The Secret of Life
In Roald Dahl’s short story “The Hitch-Hiker,” the title character is coy about his line of work, initially telling the narrator only that he is in a skilled trade. “The secret of life,” the Londoner says, “is to become very, very good at something that is very, very ‘ard to do.”
To reveal the hitchhiker’s occupation would spoil the story, but his motto can be applied to just about any activity, profession, or calling. Tomorrow, from 10 a.m, to 2 p.m., members of the Grand Ronde Tribe will conclude the public demonstration of a traditional craft, building a Kalapuya Shovelnose canoe at Salem’s Willamette Heritage Center at the Mill. The month-long carving session accompanies the center’s exhibit The Grand Ronde Canoe Journey, open through May 30. The museum’s exhibit also includes the two oldest such canoes known to exist.
The Kalapuya, a group of eight related Native American tribes, once inhabited the Willamette Valley region but were almost completely wiped out by malaria and other diseases, brought by European Americans, by the early 1830s. Many of the survivors were merged into the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Kalapuya languages live on in certain familiar place names: Santiam, Yamhill, Tualatin, and Willamette itself, derived from “Whilamut,” meaning “where the river ripples and runs fast.” To navigate the Willamette and its tributaries, the Kalapuya built agile shovelnose canoes, with rounded prow, stern, and bottom.
No doubt, creating such a vessel—painstakingly, with hand tools—is “very, very, ‘ard to do.” Whether your passion is oil painting, botany, or pitching a fastball, there is inspiration to be found in such demonstrations of human ingenuity and skill.