined with cedar planks and roofed with gabled cedar planks.  Houses could hold from one to four families.  Tule mats were used as bedding, to sit on, and as floor coverings.  Other furniture included baskets, utensils, and household implements.  Temporary rectangular structures were constructed of reeds and light poles for seasonal fishing camps.  The Alsea had three types of canoes.  The larger Nootka canoe was purchased from northern traders and used for ocean fishing.  Smaller canoes were constructed by the Alsea from a single piece of wood, with similar bow and stern.  Canoes had paddles, poles, a bailer, and a painter, as well as fishing gear.  Wood working was proficient but did not include ornamentation.  For wood working, stone tools were little used, while shell, horn, and bone were widely used.
Household items were simple and effective.  Two kinds of receptacles were used.  Cooking vessels and bowls were carved from maple or alder.  Cooking vessels were large and trough shaped, while bowls were smaller and round.  Other containers were basketry.  Split spruce roots were twined to make deep, round water buckets and berry baskets.  Other baskets were flexible bags, woven out of tule and tough beach grass, in the shape of a blunt wedge, wider at the top than at the bottom.  Smaller baskets of the same shape were often made of finer work and decorations.  Cordage was made with beach grass, the inner bark of willow, or tule.  Rope was made by braiding cordage together.  Tule mats were made by sewing with a long, curved wooden needle.  Musical instruments included bone whistles, wooden flutes, roof boards hit with poles for drums, and a buzzer, constructed of a wooden disk, spun with two twisted cords, that produced a buzzing sound.  Fire was kindled with a simple drill of hardwood and a willow hearth.  Heating and cooking fires were built of sticks laid against a backlog.  The fireplace in the house was not a pit, but on the level of the rest of the floor.  
When a person became ill, a shaman was sent for.  The shaman used amulets according to instructions from her helper spirits, as seen in dreams and visions during initial training.  Shamans would have amulets of animal fur or feathers, face paint, and a wide belt of elk hide.  They would also bring a set of carved sticks from thumping against the roof boards.  At the patient’s side the shaman sang, accompanied by spectators.  Then the shaman began to dance and display tricks taught by the helper spirits.  As the dance progressed, the shaman moved into a trance state and diagnosed the patient’s malady.  Sickness could be caused by a disease object in the patient’s body, which was then removed.  To extract a disease object, the shaman either sucked it out or drew it out with her hands.  When the shaman had the object firmly, two assistants grasped the shaman by the wide leather belt and drew back.  If the shaman sucked the object out, it was placed in the shaman’s hands and plunged into a basket of water to weaken it.  Then the shaman showed the small whitish thing to onlookers.  If the shaman could not cure the patient, she was free to say so or suggest another shaman that may effect a cure.  
If the patient’s soul had been displaced by the disease object, the shaman sang, sending the helper spirit to retrieve the soul.  When a person died, their soul traveled swiftly northward to the place where it crossed in a canoe to the Land of the Dead and did not return.  In soul-loss sickness, the soul seems to have loitered along the way, so that the shaman’s helper spirit could overtake and return it to the patient’s body. 
Shamans also were called upon for other tasks associated with magic.  These included curing a failure of the salmon run, or other food shortage.  These events were caused by disease objects being placed in the rivers or places for food.  The shaman sang and danced to see and remove the object with the assistance of her helper spirits. Shamans bathed mourners after burial of kin and after a prescribed period to remove taboos placed on them.  Shamans sang and danced to predict the future, especially with regards to food abundance or famine.  A shaman’s life required much training and preparation and could be rewarding with wealth and prestige.  However, if the shaman was ever accused of witchcraft or black magic, she was fearful, with her life in danger from ambush by angry patients and their relatives. 

The Alsea calender was based on moon cycles.  The name of each month was determined by the particular berries picked or games played at that period only.  Examples: February month for spear throwing game, March month for top spinning, April month for rolling hoops, May month for picking salmon berries, July month for picking salal berries, August month when salmon arrive, October month when they cease drying salmon, and December month for telling myths. Eclipse of the moon was caused by great flocks of birds, chiefly birds of prey- eagles, hawks, and ravens who flew up to fight the moon. When an eclipse happened, the People turned dishes and even canoes upside down, so as not to catch some of the moon's blood. 

