Following a tip of better weather along the Columbia River, I drive west, and north, toward the deep, wet canyon of the Columbia River Gorge. Within the Gorge contains so much of the story of the Chinookan people.
A few months ago, I met up with a small group that was learning to build traditional salmon fishing tools. They carved delicate spear tips from dogwoods along the streams that flow from the heights of Mount Hood into the Columbia. I sat with the students on the rocks of a river.
One of the students was a forty-five year old, clean-cut, muscled man who described himself as a former military pilot, and a Republican. He felt that the world, or at least North America, may be on its way to collapse, and he cited environmental and political factors that would lead to an apocolyptic America. He said, "My family doesn't listen to me about what's happening. But when it happens, they won't make it. I will, because I'm learning what it takes to survive."
The other student was much younger. He had long hair and wore muted green tones. He was between jobs, between studies, and had given up his car for a bike. "It's not just the emissions," he said. "It's all the materials that go into building cars too." The younger student seemed to be learning about native survival not for lofty ambitions of post-apocolyptic survival, but because of a fascination with the wild.
While talking with me, he had been quietly knocking two stones against each other. He was knapping one of the rocks into the shape of an ax - a technique he had been learning over the past several weeks.
The younger student took me on a walk through the dry river, finding plants along the way. "Try this," he would say, collecting miner's lettuce and other small plants. You could eat decently this way - plants in the riverbed, roots on the moist tributary slopes, berries in the mountains. And nearly every season meant salmon or steelhead.
Still, hunting and gathering techniques in the gorge would have little to do with a stone tool from Southeastern Oregon. I drive through rain, and at higher elevation, snow, but when I make it to the gorge, the sun beats down bright. I follow a road near Mosier up to the Rowena Plateau, a place so lush and adorned by by so many wildflowers that people compare it to Kauai and New Caldonia in the same breath.
From here I can see the green of the Pacific Northwest, and the arid, dry, brown of Eastern Oregon - the Rowena Plateau is a transition zone. I look down at the banks of the Columbia River and imagine longhouses, and scores of fishing canoes, nets, traps, spears, salmon on stakes and returning foragers with baskets of mountain fruits.
To learn if the Chinookan may have any impact on the origin of my stone tool, I will have to learn more about their technology, their success as a civilization, and if their trade routes would have stretched to the Indians of the Owyhee region.
And that's why tonight, after the sun sets over a million blue and yellow flowers, I have to head to Washington state to find out how.