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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The history of Olympic Peninsula history

They say the fear of public speaking is one of the greatest anxieties people face. 
I'll have to admit that speaking in public is one of my many phobias — along with agoraphobia (the fear of large places), claustrophobia (the fear of small places) and my latest, phone-a-phobia (a fear of the telephone that many share to some extent).
Experts claim that the stress of public speaking might be relieved if the speaker imagines the audience members in their underwear. 
I practiced that technique on my last trip to town. The horror! I may never be able to go back to Walmart again. 
Imagining people in their underwear is a job best left to the dedicated professionals in charge of our nation's airline security. 
I'll have to think of something before my history lecture this Sunday in the Port Angeles City Council chambers (details below). 
It's all part of the History Tales program put on by the Clallam County Historical Society. 
The historical society and I go way back. 
They gave me a job back in the '70s. I'll get even with them no matter how long it takes. 
Scheduling an event on Super Bowl Sunday was not my idea. For me, it can only mean one thing: 
Stephenie Meyer, famed author of the Twilight vampire books, will probably not be there. 
That's OK. My tale really happened.
Once upon a time I had a government job, conducting a cultural resource survey of the North Olympic Peninsula. 
That meant identifying and locating historic sites, artifacts and structures and nominating the most significant to the National Register of Historic Places. 
The competition was stiff.
Other National Register sites that were being nominated at the time included the Manis mastodon site near Sequim, which contained evidence of the oldest human activity in the Pacific Northwest, and the Ozette dig. 
Ozette was like an American Pompeii. It produced enough artifacts to build the Makah museum at Neah Bay. 
I didn't find anything quite that significant. I did document a three-holer outhouse at an old homestead, but I'm not sure if that's a record. 
I found another kind of historic treasure. That was the opportunity to talk to the people who lived the history of this country.
The history of the North Olympic Peninsula from its discovery by the Europeans in 1772 to the coming of the railroad in 1913 occurred in fewer than 150 years. 
To put this in perspective, there are more than 300 years of history between these benchmarks on the East Coast. 
Our relatively short history meant that in the 1970s, there were still people alive here who may have listened to their great-grandparents' descriptions of the arrival of the white man, or "floating house people." 
There were others who had grown up on the remote homesteads their parents had chopped out of the wilderness. 
These pioneers survived on what they could grow, hunt or fish out of the river. They logged, farmed and bounty-hunted the varmints. 
They followed elk trails until the trails became roads. It was a pattern of settlement that had leapfrogged across the continent until it reached the end of the last frontier, the Pacific Ocean. 
By then, the land was logged off and played out. The people were driven from their camps and homesteads, leaving the bones of their buildings to rot in the brush. 
I found what was left. I was what Robert Frost called a "census taker of the waste." 
I counted an abandoned world of farms, logging camps and villages, including one named Tse-whit-zen. 
It is a tale more frightening than a vampire.

My "History Tales" talk, "A Short History of Fishing," is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, in the Port Angeles City Council chambers, 321 E. Fifth St. Admission is free. The lecture will concern the experiences of his 1978 cultural resource survey of the Olympic Peninsula, including Tse-whit-zen, its historical perspective and significance in Native American spirituality.

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