Posted by michael

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seal Rock Archaeology

Alsea fishing (USFS)

Linda Ann Clark completed a thesis at Oregon State University in 1988 on the archaeology of a site in Seal Rock, Oregon (Site 35LNC14). She also wrote a chapter on this site in Prehistory of the Oregon Coast.  This site is a shell midden located a couple of miles south of the Beaver Creek marsh, so probably reflects life for Alsea people who lived near the marsh.  Details of the study should be consulted in her thesis.  This post gives a general summary of interesting findings about the site.   
The site was part of a seasonal land use pattern.  Clark states: 
“The land use pattern suggests that during the winter people lived in villages adjacent to estuaries, from the river mouth upstream to tidewater. By spring, stored supplies were depleted and sea mammals were establishing rookeries.  At this time village populations began to disperse, possibly moving to the outer coast or to upriver camps. During the spring and early summer, many of the outer coast shell midden sites were utilized as resource procurement camps for shell fish, fish and sea mammals. At the same time, trips into the adjacent uplands were probably conducted to hunt terrestrial mammals and collect plant resources. In the mid to late summer, anadromous fish (especially salmon) were running, and populations may have moved to fishing camps where fish were caught, dried, and stored for the winter. At the end of fall fish runs, people moved back to their winter villages.”
The faunal remains suggest that the Seal Rock site was used for subsistence harvesting of nearshore and terrestrial resources during the spring to mid or late summer months.  Radiocarbon dating suggested that initial use of this site began around A.D. 1575.  The site was probably abandoned prior to A.D. 1830, as Euro-American trade goods are lacking.  Intense white contact and trading along the Oregon coast occurred about 1830-1840.
Ethnographic accounts place the Seal Rock area in the Alsea culture territory.  It is possible that a village named Ku-tau’-wa was located at the site of the midden.  No dwellings have been excavated at the site, and this may be due to the limited scope of excavation or that they were destroyed by road building activities for Highway 101 that ran through the midden.    
Several types of artifacts were found and analyzed at the site.  These include tools made of stone, bone, shell, and antler.  Stone tool types included knife, scraper, graver, drill, adze, abrader, grinding stone, hammer stone, pestle, and projectile point.  Antler and bone tool types included wedge-chisel (wood working), pointed bone, awl, harpoon valves for fish and pinnipeds, tine, whistle (bird bone), fish hook, and ornament (pendant, bracelet, or band).  The composition and style of artifacts suggests technological and trading influences from both northwestern Washington tribes and northwestern California tribes, with the Alsea culture being near the southern and northern boundaries of the adjacent cultures, respectively.   
Previous studies of artifacts by other researchers identified pinniped, fish, and mammal remains at the site.  Pinniped and mammal species include Steller’s sea lion, harbor seal, northern fur seal, California sea lion, harbor porpoise, sea otter, North American beaver, cottontail rabbit, coyote-dog-wolf, raccoon, river otter, elk, deer, mole, and small-eared vole.  Fish species include surfperch, greenlings, flatfish, rockfish, sculpins, and salmon.  The Seal Rock site and surrounding area was a rich area for food acquisition and processing during this period.
Posted by michael

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Herbal Remedies, Wildcrafting, And Open Gardens

