Sunday, February 20, 2022

A Grease Trail

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Society, Culture, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler 

There is, reports BBC's Diane Selkirk, a little known hiking trail in western Canada that predates "the Silk Road and the Amber Road. It is the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail...that's been worn deeply into the earth by 6000 years of walkers."

The 279-mile trails "starts at a glacier-fed fjord near Bella Coola...climbs east over mount ranges and then the fans out across what's now known as British Columbia." It was an overland trade route for "goods such as jade, copper, basketry, food, hides, obsidian and the highly valued commodity the trail was named for: the nutritious oil or "grease of the small eulachaon fish," a delicacy but also was so rich in oil that it could be lighted and used as a candle." It is also commonly known as the "candlefish." This short video (2m 03s) shows the transformation of fish to candle.

The European explorer, Alexander Mackenzie, walked some of it in 1793 when he made "the first known transcontinental crossing of the Americas north of Mexico." In his journal, he described it as a "'great road,'' one that "was very good and well traced''.

While "sitting on a beach...200km south of Bella Coola," Selkirk came "up with an unexpected prize: a small glassy shard of obsidian." Further sifting led to the discovery of a "growing pile of volcanic glass." This piqued her curiosity and she "made a plan to hike a grease trail. The most obvious contender was the Nuxalk-Carrier," a trail that still exists. "It is believed there were hundreds of them."

In her story, Selkirk provides a brief history of grease trails, notes the effects of the smallpox epidemic of 1862 to '63 on native populations and the area, early use by fur trappers and prospectors, the current rarity of grease trails and the work of Six Nations on clearing and rebuilding the trail "which sustained them in the past" and their hopes that it "can offer a path into the future" as they expand "their economies away from logging."

Selkirk "already (has) her next hike planned on the trail: I'm headed north to the Anahim Peak, the likely origin of the obsidian I found."

The story is lavishly illustrated, well-linked and the concise history, one that I was ignorant of, is nicely reported. Selkirk reports under "Slowcomotion...a BBC Travel series that celebrates slow, self-propelled travel and invites readers to get outside and reconnect with the world in a safe and sustainable way."

Here is a link to the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Trail Community Knowledge Keeper which describes the trail, first nations communities,and includes galleries and traditional use species. Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) is listed as threatened by the ESA.

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