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The door is round and open...

The plank-house at Cathlapotle is a beautiful reconstruction of a Chinookan communal dwelling in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. It's made of hand-hewn cedar planks--walls and roof--and decorated inside with 21st-century interpretations of traditional woodcarving.

When we arrived today, woodsmoke was rising from the roof vents, hovering in the still air along the Columbia River.



Of the location, William Clark (as in "Lewis and...") wrote, "I slept but very little last night for the noise kept up during the whole of the night by the swans, geese...brant [and] ducks on a small sand island...they were immensley [sic] numerous and their noise horrid."

It was a location rich in the salmon, fowl, elk and bear--and, of course, the trees--on which Northwest Indian society depended. The climate was mild and there was plenty of water. The Chinook people had it made. Their plank-houses were up to 200 feet in length, and when the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived at Cathlapotle in 1806, there were 14 of them, housing 900 people.

The Suyapee, or "upside-down faces," as the natives called the bearded foreigners, brought epidemic disease that eventually decimated the native population.

Private donations and volunteer labor have rebuilt the plank-house, which opened to visitors last week.


The entry--about four feet high.

Sleeping area, lined with bear and elk hides, decorated with antlers, oars, and cedar boughs.

Firepit, retractable roof planks for ventilation, and a glimpse of some of the carving, representing the son of the chief. That red post is hewn from a single old-growth cedar, and is at least 20 inches on a side.

I kept thinking of the Rumi poem, "The Breeze at Dawn"

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

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