By Pat Nelson
For: The Daily News, Longview, WA
May 2, 2008
Reprinted with permission
Three weeks ago, on a cold and blustery April day that threatened snow, I looked out at Horseshoe Lake and saw more shoreline activity than I thought the nippy day deserved. Two men fished from an aluminum boat. The wind pushed them along as though they were trolling. Their heads were bundled in hats and hoods, and I imagined them pouring hot cups of coffee from a thermos as my dad, who was a die-hard fisherman, would have done on such a day. Two anglers in yellow rain jackets fished from shore. City workers circled the skateboard park on machinery, leveling the dirt that they would soon cover with grass. A boy rode his bike down a bowl of the skateboard park while his friend, in shorts, sat on the frigid concrete. In the gusty wind, Moose Lodge volunteers held tightly onto the canopies they had just set up for their fishing derby.
It was almost lunchtime, and my computer displayed a temperature of only 48 degrees. I shivered as I watched people going about their various activities on the lakeshore. Three yellow school buses pulled into Horseshoe Lake Park, and then another. I watched as children, accompanied by several adults, got off the buses. Kids walked across the parking lot, and then hurried to the playground equipment, swinging their lunches in paper bags, insulated containers, and plastic grocery sacks as they ran.
I’d always been curious about the many buses that visit Horseshoe Lake Park from other school districts. Reluctantly, leaving a steaming-hot cup of tea on my desk, I snuggled into my warmest coat, grabbed my camera and note pad, and drove to the park to ask why anyone would choose to picnic on such a day.
As the wind whipped my coat, I talked with a teacher named Kim who told me she was accompanying 120 third graders from the Tualatin (Ore.)School District. They had visited the Lelooska Cultural Center in Ariel where living history programs have been presented for more than 40 years. My own children had attended the Lelooska school programs 30 years ago when the late Chief Lelooska was the storyteller. He dedicated his life to preserving the arts and culture of the Northwest Coast Indians. A well-known wood sculptor, he carved totem poles, elaborate masks, panels, rattles, and bowls. When Chief Lelooska died in September 1996, his brother Fearon Smith Jr , called Tsungani, became chief. Tsungani carries on the traditions of his brother as storyteller and narrator of the living history programs, sharing the heritage of the native peoples of North America with more than 13,000 individuals each year through cultural programs and the museum.
The Tualatin students attended as part of their school’s Native American unit, arriving at 10:30 a.m.for a cultural program where they were entertained by headdress dancers wearing carved masks, and by drums and stories in the Kwakiutl ceremonial house. After the presentation, they visited the museum before stopping at Horseshoe Lake for lunch.
I stood talking with Kim near a covered picnic table, next to a tall lilac that was beginning to bloom just in time for Woodland’s annual Hulda Klager Lilac Festival. A Twix wrapper that missed the garbage can somersaulted past us in the wind. Most of the kids had hats on or hoods up, but one boy in shorts didn’t seem to know it was cold.
“The kids love Lelooska,” said Kim. “It’s something they have never seen before. They haven’t been exposed to storytelling, and it’s good for them to hear stories.”
As we talked, she kept her eyes on the youngsters. A girl named Amanda hurried over to report that there were five duck eggs nearby. Next, a boy ran up, rubbing his red hands together, saying, “I’m cold, I’m cold, I’m cold.” We quickly ended our conversation as the adults rounded up the youngsters and walked them back to the warm buses.
As the kids left the park, the ducks and geese took their places, cleaning up sandwiches, cookie crumbs, and potato chips.
If you visit Lelooska on a chilly day, as the students from Tualatin did in April, the cedar fire in the ceremonial house will keep you toasty warm while you listen to stories and watch the costumed dancers. If the day is cold and blustery, though, how about a cup of hot cocoa instead of a picnic?
What: Lelooska Living History Program and Museum
Where: 165 Merwin Village Rd., Ariel
When: May 10 and May 31, 7 PM, reservations required;
Contact: 360 225-9522