Lecture to tell of living off nearshore before Elwha dams

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES -- Gooseneck barnacles, the scientist found out, made some excellent eating.

"They called them boots . . . and it was hard to get the meat out, but they were very, very tasty," said Jacilee Wray, who learned about such things from the people who gathered good food from the beach.

Wray, an Olympic National Park anthropologist, has studied life on and around the Elwha River and Strait of Juan de Fuca for 21 years.

Amid plans for the Elwha dams removal and massive river restoration, Wray began interviewing Lower Elwha Klallam tribal elders about their now-past relationship with the "nearshore," the place where river, beach and strait meet.

And since history is key to restoration, Wray and her research partner, Anne Shaffer of the Coastal Watershed Institute, will present "Elwha Conversations: Celebrating the Marine World of the Elwha" this Monday night at Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd., Port Angeles.

The free public forum will start at 6:30 p.m. in Room J-47, near the PUB inside the college's J building.

This is a chance, Wray said, to learn about the "lifeways" of the native people, people whose voices are sometimes drowned out amid all the hubbub over the National Park Service's $351.4 million Elwha restoration project.

Wray and Shaffer began delving into this aspect of the Klallam story in 2004 through listening to elders such as Bea Charles, who died in 2009 at age 89, and Adeline Smith.

"Adeline can remember things so clearly, it was like talking to a teenager," Wray said.

Smith is 92 now and sharp and determined to share her knowledge.

For the Lower Elwha Klallam, the river was life.

It brought them salmon, of course, which they smoked and laid by for the long winter.

Then, when spring came, so did sprouts: thimbleberry, salmonberry, cow parsnips, nettles and more -- a fresh, green salad the people were hungry for.

Then there were the shellfish -- sweet, protein-packed treats on the rocks and sand.

The nearshore, which stretches from Freshwater Bay to Ediz Hook and from the tree line to where the Strait is 100 feet deep, covers some 11 miles of linear shoreline and 100 acres of estuary, Shaffer noted.

Before the dams, this was a place of plenty.

"When the tide was out, the table was set for gathering" is how Jamie Valadez, a teacher of Lower Elwha Klallam culture, remembers it.

"When the good tides came, everybody went camping, celebrating having fresh food."

The shellfish and spring greens "act like good medicine," Valadez said.

After the winter, "our bodies are starved from not having that in our diet." You can only eat smoked salmon for so many months before you're craving something fresh.

The Klallam people were healthier when they lived on foods fed by the river and Strait, added Valadez.

"We practiced the traditional diet just a generation ago . . . but now we're not as healthy," with diabetes and heart disease affecting many tribal members.

The Elwha is on the brink of an enormous transition, as dams removal begins this September, and it will take years to complete the process of freeing the river.

Valadez is taking the long view.

"I'm excited about seeing the watershed come back and about rebuilding the relationship between people and the native plants and shellfish," she said.

Restoring the river, the salmon and the many species the salmon support will mean bringing life back into balance.

In Monday's "Elwha Conversations," Wray will discuss these interactions between people and the natural world, as well as the two riverside homesteads that were turned into a resort in 1929.

With its lodge, sportfishing and intertidal swimming hole, this was the place to be in the summers of the early '30s, Wray said.

"Elwha Conversations" is an annual event -- this is the seventh -- presented by the Coastal Watershed Institute (www.Coastal WatershedInstitute.org), a nonprofit formed in 1996 to promote awareness of the need for wise ecosystem management. Shaffer, working with volunteer scientists, runs the institute on grants and donations.

Monday's forum, which will include a discussion after Wray's program, is an effort to engage people in conversation about how they interact with their environment, their community and its history.

"The Elwha," Shaffer said, "brings all three together."

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at diane.urbani@ peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 13. 2011 1:22AM
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