A Year on the North West Coast March

Flying Swan

Swan in flight

March brings us here at Walker Goldsmiths the first really spring days with temperatures in the upper 50’s in between rain storms. We often have a bit of flooding on the rivers but overall the weather is improving. The clam and mussel harvest continues without urgency as there is plenty. Clams were often strung on bits of cedar bark twine or small cedar twigs (withes) cleaned of stomach contents then dried and smoked. These made a good trail food or extra chewy treat and sometimes traded to people living further away from the salt water. The stomach contents of the clams that were dried was not wasted but was used as a base for soup for chowder.
Near the end of the month usually on a clear and calm day an amazing thing happens. The water is alive with silver flashes especially in the shallows where the eel grass grows. The herring have arrived to spawn! Herring roe is considered a delicacy. There were several ways to collect herring roe. The one you choose will depend on the local resources and your taste. Small cedar or hemlock branches could be twined into a dense mat and anchored in the shallows for the herring to spawn on. Their eggs are sticky and fasten themselves onto whatever is handy. Another way was to go to the big kelp beds and harvest kelp to put in the shallows for the herring to spawn on. My favorite way to eat herring roe is on kelp with Swiss cheese! Herring were also harvested with herring rakes and nets; they were eaten fresh, smoked and rendered for oil.

diagram of house styles

The classic Salish house had a shed roof while the gabled roof was in use further north

The other exciting thing that starts in March is the waterfowl migration back to the North. Since I have lived here I have devised the “Trumpeter Swan Calendar”. It is very simple. When the swans arrive from the Arctic it is winter, also known as the cold wet season. When they go back home it is then summer, known as the warm wet season. That way you don’t have to muck about with spring and fall, calendars or astronomy. Leave it up to the swans. Waterfowl were collected at night with nets and torches. Fine nets were hung between tall poles and fires would attract the migrating ducks and geese into the nets. I find it fascinating that ducks and geese would be attracted by fire at night, but it was a well-established method of water fowling. Two men could go out at night in a canoe with a large torch and a duck spear that had five points. The ducks were attracted by the light and the other man could spear them. Ducks, geese and swans were also taken with bow and arrow and were a welcome change from dried salmon and clams. They were not preserved but were eaten fresh.

Illustration of a Lummi duck hunt

This is an illustration from an old book Lummi Indian How Stories by Ethel Fyles Beck Illustrated by Elizabeth Sykes Michaels

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