Paddling into the past — it may sound like a title of a novel, but it's exactly what LA Times staff writer, Chris Reynolds, did this summer.
Reynold joined host Lisa McRee on "LA Times Today" to talk about his redwood country experience aboard canoes on the Klamath River.
Klamath is a tiny town within 50 miles of the Oregon Border. It has been the home turf for the Yurok tribe for millennia.
"The Yurok population has always been connected deeply to both the Redwoods and the waters up there. Fishing is central to their identity, but it's problematic now because of the state of the fisheries on the river. They're just really connected to the river and the redwoods. The shape of the reservation follows the river for 44 miles, with like one mile on each side of it. I don't know if there's another reservation in that shape," Reynolds said.
Visitors can explore the Klamath River and learn about Yurok history by participating in canoe tours guided by members of the Yurok tribe.
"Having a river and redwoods at hand, it may not be surprising that at some point thousands of years ago, the Yurok started taking redwoods and carving dug-out canoes from them. These are big, heavy canoes, and it takes a lot of work, many months of work to carve one out. And they only have a handful of such canoes on hand. But as the tribal elders try to figure out how to keep their culture alive while also keeping their economy alive, they realize that they might be able to move both of those roles forward by offering canoe tours on Klamath," Reynolds added.
According to Reynolds, members of the Yurok tribe hope this lucrative operation will inspire younger tribal members to get into the business.
"We spent a little bit of time with David Severns, who's a canoe carver, who won't let us call him a master carver yet because the man he learned from is still alive. And as long as his teacher is still alive, he won't call himself a master carver. But David showed us what he's working on right now. Some days there are many as a dozen kids clambering all over these massive logs. I asked them how much they weigh, and he paused, and he said it takes four men or two strong men to move one. But they never bothered to put one on a scale," Reynolds said.
Reynolds said the canoe ride was more stable than any kayak or canoe he's ever tried.
"We put in right near the little downtown village of Klamath, and we went two or three miles; it's a two-hour ride. I think the cost is $125 per person. If you pay a little bit more, you can get a paddling lesson, which of course, I did, because who wants to get on a redwood canoe without getting a chance to paddle it? So we went out, and Sammy Gensaw was a guide, and he had a couple of other guys told us what we were seeing and what had happened over history. And one of the things you gradually realized is until European settlers came in, the woods had far more redwoods. The river had far more fish, and the community had far more Yurok in it," Reynolds said.
Indigenous tribes have a spiritual connection with the land they live in and the waters they fish. Reynolds said he felt that connection during his trip.
"I think that's the great benefit of this, is that the Yurok get a chance to tell people directly and show them how profoundly connected to that forest and those waters they are. It was such a pleasure and privilege to be out on that water and talking to those people," he said.
Watch "LA Times Today" at 7 and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday on Spectrum News 1 and the Spectrum News app. .