Sahaptin Valley lies under the overarching sky of eastern Washington, a mere indentation in its floor. It’s a stopping place for some; for the few, a destination. A place where migratory Native American bands once summered long enough to call it home, long enough to bless its landscape with their name. A place where pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail often stopped after crossing the mountains to rest awhile before continuing their long journey to the Pacific Ocean. Or, in the case of the Valley’s oldest pioneer families, to settle down, to build, to plant their seedlings and family roots, and to farm. An isolated place.
The Valley has existed far longer than the town of Sahaptin and its people, far longer than the Native American bands who inhabited the area before being pushed out by smallpox and chicken pox brought by white pioneers. It was majestic long before there were human eyes to regard it, its majesty existing without regard to the human egotism of the ‘if a tree falls in a forest’ variety. Nestled between the Columbia River and the low-lying mountains that frame its eastern end, it enjoys good weather, good water, good soil, and spacious views. Shades of green predominate in the Valley much of the year. Only in brief periods of summer and winter do other colors reign supreme: in mid-summer, in celebration of its fertility, the Valley is rendered golden brown through the medium of ripening wheat and barley painted upon a canvas of fields stretched on the horizons; in winter, for a few brief, hard months as nature’s reminder to mankind of its supremacy, the Valley is rendered as an abstract: first with frost, then with snow, then with frost again.
The Valley is wide and lies under a monumental sky. This is not the hedgerowed sky of large cities or of the coast, but a vast, uninterrupted, god-like sky stretching from here to there, delimited only by the mountains and ridges giving it form. Anywhere you stand in the Valley will be under the midpoint of a curving, invisible ridgepole keeping the sky at bay, allowing it to droop to the horizon. For this sky moves with you, moves with the shifting of the horizon; it defines a tented world with you as its center pole.
Copyright 2014, Stephen C. Ellis