Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rivers I've Known

You gotta love the names of Washington’s rivers: Yakima, Snoqualmie, Sauk, Cedar, Tolt, Wenatchee, Columbia, Snake, Satsop, Chehalis, Nisqually, Duwamish, Cowlitz, Touchet, Tucannon, Cow, Crab, Skookumchuk, Humptulips, Palouse, Skagit, Skykomish, Quinault, Methow, Nooksack, Okanogan.

The Snoqualmie squirts out of the ground high in the Cascades in three separate places then all three forks join near North Bend, the little mountain community where David Lynch set Twin Peaks and all of its weirdness and murder and strange mountain beauty.

The Sauk pops up somewhere in the Glacial Peak Wilderness and forms its main stem at Bedal, flows northwest past Darrington (lots of tarheels and blue grass music in Darrington), then north to join the Skagit at Rockport.

I white water rafted down the Wenatchee in April, 1985, by invitation with a friend training to be a guide. Which meant I got to go for free, and it being April, I also got to freeze. Even though I was wearing a so-called wet suit. I found out that wet suits do not keep you dry. They’re just supposed to keep you warm. It didn’t keep me warm, though it may have kept me from freezing. I danced around in a parking lot trying to get the suit off. I got in the car, turned the ignition on, and when the engine got hot enough to put some real heat out, heat has never felt so good. I slowly recovered the mobility of my limbs as I began to thaw. I put my hands over the heating vent and moved my fingers back and forth. Suppleness is underrated.

The Duwamish gets most of the abuse of Washington’s rivers. It empties into Puget Sound near downtown Seattle, by Harbor Island, where a lot of ships get painted. Boeing has some plants on its banks as well. When I worked at plant no 2 in the summer of 1967 I used to take my sack lunch out onto the concrete dock by the river’s edge and stare at the water moving by and wonder how many different chemicals were in it and what might happen if you were to drink some of it or eat a fish or a clam from its water. Poor old Duwamish. Poor Puget Sound.

I’ve never seen the Humptulips, which is over in the Olympic Peninsula, flowing through the rainforests, which receive around 220 inches of rain annually. The Humptulips has gone by a variety of names, including Hum-tu-lups, Humptolups, Humtutup, and Um-ta-lah. Humtutup sounds like the name of an Egyptian pharaoh, but all these names emanate from the Chehalis tribe, and either means “hard to pole,” or “chilly region.” The Humptulips empties into Grays Harbor, where the town of Hoquiam is located. Kurt Cobain was from Hoquiam, and I have two close friends living there, Dan & Tammy, who own a bookstore there, Jackson Street Books, in downtown Hoqiam on 7th Street. Hi Dan, Hi Tammy.

The Cedar River is where Seattle gets its drinking water. It emanates in the Cedar River watershed, a gazillion little rivulets and brooks and streams convening at some point to turn into a river, a wide flowing being of stunningly pure water. Roberta and I went to the Renton Public Library once to kill some time before a wedding. We were both formally dressed and got some curious looks from people who must have thought we got all dressed up to visit the library, as if visiting the library were a formal occasion for us. Well, why not?

On the way into the library, we crossed a bridge, which was lined with people, all gazing into the river as it slid over a bed of rocks shiny and clear as glass. We went to the edge and looked down and saw hundreds of salmon all seeming motionless as their bodies swayed ever so slightly as the current moved over and around their bodies, all heads pointed east, in the direction of the Cascades.

The Columbia is the biggest and most famous river. Woody Guthrie’s song, “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On,” celebrated the 11 hydroelectric dams which harnessed its water for crops and electricity and was commissioned by the Bonneville Power Administration. The song became famous because one, it’s a really great song, and two, it was an anthem about the American public works projects arising out of the New Deal in the Great Depression.

Hear that, Obama? Probably not.


David Grove said...

Those are tasty river names. Very Richard Hugo.

I'm adding Nooksak to my wordhoard. That has to be in a poem.

It's almost a kenning by itself. Nook + sack: a secluded bed?

Anonymous said...

Here is one definition for Nooksack I found at allindiancasinos.com: The first version given to define the tribe is that the name Nooksack means "mountain men". This name was given to them by the Indians who were on the coast to this unnamed Salish tribe. Another story aiming to define the name of this tribe states that the tribe was named after noot-sa-ack which is one of the native bracken ferns which were part of the dietary habits of the tribe and other indigenous people.

The Nooksack tribe is located mainly in Deming, Washington, very close to Bellingham.

The Nooksack River originates in the Mount Baker Wilderness and empties into Bellingham Bay.