Living on the west side of the Cascades in Washington, it’s very different from the rest of the state. Here, one has the impression of rain, water, evergreens, and mountains (when you’re not in the cities and traffic, that is). East of the Cascades is farmland, sage-scrub, desert, and ranchland. So when I recently got a job conducting a mediation related to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, I looked forward to traveling to interview all the natural resource trustee agencies and tribes, scattered around eastern Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Even if it is August…
I spent part of my childhood summers in the area around Spokane, Cheney, and Pullman. I have memories of hot summers with the cousins, playing at the lake house (Loon Lake), flat land, fields of grass and cicadas singing at night, oiled roads shimmering in the heat. But that’s about it as far as my previous experiences in the area.
Richland was my first stop. One actually flies into Pasco in the Tri-Cities, and I was amused by certain impressions of the city and my hotel, which revealed a rather strong engineering-dominated presence. The very first building behind the “Welcome to Pasco” sign is the CH2M Hill Technology Education Center – one of Hanford’s major contractors. The hotel had conference rooms with names like “Design Room” and “Project Room.” And then there was the Federal Building in downtown Richland, which houses the Dept. of Energy among others. I wondered why they didn’t think I would need directions, but it is the only tall building in the city. And the procedures to get in for just a very short meeting are, shall we say, arcane and intrusive.
Next stop was Lewiston, Idaho, en route to the Nez Perce Reservation. The woman in the seat next to me said something about how with the heat and the Potlatch, Lewiston was sure to smell terrible. I couldn’t figure out what she meant – in my experience, a Potlatch would be a tribal gathering, some kind of ceremony or celebration, with feasting, gifts, and dancing. In Lewiston, as I was soon to discover, it is a pulp mill, squatting like a behemoth on the Clearwater River. Not exactly a giver of gifts, at least not any kind you’d want to receive. The less said about the Red Lion I stayed at there, the better. Never go there.
The Nez Perce Reservation, on the other hand, was scenic and interesting from a landscape point of view. I really wished I could have stayed and visited longer, seen more of the countryside. Alas, I had to leave as soon as our morning meeting was concluded and drive to Spokane for an afternoon meeting. This drive, about 2 hours long, surprised me, as it was nothing like my memory of Spokane or the areas around it.
This is called the Palouse area of farmland, and it is visually stunning. The hills roll in waves, and the farmland seems plowed in unpredictable undulating patterns. At this time of year, rich brown fully plowed earth contrasted with the tan of wheat stubble on some fields, and golden wheat on others, and pale green on yet others, in ever-shifting patterns as you drive through it. Beautiful. And getting near Spokane I was surprised to see the ponderosa hills I was driving through – so unlike what I remembered as a child. As I flew back to Oregon, I did see the flat land I remembered – more to the west.
Visual memories of new places, and a better understanding of how the Nez Perce and others relate to the land there – the real gifts I received on this trip.