8th June 1796. The ‘Otter’ is anchored in Neah Bay. Once again members of the local band canoe out and engage with the crew. Contact with Europeans or Americans from the east coast wasn’t new to this community. The ship stays several days.
Relationship with Place
I drive the hired car out of Seattle airport at 17:00 Friday 20th September 2019 and head for the Strait. I bivvy in Deception Pass State Park to catch the ferry from Fort Casey to Port Townsend in the morning. I make my way along the 101 skipping past Port Angeles west to Neah Bay. A mile from town I cut off the main road and head for the Hobuck Beach Resort. I arrive at 19:00. I buy my annual recreational use permit allowing me to camp on Mikah Tribal land and park the car. Dealing with jetlag knocks your timing off, the biggest benefit is an appreciation of those early daylight hours, I had dawn until teatime to explore Neah Bay. I didn’t have many preconceptions but I also haven’t had time to set up any appointments. The town feels relaxed and easy going. Medium sized trawlers in the harbour, a country store and school football practice taking place on the sports field.
I’ve always wondered why the Straits of Juan de Fuca were so important. Everyone seems to be heading there in 1796. I’m trying to get a feeling for who’s been navigating the area over the years by getting a sense of the linguistic battles around naming here. The local community call themselves Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx which translates as: The People who live by the Rocks and Seagulls. In their tradition all animal groups in the area descend from human ancestors. Cape Flattery as it appears on maps takes its name from florid eighteenth-century language used by a European surveyor exhausted after spending weeks on the open sea looking for safe harbour. The straits and ocean surrounding the place are rich in fish stocks, villagers are given the name ‘Generous with food' by another indigenous group living in the area, however on reading a pamphlet in the Makah interpretation centre I read that the old people in town still finish their tales by stating that this land is only theirs because they spilt their blood for it.
Locals are trying to communicate with Tom using Chanook jargon. Trappers and traders are working hard to meet the demand for otter skins, they speak a mixture of Chinook, French, English with a few words of Russian thrown in. The villagers offer fish to trade with the poorly provisioned Americans and are unfazed by the appearance of a ship off the beach. Before the Chinese, Japanese, Russian and European visitors, the village had to deal with incursions from Quileutes, Clallams, Nitinats, Clayoquets and Cowichans for their strategic position at the mouth of the strait.
I received a phone call in Spring 2019 from Jon Bonfiglio coaxing me to contribute to some blue sky research on the Klamath River. I’d been teaching and mentoring in Arnhem and was barrelling towards a well-funded solo exhibition in Oberhausen, within myself I felt I could afford the flights. Working with Jon is always interesting and £300 out of my account at this stage supporting this kind of engagement is fine with me. Before breaking up for the summer I sat down in Trailfinders on Sauchiehall Street and work out how to meet Jon in Ashland, southern Oregon. Already in the back of my mind I’d visualised tacking a few days on to visit a couple of the Thomas Muir locations. I assumed flights between Vancouver and Glasgow would be cheap because of family ties, but they aren’t able to offer me anything I can afford so instead I get flights to Medford breaking in Seattle for £699. This kind of independent research doesn’t make money it drains it, as a consequence my research was necessarily practical and thin on reading around the trip. I dealt with how I was going to travel and how I was going to sleep but didn’t really get my library sources in place, I took the opportunity and let the locations open themselves up to me. It’s a great way to travel but perhaps like shooting grapeshot, you get lots of hits but arguably little penetration.
I bought a great bivvy bag for £250 I was going to risk the bad weather to camp out and keep costs down. I camped on sites each night. Camping Fees were $35 per night (£28.50) over four nights = £114. £154.76 for Car Hire. Food on the road: Tortilla’s, salami, peanut M&M’s, bananas, avocados, fruit juice and water - £50 and £30 Petrol.