SKUNK CABBAGE Lysichiton americanum "Swamp Lantern"
A robust, hairless perennial 30-150 cm tall, from fleshy, upright, underground stems, with a skunky odour, especially when flowering. Found in swamps, fens, muskeg, wet forest, mucky seepage areas, wet meadows, at low to middle elevations.
‘In the ancient days, they say, there were no salmon. The Indians had nothing to eat save roots and leaves. Principal among these was the skunk-cabbage. Finally the spring salmon came for the first time. As they passed up river, a person stood upon the shore and shouted: “Here come our relatives whose bodies are full of eggs! If it had not been for me all the people would have starved.” “Who speaks to us?” asked the salmon. “Your uncle, Skunk Cabbage,” was the reply. Then the salmon came ashore to see him, and as a reward for having fed the people he was given an elk skin blanket and a war-club, and was set in the rich, soft soil near the river. (Kathlamet story, related in Haskin 1934) Wherever the leaves of this plant were available, they were used as ‘Indian wax paper,’ for lining berry baskets, berry drying-racks and steaming pits. Skunk cabbage was rarely used as food by the northwest coast peoples; it was mostly a famine food in early spring; and it was then eaten only after steaming or roasting.
Pojar, Mackinnon. 2004. PLANTS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST. Lone pine Publishing. Vancouver, BC. Auburn, WA. Edmonton, Alberta.
Our trio braved deep snow, prompting the Northwest Avalanche Center to come out of hibernation and issue warnings about the particularly hazardous conditions developing in the mountains. High wind + lots of wind = wind slab avalanche potential. We were able to use the terrain features to safely navigate down the mountain. However, the snowshoeing was especially challenging due to the 100+ centmeters (~36 inches) or fresh powder. Wishing we had skis on to blow up the snow "like a powder gangster," but glad we didn't as the slide alder and sagging hemlock trees snagged on any objects protruding from our packs.
The second night found us slowly descending the steeply forested sides of the Shaney Creek basin. We made camp on Forest Service road 1152 amongst the Swamp Lanterns and huge Western Hemlock trees shedding snow with a cascading effect that sounded strikingly similar to an avalanche.
Upon reaching the trailhead the morning of the third day, we found our vehicles buried under three feet of consolidated wet snow. I had been envisioning spending days camped at the trailhead waiting for the snow to melt enough for us to drive out without getting stuck. Fortunately, we both have all-wheel-drive and were able to back out and push through the sticky snow. A Medium garlic chicken and a Large Cascade special pizza in Sedro-Wooley were the consolation prizes for our efforts.
Sometimes when we get served what we asked for, it's not always what we wanted. The trip was a really good learning experience for all of us. We were able to fine tune our cold and wet weather gear as well as put our navigation skills to the test. I learned the benefit of having waterproof maps...
Why did I leave Indian Creek??? As Neil continues to send splitter Wingate cracks, the elder hermano has migrated North to Washington state. Guiding work with the Northwest Mountains School and the prospect of climbing in Alaska prompted the move. Stay tuned to Planet Kauffman over the next few weeks as los hermanos climb with partners besides each other for the first time in 8 months. Stay strong Neil!!!