Herbal remedies are valuable components of wild areas and gardens.  Botanically, herbs are any seed-bearing plant that does not have a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering.  Herbal remedies have a broader definition which includes any plant used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume.  Herbal remedies have a early and long history of human use, as evidenced by their presence in human archeological sites.  As human societies developed, oral and written herbal lore and remedies were codified and systems of nutrition, healing, and medicine that used herbs were developed in Egypt, Greece, India, China, and other tribal cultures.  
Modern science has changed the status of herbal remedies by developing science-based medicine.  Herbal remedies rely on traditional information and evidence that is anecdotal, intuitive, or observational.  Traditional information sources generally do not involve the systematic testing that science uses.  In recognition of this traditional knowledge basis, the FDA regulates herbal remedies as nutritional supplements, rather than as medicine.  There is an active debate among practitioners of traditional medicine and science-based medicine about the efficacy and potential harm of herbal remedies and traditional medicine.  This debate is not easily resolved, as there is a lack of common research methods between the two healing approaches.  
Science-based medicine appears to be a rigorous, quantitative approach that identifies and insures the reliable use of compounds and procedures as singular agents that can be used individually or in combinations.  However, the scope of science-based medicine is limited to agents that can be investigated in laboratory and clinical settings and whose mechanisms assume the basic established principles of chemistry and biology.  
Traditional medicine appears to be qualitative, lacking the rigorous testing and demonstration of treatment efficacy or harm in large populations.  Testing traditional medicine and herbal remedies with scientific methods is often not possible.  Traditional medicine systems may contain proposed mechanisms that are not based on established scientific principles of biology and chemistry.  Mechanisms proposed for traditional medicine are often focused on energy and basic elements (earth, air, fire, water, space, hot, cold, wet, and dry).  Traditional herbal remedies generally contain mixtures of active substances, as found in whole plants, that cannot be separated into isolated compounds for scientific study. 
For now we must recognize that traditional medicine is generally not supported by scientific study.  Instead traditional medicine and herbal remedies are supported by many centuries of use and refinement that may or may not be appropriate for specific individuals.  While these time-honored traditions may not always be scientifically accurate and efficacious, they do indicate that there is a special relationship between humans and the herbs that are collected, prepared, and used.  Otherwise why would humans pay so much attention and effort to herbal remedies through history?  Future refinement of scientific methods may bring the capability for more detailed study and testing of herbal remedies as complex mixtures of active compounds that have physical, psychological, and spiritual effects on human health.
Apart from traditional medicine, a wide variety of suggested healing methods have been developed over the past 150 years and these are called alternative medicine.  While these methods often refer to traditional sources, they do not represent traditional healing methods.  Instead they are derived from the opinions and creativity of individuals without testing to demonstrate efficacy or harm, either through traditional sources or scientific methods.  Just as is necessary with traditional medicine, we should be careful to evaluate the accuracy of statements by modern practitioners of alternative medicine.  Buyer beware of unsubstantiated claims.  There are a large number of products in the marketplace that are worthless at best and potentially harmful.  
Herbal remedies can be obtained from wild and garden sources.  Increased interest in herbal remedies suggests that cultivation of herbs in gardens will become more important as pressure on wild herb populations increases.  Wildcrafting is the collection of herbal material from wild sources.  There are well-known traditions in many cultures for wildcrafting.  An excellent summary of wildcrafting principles and ethics was made by Howie Brounstein and is quoted below.
Wildcrafting Checklist
Do you have the permission or the permits for collecting at the site?
Do you have a positive identification?
Are there better stands nearby? Is the stand big enough?
Are you at the proper elevation?
Is the stand away from roads and trails?
Is the stand healthy?
Is there any chemical contamination?
Is there any natural contamination?
Are you in a fragile environment?
Are there rare, threatened, endangered, or sensitive plants growing nearby at any time of the year?
Is wildlife foraging the stand?
Is the stand growing, shrinking, or staying the same size?
Is the plant an annual or a perennial?
Is tending necessary and what kind?
How much to pick?
Time of day? Time of year?
What effect will your harvest have on the stand?
Do you have the proper emotional state?
Move around during harvesting.
Look around after harvesting. Any holes or cleanup needed?
Are you picking herbs in the proper order for a long trip?
Are you cleaning herbs in the field? Do you have the proper equipment for in-field processing?
*Wildcrafting is stewardship*
© HB 1993
Growing herbs in gardens is a constructive and delightful way to lessen the pressure of wildcrafting on wild herbs.  Growing herbs in our gardens has been a process of discovery, partnership, and renewal of relationships between us and plants.  When I began homesteading on the hill, there were a few native herbs.  Soon, other herbs moved onto the land, as garden spaces were opened up through clearing and cultivation.  There is enough space here to create many types of gardens.  Conditions vary continuously through intersecting gradients of moisture, light, soil type, wind exposure, disturbance, and animal grazing.  Herbs come onto the land through birds, mammals, wind, vehicles, and our planting efforts.  The herbs find the locations that they favor in which to grow.  We often see herbs moving to different locations as conditions changed through the years.  It is an exciting adventure to see plants coming and going through time, as they move around enjoying their favored habitats.  Learning what herbs will grow where has been a life-long experience filled with patient observations and critical memory of conditions and plant species.  
Here on Beaver Creek, we have dedicated our efforts towards growing herbs wherever they do best.  We encourage traditional medicine to grow, even if it is often considered a weed in other gardens.  Dandelions, nettles, and plantain are examples of herbal remedies that are considered weeds by some.  We encourage these species because they provide valuable medicine that inspires our care for others.  When we give herbs priority, we allow them to grow wherever they chose.  Our gardens may look unkempt, but they are filled with traditional medicine.  We now have many species of herbs growing on the land.  Examples include aloe, angelica, aster, bee balm, blackberry, blueberry, burdock, calendula, camomile, cascara, cedar, chives, cleavers, coltsfoot, comfrey, dandelion, dill, dock, Douglas fir, elecampane, feverfew, foxglove, gentian, hawthorn, honeysuckle, hops, horehound, horseradish, juniper, lavender, lily of the valley, lungwort, monkshood, mullein, nasturtium, nettles, oregano, Oregon grape, pearly everlasting, pennyroyal, peppermint, periwinkle, plantain, quince, red alder, red clover, red current, red raspberry, rhubarb, rosemary, sage, self-heal, spearmint, St. John's wort, strawberry, sweet woodruff, thyme, usnea, valerian, vetch, violets, white birch, wild rose, willow, witch hazel, yarrow, and yellow dock.  Their traditional uses have been summarized in Grieve’s Modern Herbal.
Posted by michael

