Ghost in the Land of Skeletons
For Russell Edson
- Christopher Kennedy
Ghost in the Land of Skeletons
For Russell Edson
There are some places some people should not know of, some places where a smile and a nod, and the mile posts of stumps, gives you the key to another world.
I first heard of this elusive Cedar Stump house from an old timer at the Pe Ell Pub one night, after a long round of Busch Lights and lines of stories. We were talking about his family and how they settled down here in the Willapa Hills over a 150 years ago. “The forest was a lot different back then”, he told me, rubbing his belly as if to move the words. He told me about, how back in the day, ‘the trees were so big you could live in them, I tell you know lie, in fact, I know of a place that you can live in one. It is an old Cedar stump out in Pacific County. The darn thing has a window, a door and a roof on it.” Not sure what year they made that stump a home, but I am pretty damn sure the old thing is still standing!” Of course this perked my investigative ears to the possibility I would find such a magical kingdom hidden in the hills of mists and moss.
As time went on, I kept asking the local folks questions (I consider myself a local but I need to live around here for 10 years, to become an “official local”, I am told.) about this elusive fairy land that had captured my imagination. Some people were reluctant to speak of it’s whereabouts, as if holding on to an old code of silence, looking me over with suspicious eyes. I would ‘prime the pump’ with cheap beer to get the lips telling stories, and got little clues. Most would boast about taking their girlfriend out there and writing their names on the holy grail of the ‘Stump”.
It was not until I was helping a close friend with some tracking and hunting up in the Willapa Hills, did the biggest clue come. It sailed in on the setting sun, dressed on the wings of a Red Hawk, flying low above our packed Elk Camp caravan. It swooped through light and disappeared into the moss covered trees. At that moment, I looked down to see an old bridge, half rotted from the relentless rainforest mist, and heard the old timers voice in my head: “There is an old bridge…”. That night in Elk camp I laid half awake, listening to the call of cows echoing through the mists and pondered my earlier thoughts of the elusive eden, and made a vow to find it after the hunt.
I am finding myself lost in this hunt, this search. I know as a kid growing up in Carson there were, and are, some places, that you just don’t share with anyone, unless they know the code. The code of belonging, and trust, pack it in, pack it out. This ritual always felt sacred to me and solidified my sense of belonging to the community. When asked by an ‘out-of-towner’ if I knew how to get to the hot springs, I would point them to St. Martins , not wanting to give away the magic of the natural Springs, that was for us! It is this kind of rights of passage I felt I may break through if I visited the ‘Stump’. I would then be a local.
We came down the mountain from Elk camp to have the same Red Hawk fly with us at the same spot as before. I can not help but take notice when such events happen. As we passed by the old bridge again, my neck hairs raised ever so slightly. I wandered into town with tales from the hunting trip, but as soon as I told people where we set up camp, people told me, ‘the stump house is up that way..’ I knew it!
There have long been several versions of how Pe Ell was named, none of which can be authenticated.
One of those versions, and the more accepted one, is that the name comes from the attempts of the local Indians to pronounce the first name of an early French-Canadian settler, Pierre Charles, who was an ex-Hudson Bay employee. This version has it that the Indians could not pronounce Pierre, and their attempts turned it into Pe Ell. Another version is that P and L were the first initials for Pierre Charles and his Indian wife. Two words were made from the initials: “Pe Ell”. Another distinct version is that Charlie Pershell, a Frenchman, settled in the area and married an Indian maiden. The Indians found it difficult to sound out the “sh” in Pershell so it became Pe Ell. In 1897, the North Pacific Railway built a railroad depot in the town. In 1907 Pe Ell’s population was around 1,000 — larger than it is today. The rich agricultural and timber resources of the region attracted farmers, millworkers, and loggers. By 1909, the town had a bank, three dry goods stores, two general stores, three grocery stores, two barber shops, five saloons, four hotels, a newspaper, a blacksmith, and even an opera house.
Pe Ell was officially incorporated on March 9, 1906.
(excerpt from wikipedia)