Salmonberrys, Smelt, and Songs

Posted on Jul 04, 2024

Reflections on the Hoh River from Becky Liebman

Chili Cookoff at Hoh Days

Approaching midnight, in the last few hours of the community Hoh Days, I could still hear singing and drumming as it wafted over laden salmonberry bushes to my tiny tent. It emanated from the Old Administration building where dozens of Hoh tribal members were outwitting each other in the Bone Game. I've been told the rules of this game many times, but remain baffled and humbled by them, like almost everything else I'm experiencing these past few days on the Hoh Nation.
Take, for example, that people here can smell when the smelt are running! I heard this said several times by many different Hoh tribal members. While I helped string beads for canoe journey giveaways, Hoh tribal member Marie filled in some blanks for me. She described playing along the river as a very young child and remembers her uncle suddenly calling out, "There's the smell. The smelt are here. Let's go." (We have eaten smelt many times over our days here, thanks to the fishermen who caught them and to Kristin's game spirit for learning to prepare the silvery little fish.)

Canoe Journey Beads

And then there are the enigmatic songs. Old songs. New songs. Since coming, we have heard songs and drumming threaded throughout the days, for times of welcome, for blessing meals, for telling stories, for powering the Bone Games, even for praying over an injured tribal member while waiting 45 agonizing minutes for the ambulance from Forks. We don't know the words to the songs but the they are widely known here, uniting the people who sing them.
Chautauquans have had their own united moments that can also baffle and humble this 71-year-old trombone player on her first tour.  One wet afternoon, the band packed into the bus for a rehearsal: two trumpets, two trombones, two clarinets, piccolo, tenor sax, cello and percussion. From the band box, Paul passed out lyre-sized parts to "French National Desifile March". He enthused, "Yes, it's a little long, yes sometimes complex but it's so grand, and with elan! But don't tell Eben [our temporarily absent music director] we're doing it." We took it on like champs, as one does in an old bus on a drizzly day in the middle of a rain forest, even believing we might pull it off for a possible performance. (Please don't tell Eben.)And meanwhile, elements between - and within - these two cultures continue to combine in unexpected ways, creating new energy, not unlike the nuclear fusion going on inside of our own sun.

Working together at the Hoh

Sitting beneath an alder tree, listening to my fellow troubadours play spoons, laugh, tell tall tales, while waiting for the tools we need to remove blackberries for some of the elders, I use a wisp of internet connection, as narrow as fiber from cedar bark, to look up "nuclear fusion". I read that when certain elemental particles combine, they release energy and it is this energy that heats a star. I read on and the words give me pause, considering the in anxious world in which we live. This combining and intense co-mingling of special elements creates the energy that prevents a star from collapsing under its own gravity. It's good work.
Written by Becky Liebman. Photos by Mark Tanski and Karen Rentko