Experiencing a Different Culture at the Ridgefield NWR

Outline of a Chinook Native House

Outline of a Chinook Native House

There were two members of the Chinook Indian Nation that greeted our hiking group with a welcoming chant. It was grandfather Samuel Robinson accompanied by his granddaughter Destany. The tapping of his drum and his deep voice resonated through my body. Destany’s sweet voice softened his powerful sound. It felt unreal that I was experiencing this. The hairs on my skin stood on end. Brenda and I were at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington for the plank house opening. Over 100 volunteers and two years later the plank house was constructed and ready to be admired by the public. Luckily for us we were given the opportunity to take part in this event.

Ridgefield is about an hour north of our refuge. When noon rolled around we boarded our yellow-green spaceship, which has been dubbed the bee, and made our way up. Our GPS system did a fantastic job in directing us to the wrong refuge property. We drove into the Ridgefield Refuge with hopes of finding the plank house. There were do not park signs so I continued down the road. Immediately I spotted a great egret in the wetland. It was so beautiful and so close to the road. I hopped out of the car to snap a few pictures and jumped back in. A fellow egret admirer pulled up to the bee to let me know that we weren’t allowed to get out of our cars. I felt so horrible, I broke a refuge rule. This is not what how we do things at the Tualatin River NWR, but gosh darn I should have learned already to pay attention to all refuge signs.  I felt like such a delinquent.

We continued to drive in search of the plank house. Ten minutes had passed and we saw no signs of it. Unfortunately I was neither able to drive faster to get out of the safari we were on nor able to slow down to enjoy it. We did stop fora bit when we saw a hawk resting on a post by the road. We pulled up next to it and it did not seem to be bothered by us. It was gorgeous and although it was right in our face we had trouble identifying it. We continued on and ten more minutes later we finally put an end to our spontaneous safari adventure. I went over to a worker in a small wooden hut to ask him where the plank house was located. He told us it was on another unit three miles away. Thanks a lot GPS.

Can you help me ID this beautiful bird? It had a white breast.

Can you help me ID this beautiful bird? It had a white breast.

We found the next unit with no problems. There was a strange bridge which connected the parking lot to the refuge. We crossed it and realized what created the division. It was not a river as one would usually suspect. Instead it was three lanes of railroad tracks. The Ridgefield Refuge was a lovely piece of land even with the constant hustling and bustling of the train. We arrived at the plank house and learned a little bit about it. A plank house is a long house the native people of the Pacific Northwest constructed using cedar (this tree species continues to amaze me).

After exploring the plank house we attended a Spring First Foods Hike. On this 2 mile hike I learned about the traditional springtime foods of the Chinookan Peoples and the seasonal cycles people in the Cathlapotle Village lived by. This hike taught me to appreciate plants that I would normally dismiss.

I hope to continue to learn more about the flora, fauna, and the history of the Pacific Northwest.

The Cathlapotle Plank House at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

The Cathlapotle Plank House at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

Liliana Calderon
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