Last week, I travelled south of the international boundary, to Kettle Falls, Washington. Standing on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, I watched the reservoir pool around a land mass exposed by low water. The indigenous word for this place is ksunkw, “island.” Sinixt and Skoyelpi fishermen, their families and the Salmon Chief once spent the fishing season here. Since 1942 (the completion of Grand Coulee Dam), the falls have been silent. Look carefully and you will see the remains of the island.

On the upper Columbia, agencies that control the river drain the reservoirs in March and April. One can catch a faint whiff of how things used to be, though imagination needs assistance. Here is an 1860 photograph of the liberated river and the tree-covered island, from the opposite shore (on the right of the photo):

In the pine forest beside the reservoir, I heard an eagle call out with screeching insistence. Craning my neck, I spotted a nest, tucked high in the crown of a ponderosa pine tree. Even from the ground, the nursery was immense.

I aimed my camera and zoomed in. It takes an eagle-eye sometimes, to track the history of a place.

Written by Eileen Delehanty Pearkes