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Witness Post 1 Witness Post 2

There are two types of witness posts, generally: the older one is a steel post bearing white sign with black letters saying “Do not disturb nearby survey mark” and the newer one is an orange plastic post with the same type lettering on it.     – Post found on the internet.

Witness Post: Lewis & Clark Slept Here

The morning had started out drizzly and overcast, but as I came to the two mile mark, the sky started to clear, the road turned steeply up hill, and my pace slowed considerably.  I was running on the Lewis & Clark Road outside Seaside, Oregon, and I had the urge for a “nature break”.  The coffee I had consumed to wake up and the water gulped for hydration were calling, or I should say, my bladder was screaming.  So I found a scenic, semi-private spot for my salute and spied an orange stake hammered in the ground along the side of the road with some printed warnings on it.  “Witness Post” it said, and seemed to be advising passersby not to dig with your backhoe in the area.  Must be a buried utilities caution or something, I thought.

Finishing my business I ran further up the winding hill, passing a tall stand of Douglas fir and alders, and reached an elevation about 500’ above Seaside’s surfer cove.  The panoramic view became expansive.  At the top the trees had been sheered to stumps nearly as far as the eye could see.  I spotted a few more orange posts and thought about them as the hill descended gradually.  This is private timber area today, but the view of the coast and the valley behind me led to contemplation about the road I was on and who had been here before me.  What post I was witnessing?

Granted, it has been over 200 years since Lewis & Clark passed this way from Fort Clatsop to Seaside, but the quiet road seemed too rural for such intrusions to nature.  A trail, dubbed the Clatsop Loop, passes near this point and roughly traces the path that the Corps of Discovery may have taken overland from Youngs Bay to the Pacific Ocean, where they set up camp to boil sea water for salt.  I can only imagine the strain and labor it must have taken after a journey over those miles, to cart buckets of sea water up the beach and to sit for hours and hours, boiling the water until it had evaporated enough to harvest as sea salt.  A critical preservative for the fish and game, the Corps members needed sea salt by the barrel-full for their return overland trip to St. Louis.

The Saltworks

Salt Works 1 Salt Works 2

While in Oregon, the Corps also climbed up 1,200 feet to the top of Tillamook Head and down the other side to see the grounded whale near Haystack Rock (now Ecola Park and Cannon Beach).  Ecola means “whale” in the Clatsop native language.  As I try to imagine myself watching the scene from 1805, what comes to mind is the stench of the whale blubber, which the explorers and the Indians may have harvested by boiling it for fuel.

Tillamook Head  Cannon Beach

A lot has transpired over the 200+ years since the Expedition came to the Pacific Northwest, but, there are signs of their encampment everywhere.  Such garden spots as Cape Disappointment, Dismal Niche, and Fort Clatsop have been loosely linked together to become one of the latest US National Parks in our country’s recreational park system.  The Fort was burned down accidentally by some visitors a few years ago, and it has been restored, minus a few priceless artifacts, to what it may have looked like when the Corps spent three miserable, mosquito-infested, cold and wet months in the Northwest.

In 2012, another man, Ben Jacobsen from Vancouver, WA is attempting to create the first salt company to harvest Oregon sea salt, since the Corp of Discovery.  His Jacobsen Salt Works is off to a good start and I wish him well.

Witness Post #1

What do I witness? And what topics require that I write a post?  The list is long. With these essays, letters, obituaries, and testimonials I intend to survey the landscape, bear witness to people and places and things that attract my time and attention, and to stick a stake in the ground for them.  To me the people in particular are far more interesting to think about and feel deeply for than some of the other notions which occupy my day.  The stories behind these Witness Posts have inspired me.  And I hope they do the same for you.

–          Henry Evans Hooper (January 2, 2012)

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