BLOG: To Become Visible

Category
Back to all posts
  • Lake Abert: Spirits as Witness

    A place is deeper than the sum of its aspects.  My thought as I travel the 15 miles of US Highway 395 curving along the east shore of Lake Abert. 

    The indigenous peoples who inhabited the lakeshore adjusted the location of their dwellings as the lake expanse fluctuated over many millennia. Rick Pettigrew’s archaeological scoping reveals dynamic cultural change. He analyzes the surface archaeology – rock features and rock art - demonstrating sequential occupations linked with lake elevations. [1] 

    Today people – and birds – find the lakeshore uninhabitable. 

    “Under Oregon law, Lake Abert has no legal right to any water at all.”

    In 2014 for the first time is 80 years Lake Abert is - completely dried. [2a & 2b] A migration stopover for millions of birds that rely on the brine shrimp and alkali flies, the lake offered nothing.  Significant among many converging factors are the human manipulations and extractions of the Chewaucan River, the terminal lake’s only steady replenishment. 

    Beyond the reality of the region’s multi-year drought, is the strange story of the aptly-named River’s End Ranch, or perhaps better: Lake’s End Ranch.  Not only is the private ranch reservoir thick with 25 years of land- and water-use conflicts, the property owner’s dam-and-dike building in the 1990s ignored protection requirements and severely disturbed ancestral remains linked to four recognized tribes. [3]

    This year, 2015, looks to be the same to me during my mid-July visit to a few of the dozens of rock art sites distributed on the Lake’s east shore. [4]  Spirits emerge as witness as they have since time immemorial. And as they will when humans abandon the arid basin-and-range valleys as global heating accelerates.  [5]  

    [1]  Pettigrew, Richard M.  Archaeological investigations on the east shore of Lake Abert, Lake County, Oregon. Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 1985. 

    [2a] Lake Abert Dries Up, a 15-minute video from Oregon Field Guide (OBP), April 2014. This webpage also includes links to some source documents.

    [2b] Oregon’s only saltwater lake is disappearing, and scientists don't know why.”  July 3 2014. Oregonlive.

    [3] Klamath Tribe near remedies over disturbed ancestral remains.”  May 2000. Indian Country Today Media Network. (Note: the Tribes concluded an agreement in late 2001.)

    [4] East Lake Abert Archeological District, encompassing 6000 acres, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.   This greatly expanded the 1974 nine-acre “Abert Lake Petroglyphs” NRHP listing. 

    [5] Warming Pushes Western U.S. Toward Driest Period in 1,000 Years

    Photos: Spirits as Witness