While I was writing the other day, I was drawn to the curious assortment of objects that have collected at the corner of my desk. The pile is composed of items from nature: a 7,700 year old fossil of a bone from Mt. Mazama; a pocked rock from the top of Mary’s Peak, a place of spiritual power for the tribes of the Willamette Valley; a rock from the Pacific Ocean impregnated with miniature seashell fossils; a dentalium storage container made by a member of the Kalapuya tribe; a piece of chert with a streak of quartz right through the center; and two acorns from a graveyard.
These treasures remain on my desk because of the constant hold they have on my thoughts. I spent some time this past spring with the state archaeologist and members of the Kalapuya tribe. We wandered through the woods together and I was privileged to learn firsthand from them. One of the members of the tribe is an archaeologist who works with flint, antlers, and stone. He made replicas of some of the early items used by the Kalapuya and I was able to procure a dentalium storage container from him. Dentalium was the currency of the Kalapuya. It was made of shells harvested from the ocean with long brooms. The natural holes of the dentalium made them easy to string together or be kept in a purse, until they were needed for the purchase of an item. The dentalium container I have is made from an antler. On one side of the antler, an oval opening has been carved and the center of the antler, carefully hollowed out; this is where the dentalium was stored. A strip of hide was tied around the container to keep it secure, and a hole was drilled in the top of the purse, so it could be fastened around the neck or on a belt.
The second item was a treasure I found myself. Recently I learned how mortar and pestles were made by the Kalapuya tribes in this area. The bowls were deliberately carved using chert because it is a rock that is harder than most. I searched to see what chert looked like and found it to be a reddish-brown stone with a smooth look to it. This summer as I was hiking along the Santiam Wagon Road I was looking down at the path as I walked since that part of the trail was filled with copious amounts of exposed roots. Right in the middle of the trail my eyes were drawn to a piece of reddish-brown stone about 1 ½ inches long. I instantly recognized it as chert and excitedly picked it up. As I examined it, I noticed it had a streak of quartz going from one end to the other. I rubbed my thumb over the smooth side and turned it around in my hand. I carefully put it into my pocket and carried my prize home.
The most recent addition to my desktop include two acorns from a cemetery. I enjoy wandering around old cemeteries and have spent time in nearly all the pioneer cemeteries near my home. A few months ago, my husband and I visited New York for the first time. I was invited to give a presentation at the 40th Annual New Netherland Institute Conference in Albany, New York. The theme of the conference focused on women of New Netherland and I gave a presentation about Catalina Trico. The cemeteries in New York are much older than those in the west where I live. It was incredible to see the crumbling headstones with unreadable names and dates sinking partially into the ground.
With some searching one night, my husband discovered the cemetery where Catalina and some of her family were buried, so the next day we found our way to the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery, established by Peter Stuyvesant in 1654. The church near the cemetery was under construction and the gate around the cemetery was locked so we were not able to go inside. We stayed there a while and thought about Catalina’s life and her final years in that area. As we prepared to leave I hesitated, because I did not want to go. I looked around for some physical token to carry home with me. As I gazed through the black iron fence I spotted two sizeable acorns just a bit out of reach underneath an oak tree near a crooked line of headstones. My husband grabbed a stick and meticulously pulled the acorns towards us and within our reach. Sometimes I just hold one in my hand as a connection to Catalina.
The artifacts on my desk are links to the past from times and places that are significant to me. They bring me within reach of events that happened long before I ever arrived on the scene. Each of them are a physical reminder that the past is still with us, that it can be touched, and that it must be remembered.