Saturday, July 25, 2009

CryptoWA #7 - Salt Chuck Oluk Triptych

Anywhere people live by water, they tend to see strange stuff in it. Dip below the surface and every sea or lake has monster yarn or two. Washington state, with its 3200 miles of coastal waterways, is no exception. Stories of a large, serpent-like critter have been reported by newspapers and inebriated fishermen alike since the 1800's.

The Oregonian newspaper dubbed their local serpent Colossal Claude in the early 1930's. Around the same time in British Columbia, The Victoria Daily Times had a contest to name the local sea monster, selecting Cadborosaurus or "Caddy" as the winner.

The name I like is the one used by the Lushootseed Salish: Salt Chuck Oluk. I couldn't pick a single story, so I decided to make a three-panel picture, each depicting a Salt Chuck tale from a different time.

Panel 1

Panel 1 shows a family trip to the Dungeness Spit from 1961. Two sisters and their children reportedly saw a strange, long necked serpent frolicking in the water between the Spit and Port Townsend.

Panel 2

Though Salt Chuck stories are most often associated with the Strait of Juan De Fuca and the interior waterways of Washington and B.C., quite a few are set near the mouth of the Columbia River. The crew of a fishing boat all told of a close encounter in 1939.

Panel 3

Sea monsters play a part in the lore of many local Native American tribes. An atlatl (spear thrower), adorned with a carving of a great serpent was unearthed near La Conner and was dated to 200 A.D. Similar monsters can be seen in numerous petroglyphs scattered throughout Puget Sound and British Columbia.

These are generally explained as images of spirit guides, but the Squamish tribe has a very tangible take on Salt Chuck Oluk. Tribal lore says that sightings grew more common with the arrival of white settlers. This, they say, is because Salt Chuck is a "hated totem," personifying the greed and avarice that Europeans/Americans brought with them.

As this greed infected the tribe, Salt Chuck Oluk appeared near Brockton Point blocking the entire channel. A young warrior -- Tenas Tyee -- went forth to slay the serpent, armed with only his hunting knife. He dove into the waters every day, seeking the serpent's heart. After four years, he succeeded, freeing his people from their unnatural lust for gold.

Salt Chuck Oluk may have left the Squamish alone after that, but something like him kept appearing for years to come. Interestingly, stories seem to stop after the 1960's. It could be Salt Chuck has been replaced by more glamorous creatures, like Big Foot and space aliens, or maybe we're just not looking hard enough.