Monday, January 17, 2011

High Water

We have had 7.6 inches of rain in the last five days, of which 5.4 inches came in the last two days.  So now the marsh has filled up and is coming over Beaver Creek Rd.  The last time the water was over the road was after the storm in February 6-8, 1996.  That time there was 8.3 inches of rain in three days (see Period of Record Daily Summary Stats in link) and there was 2 feet of water on the road.  These storms are associated with large streams of water coming from the tropical Pacific Ocean and are sometimes called "Pineapple Express".  I read an article recently that talked about Atmospheric River Storms (ARkSTORMS).  These are hugh storms coming off the Pacific Ocean that bring large amounts of water to land.  They act like rivers in the atmosphere.  The storms are modeled after storms that came to California in 1861-1862.  Apparently the ARkSTORMS are bigger than the "Pineapple Express" storms.  Are you ready?

Posted by michael

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Meeting I: Ego Lost It's Way

The picture shows some bones of a beaver beside Beaver Creek marsh, picked clean by scavengers.  This can happen when death naturally appears after life.  Where did the beaver go?  Did you stop to think about who an I is?  This thing that we refer to as I, the ego, is a slippery thing.  We talk about I this and my that, but we really have no idea what we are referring to.  Can you see I?  Sure we see I as parts of something; hands, feet, toes, ears, eyes, brain, heart.  But we never see I, only parts.  Even in a mirror, the image is reversed.  I constantly changes, like a river.  

There is a contradiction in our thinking.  We say that we are independent objects, beings.  At the same time we say that we are subjects living in a cause and effect world.  But we don't really believe this.  For cause and effect to work, subjects, objects, and conditions must be connected.  Our claimed I independence places us apart from others and worldly conditions and denies cause and effect.  We have endless arguments and discussions about opinions based on false assumptions of independence.  Cause and effect only works when there is interdependence; when things are related and connected.  This relationship of connections occurs through the medium of space.  We are all contained in space.  We are space; ask a physicist.  Just like you cannot see I, you cannot see space.  You know what space is and find it everywhere.  It holds you like a warm mother, connecting you to all other creatures.  When you reject space as a nihilistic vacuum, you reject interdependence and cause and effect.  You are alone in egoville.  

Because we are dependent on space, we are connected to all other beings and conditions.  Maybe our false assumption of independence is the source of so much sickness and fear.  We isolate ourselves from others and from the consequences of our actions.  Relax and enjoy luminous space which contains all stars, sun and moon, beings, and your thoughts as they cascade down the mountainside of your illusory ego that lost its way in independence.  

The beaver lived and died in Beaver Creek marsh.  Space did not make a distinction of this beaver, and simply accepted it into open arms.  The beaver appeared, remained, and dissolved in space; wonderful, warm, illuminating space which comforts us all with its unbounded love and compassion.

Posted by michael

Friday, January 7, 2011

Giving And Taking; Sending And Receiving

There is a perennial christmas tree in the Beaver Creek marsh.  A small mystery is maintained by joyful citizens joking around with the cultural signs and signals.  It reminds me of the give and take in this world.  We give our appreciation and joy to the wild.  The wild gives us well being and life force.  We are connected in a cause and effect manner and cannot be separated into ego-bound entities.  Any attempt to claim separation and isolation is a fools errand that ends in confusion and fear.  Relax and remember your birthright in wildness.  The writing of this tale is on the water; appears and disappears as quickly as the breeze passes.  Like breath, we constantly move the surface of our consciousness and recount the bright moments.

Posted by michael