HUNTING IN THE OLD DAYS

True hunters in this country live on what they track, Kokopelli explains.

Articulating this precinct means drawing on three language stocks: Sahaptian, spoken by Klickitat, Yakama, Kittitas, Wanapam, Palus, Nez Pierce, Cayuse, and Umatilla; Salishan, by Wenatchi and Columbia; and Chinook, by Clackamas and Wishram.

Nine thousand years ago the climate resembled today’s. Around seven thousand years ago, Mount Mazama lost its head and Crater Lake emerged. Did the ash fall reduce the game? Kokopelli assumes so. About that time, Olivella shell beads show up in archeological sites, revealing coastal trade, in addition to a new kind of projectile point. About 6,500 years ago the roost became drier and warmer. Rivers ran significantly lower. Adz blades of nephrite and serpentine, about 4,500 years ago, permitted heavy woodworking and expose trade relations with what is now British Columbia. “That’s when I got this pipe,” Kokopelli says, allowing me to stroke the instrument. As winter temperatures became warmer, sizable winter villages gathered in river valleys for fuel, fresh drinking water, and greater protection from bitter winds. Such clustering required food storage capabilities and also permitted greater social and ceremonial activity, perhaps a result of more efficient food gathering. Most likely this involved salmon fishing, properly dried and preserved, caught in great numbers; fish traps and weirs were much more efficient than spears, lines, dip nets, or bows and arrows.

From this came pit houses, some of them earth-covered for insulation, others covered with mats and grass or brush. The mats swelled and froze in winter to keep wind and rain out; as spring temperatures rose, thawing provided ventilation. Such housing required well-drained soil, such as that of desert.

The tipi was introduced much later, from the Great Plains.

A-frame mat houses developed from the pit design. Their emergence especially reflected the introduction of horse culture, which added to trade possibilities and also brought saddles, bridles, quirts, dress, and ornamentation such as feathered headdresses, but above all else, ideas about tribal organization. Appaloosa were on the way. Whalebone clubs, as well as fishing nets and harpoons, were acquired through expanded trade networks.

Horses allowed more food to be brought back from summer sojourns in the mountains. Soon bowl-shaped mortars and elongated pestles were used to prepare food. “Let me tell you about real progress,” Kokopelli insists.

Each local group assumed stewardship over the economic resources of its locale. Leadership arose out of respect, not law. Ritual purification occurred in sweat houses. Three-day workouts weren’t uncommon. I wonder whether voters and candidates alike should do the same before Election Day. There is, after all, a kinship to hunting and fishing.

Kokopelli agrees.

The major run of king salmon and oil-rich sock-eye salmon comes in late May or early June, when most of the year’s food supply is caught. The best spot for dip netting is where rivers bear down through narrow channels or over low falls. Wooden platforms tied precariously to basaltic cliffs hang over whirlpools and eddies. Such stations are inherited and highly prized. Permission must be sought before fishing there.

Fish head pulverized in a mortar, then carefully packed in baskets and stored for winter, provides a highly concentrated protein food. Even a few ounces serves as a full meal.

Bears caught in a dead-fall were hunted mostly for claws and teeth — ceremonial ornaments.

Wapatoo was a type of wild potato, perhaps like camas.

Cooperative hunting and salmon harvests were common. Women’s berry picking parties, too, even though some tribes were basically river folk. Excepting the Wishram band, the Yakamas believed in individual rights. They differed from coastal tribes, which possessed slaves who might fall to a cannibal ceremony.

Much the way rabbit skins are cut in a spiral to produce long strips, I keep learning. Once you acknowledge the importance of certain foods in a given turf, you discern zone-specific energies. In ecologically aware feasting, hamburger and hot dogs are thoroughly inappropriate for many reasons. They have no authentic geographic home.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

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