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  • Swallowing Petroglyph Canyon 60 years ago today

    Water Monsters arrive in different guises. From time immemorial beings real and mythic await those who err. Or who in innocence linger in or traverse a vulnerable place. Swallowed, disappearing in dark liquid depths. Fearsome. Especially so along the river now known as Columbia.  

    Lake Celilo swallowed living and sacred places of the River People - villages, cemeteries, fishing stations, pathways — and rock art — on March 10, 1957, as the gates of The Dalles Dam closed.

    Below, a small sampling of photographs from the mid-1950s show a very few of the stones among the hundreds of petroglyphs that were swallowed that day. Disappeared under the waters. The photos presented here are for non-commercial, educational purposes by permission from the archives of the late David Cole.  About two dozen other stones were salvaged and preserved, languishing near the dam until several years ago when they were respectfully installed as the Temani Pesh-wa trail in Washington's Columbia Hills State Park.  That group is on public view during the Park’s season April-October. With appreciation to the ancestors of today's River People.

    Recommended:  
    Virginia Butler’s 2007 paper Relic Hunting, Archaeology, and Loss of Native American Heritage at The Dalles. Oregon Historical Quarterly, 108(4), 624-643.

    Petroglyphs near the Dalles of the Columbia River. 1925.  W. Duncan Strong and W. Egbert Schenck.  American Anthropologist, New Series, 27(1), Jan-Mar 1925, 76-90.

  • The Wallula Stone Abides

    Jorge Otero-Paulos recently noted, “preservation has looked at art to expand the aesthetics of memory, cultural trauma, historicity, and temporality.” [1]

    It is impossible to show the entire two facets of this boulder as it sits within the closely-installed, tall iron fence's lurking surround. The Wallula Stone is somewhat irregular, so there is no single perspective that can capture it. A magnificent massive fragment of basalt column tumbled from the cliffs of Wallula Gap, or perhaps arriving from upriver, as a local erratic, during the ice age. Then carved.  And, now, far from its mother river. 

    The reflective light of the morning sun illuminates the hard basalt’s deeply patinaed surface with a soft sheen, the ancient polish of the stone itself, natural or human made, from wind, water, perhaps rubbing hands.

    As now placed, its sheer mass is visually constrained, gridded by the fence and memorial enclosure. However, it is protected and honored.  It's surprising the stone or its carvings show little noticeable modern disfigurement. Well, except for the anchored-in bronze plaque, which the Tribes left in place [2]. Odd, had not the railroad fellows hoisted it on a flatcar in 1910 (the tracks were happily nearby), it may have been submerged in the mid-1950s under a hundred feet of water, inundated by the McNary Dam’s Lake Wallula!  

    [1] Jorge Otero-Paulos defines preserved artworks as “transitional cultural objects … for looking back at our immediate future from the point of the view of a distant future … a temporal expression … as the future anterior.”   (“Remembrance if Things to Come, ”ArtForum, April 2014:115-116.)

    [2] A ten-ton monolith, originally located on the Columbia River near Wallula Gap on the Oregon border, the Wallula Stone was displayed in outdoor courtyard of Portland City Hall from 1910 until 1996. The basalt petroglyph boulder became the centerpiece of the newly constructed Nix-Ya-Wii Warriors Memorial of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in Mission, Oregon, on July 26, 1996.

  • Matters of this Place called Earth

    Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change. -IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, March 2014. The effects of climate change, with rising global temperatures, already being felt across the globe, will likely be "severe, pervasive, and irreversible" in the years to come, impacting agriculture, human health, and water supplies across all continents, oceans, and ecosystems. (UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released March 2014)

    ... At the eastern tip of the backwater of Lake Celilo, the Columbia River impoundment by the Dalles Dam, basalt cliffs rise out of the still water. If you stand on the cliff’s edge, on the Washington shore, you will look south and east at the downriver face of the John Day Dam. Power lines lacing through looming gray lattice towers rise and fall conveying the river’s captured power to distant places. White, tri-bladed wind turbines form their own turgid lines of ascent and descent along all the receding ridges up and down the wide river plain flattened by ice age floods.

    This particular cliff-place, with its basalt block columns, offers the largest accumulation of “bear paw” petroglyphs on the Columbia, an estimated 150-180. [1]

    Two realities about these petroglyphs occur after careful viewing. There are very few petroglyphs of any other design at this site.  And: an enticing range of design variations on the “paws” motif is found here.   What this may mean is purely speculation and conjecture, meaning we simply don’t know. However, I will suggest whatever the glyphs-makers’ specific intents, this site was and is a place of power. If so, the irony is readily apparent. Power - accumulated, distilled, concentrated - moves far and wide. As the animal abides.

