Photo: Blazej Lyjak/Shutterstock

You Are Where You Live

by Mary Sojourner Oct 11, 2013

You must leave your home and go forth from your country.
The children of Buddha all practice this way.
— The Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices

MY FRIEND and I head for the Olympic Rain Forest. We never arrive. Somewhere around Sequim, he feels the northwest pulling him as far as it will be possible for two humans to go, to jutting rock and pine beyond which we will be able to walk no further. Beyond that point there are cormorants and orcas. There is a blue-black horizon and light fading down into the sea. There is air vibrant with salt.

We stop along the way to where we can go no further. I walk to the water’s edge and scoop handfuls of liquid mineral. I touch my forehead, my heart and belly with wet fingers. I take away a gray-white pebble flecked with mica.

At the Makah Cultural & Research Center, I learn that the people regard the knowledge in that place as “a canoe” carrying them, and a “war club” shattering assumptions and prejudices. I learn that their real name is kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx which means People who live by the rocks and the seagulls. Makah is a name given to them by another First Nation. It means generous with food.

My friend and I walk through this place that is a canoe and a war club. Much of the weaving and pottery, toys and weapons, cooking and burying objects were found during the excavation of Ozette Village. We look into the cases together. We say little.

He and I sit in a reconstructed cedar longhouse. It is dark. The air is fragrant. The only sound is soft chanting from hidden stereo speakers. After we go out into the hall, my friend says, “I was there.” I nod. “Me too, everything else gone away.”

We drive out to the trail that will take us to the furthest northwestern point of what never really was The United States of America. We walk through prismatic air that shatters the gray light into particles of green. We stand on a cedar platform a hundred feet above dark sandstone and silver spray.

You will not find the kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx name for this place on any map. You will find instead “Cape Flattery,” and when you research the name you will find this:

…on Sunday, March 22, Captain Cook saw, between a low cape and a steep island just off the cape, “a small opening which flattered us with the hopes of finding an harbour.” The hopes lessened as the ships drew nearer. Cook decided that the opening was closed by low land and turned the ships away. He named the point of land Cape Flattery… Cook’s activities at Nootka actually had a far greater impact on the future history of Washington than his brief excursion past Cape Flattery. He and his crew were able to trade with the Nootka Indians for sea otter furs, which were highly coveted by Asian and European merchants. When Cook’s expedition finally returned to England following his death…news of the wealth available on the Northwest Coast inspired the fur trade that brought many more Europeans and Americans to the Pacific Northwest…

I look down on the dark fingers of sandstone, on the cormorants gliding in and out of the darker caves. There is a dwarfed cedar to my right. Salt spray beads on its boughs. I know I will write about what I see. And I know I will write that the fur trade brought genocide and I will not call the place “Cape Flattery.”

The day after we return, I email the Makah Cultural & Research Center and ask to know the kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx name for the furthest northwestern point. A woman writes back: I hope I understood your question right and that you are asking for the word in our language that describes or names Cape Flattery. If that is the case, the name kwih dich chah uhtx IS the name we use to loosely mean the area of the Cape. —Vickie B.

I see that the people and the place have the same name. The people and the place are the same.

You must leave your home and go forth from your country. The children of Buddha all practice this way. The kwih dich chah uhtx go forth from “Cape Flattery.” They travel in a great canoe. They carry war clubs of knowledge. They circle out from “Cape Flattery” and return to kwih dich chah uhtx. The kwih dich chah uhtx come home to kwih dich chah uhtx.

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