Category Archives: CLOVER A LITERARY RAG vol 4

Quelcid, S’Klallam Elder, Teaches Us

As it appears in the Winter 2012 edition of Clover: A Literary Rag.

Quelcid, S’Klallam elder, teaches us to make walking sticks. She beats her deerskin drum and sings: Pick a devil’s club, peeled andcured, that fits your stature. Bone it with a table knife, as my ancestors boned it with a deer’s shoulder blade. Wrap the grip with rawhide. Hang on it amulets of rosehips and beads.

To touch diabolical “devil’s
clubs,” Oplopanax horridum causes me to shudder. With each stroke of the table knife, I remember horse-logging with Dad and my brother Jim on the back of our place in the Upper Skagit River Valley. I remember “swamping out” trails through devil’s club and vine maple before each tree was felled, and whacking out horse trails to drag the logs out to the truck.

I remember Jim bending the green devil’sclub stem, then letting go as I swung my ax. Up it would spring, slapping thorns into each of us, driving them through our worn-out gloves. Always, as we were pulling thorns out of our hands, dad and the team would show up, impatient and disgusted at his teenage helpers.From Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound, indigenous people have for centuries, burnt, carved, ground, mixed, painted, plastered, rubbed, steamed, tattooed, and infused roots, stems, inner bark, and berries of this genus of ginseng, sometimes with thistles, black hawthorn, prince’s pine, cascara, and bear grease, for medicine, magic, and fishing lures.

And now to the beat of her drum, Quelcid sings: Take your walking stick. Go quietly through shadowy thickets to the river’s edge. Listen for its inner spirit speaking to a shaman, his face painted with bear grease and ash. Evil spirits know the magic, they will sneak away.