    It is entirely possible, should human systems collapse in the not-too-distant future, and the concrete abutments, towers, turbines fall silent, the animal markings will move from the stone walls outward, into and through this ever-changing Earth, alive to possibility.

    [1] This site is documented by Loring (1982) and McClure (1978), and mentioned by Keyser (1992.) It is accessible to the public.  Photos by Douglas Beauchamp, March 2014: Tower & Fishing Patforms; John Day Dam; "Bear Paws" on basalt.



    ...A final reflection from Jungian analyst Marion Woodman: The masculine struggle… as a relationship to the feminine, extends into a collective attitude to the planet - Mother Earth - distorting her natural rhythms until she can take no more. This disturbing situation is in large measure the result of a flawed solar myth that confers upon the masculine a heroic status, which now threatens us with extinction. From The Maiden King (1998).

  • An Absence of Eyes

    Among the ten of thousands of petroglyphs in the Northern Great Basin you will not see eyes.  No human-like faces or forms with prominent eyes looking out.  Peering at you or past you. Yet, despite many rock art researchers obsession with typologies, styles, and motifs, this simple broad – even breathtaking - difference has not been studied or explained.

    The absence of eyes in the rock art of southeastern Oregon and contiguous regions in the Great Basin is a compelling visual cultural distinction, indeed perhaps a defining and characteristic difference, from the powerful presence of eyes in rock art and other art forms of the traditional cultures of Columbia River Basin and the Northwest Coast.

    Australian archaeologist Ben Watson offers an intriguing discussion, with a range of visual examples, of anthropomorphic faces with prominent eyes appearing in prehistoric rock art.  An emphasis of a frontal view with a high degree of symmetry derives from human perception and recognition, he argues. Watson highlights hunter-gatherer societies in many regions of the world and easily acknowledges faces with prominent eyes are comparatively rare in some regions [1].

    For decades anthropologists have studied cultural change and the dynamics of human movements and influences spanning many millennia throughout the intermountain realms of the Columbia Plateau and Great Basin [2]. I hope they will look more closely at eyes – or their absence [3].  Rock art, ever elusive, is there to be seen.

    [1] Watson, Ben. "The eyes have it: human perception and anthropomorphic faces in world rock art." Antiquity 85, no. 327 (2011): 87-98.

     (2] For example, the work of Luther Cressman, Mel Aikens and others at the University of Oregon and most recently the work of James C. Chatters, Kenneth Ames, Charlotte Beck, and George T. Jones, in books such as Meetings at the Margins: Prehistoric Cultural Interactions in the Intermountain West (2012) and From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: human organization and cultural transformations in prehistoric North America (2012). Also of interest: Don Hann’s 2013 paper “Is the Medium the Message?  Petroglyphs and Pictographs as Cultural Markers at the Interface of the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau in Oregon.” IFRAO 2013 Proceedings, American Indian Rock Art, Volume 40.

    [3] There IS a curious exception - in the northernmost Great Basin near Petroglyph Lake on the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge.  See Eyes album.  More:  Eyes Petroglyphs along Puget Sound  and the July 19, 2013 blog.

  • Cape Horn Pictographs Fading, yet Telling

    It is testimony to the patient observation and recording of the Lorings and of Woodward/Speciale in the 1970s that they were able to document a good sampling of the rock art at Cape Horn before it fades or erodes away. The pictographs are very faded, except for one that appears more recent with more thickly applied pigment. During a recent brief visit I found the rock art difficult to see well, or decipher, and many could not be found.  

    The stacked image below compares, from top:  an enhanced photo from a recent visit; the Lorings sketch (published 1982 as within Site 5); and Woodward/Speciale’s interpretative rendering (1982).  All the images are severely "displaced" for purposes of illustration and comparison - and to show the difficulty in seeing and documenting weathering rock art. And, by implication, the challenge of understanding the relationship of this site and its rock art within a regional context.

    The top image, dramatically enhanced (Aperture) and isolated for study purposes, is well above the high river mark on a basalt cliff face. It appears to be a shield figure, which would link it to the eastern Columbia Plateau; perhaps further south.  (I’ve seen a few similar petroglyphs in Owyhee Canyonlands.)  Woodward notes, “Unusual is the occurrence here of numerous elements that may be abstract representations of the vulva or shield motifs” (38).

    More photos:  Cape Horn, Columbia River