Friday, October 11, 2013


Sagittaria Latifolia: Wikipedia Commons

Morning. Across the street, the new gas station is framed, and clothed in plywood. It is actually, right at the moment, a pleasing and well-proportioned object. Sober concrete steps go up to the rectangle where the side door will be. Soon, no doubt, it will be uglified with advertisements and decked out with lurid pictures in (as the Spanish would say) shrieking colors: but right now it's a testament to the extraordinary, underappreciated building skills of my people: modest but sturdy. It will stand easily through storm and earthquake: properly painted and maintained, it should last practically forever -- certainly longer than civilization that built it seems likely to.

Sitting on my couch is a booklet, published in 1909, I believe: the 15th edition of a dictionary of the Chinook Jargon. Its own introduction confesses that it's useless for any practical purposes: the last Chinook speakers had died recently, and no occasion for the use of the jargon would ever arise again. Still they published it then, and I leaf through it a century later, finding place-name elements that I know -- "chuck" means "water": of course, I should have guessed that! It gives me a queer and salutary frisson of transience. I and mine will pass too, without the hills paying much mind. Seeing the name of the river I was born beside, and have lived beside almost all my life -- Portland being simply a hundred miles downriver from Eugene -- spelled "Willamat" gives me a twinge. And Sauvie's Island referred to as Wappatoe Island: which makes me think -- as I do periodically -- that there is something impious about living here on the Lower Columbia, where sixty thousand Chinook, drawn hither by the wapato, used to live, and not to recognize the plant, and never to have eaten the root.

P.S.: this site quotes Lewis & Clark:  “in this pond the nativs inform us they Collect great quantities of wappato, which the womin collect by getting into the water, Sometimes to their necks holding by a Small canoe and with their feet loosen the wappato or bulb of the root from the bottom from the Fibers, and it imedeately rises to the top of the water, they Collect & throw them into the Canoe, those deep roots are the largest and best roots”.


Rouchswalwe said...

A few years ago, I awoke as usual to the radio alarm. That morning, NPR was broadcasting a piece about a bird. I listened to its beautiful song. Then the announcer told us that he was the last of his kind, and that no female would answer his call for love. Well, it took a pile of hankies to dry my tears.

Dale said...