The Ohlone In The Summertime

By Shirley Reusch Drye 8-02

The Ohlone people who lived in Pacifica before the arrival of the Europeans enjoyed a natural and unique adaptation to the land.

During the spring and summer months here on the coast food and industry materials were abundant and prime for harvesting. The Ohlone people would have been enjoying the bounty and preparing for the coming winter during the waking hours of long summer days.

Roots, greens, seeds, fruits, seafood, large and small mammals, fowl, shell fish and creek fish provided the Ohlone with a generous diet during this season. The healthy aquifer within Montara Mountain kept their springs and creeks running as they do even today with a lower water table.

This was a time of intense activity, of gathering and preparing the materials for cordage, basketry, mats, netting, tools, skins, ornaments, and regalia for their ceremonials. Soap root was harvested and soap root brushes produced. The bulb itself not only provided an excellent soap, but it was cooked and eaten, tasting like a mild potato.

Materials preparation for use during the long winter months took substantial amounts of time. This is something we often forget. Preparation of basketry materials alone was long and tedious before the actual production took place. This is equally true of making beads, bows and arrows, quivers, spears and spear-throwers. And acquiring and preserving feathers for their ceremonial regalia was equally time consuming.

The men intensified their hunting and fishing. They would have visited quarries and the beaches to gather rock for producing arrow heads (chert locally), net sinkers, charm stones, mortars and pestles. The women gathered clams, mussels, barnacles, and whatever other items provided a morsel while the men dived for abalone, and crab. Fish and meat were dried and stored for winter use. Acorn silos were built, and trump lines and burden baskets were repaired or made new for the fall harvest of acorns and nuts. Their sheltering tule houses were built or repaired and reinforced.

As the women prepared shellfish for consumption they accumulated the best of the mussel, olivella, abalone and clam shells for bead and utensil production.

The village medicine man would have been gathering and preparing medicinal herbs for use during the year. We must remember that plants have prime harvesting time if we are to extract the best product. Even though our winters are relatively mild, most plants have a resting time when their flavors and medicinal content is not as strong or effective. Creek willow bark was available all year to alleviate pain and fever, but its aspirin (acilicin) content was highest in spring and summer.

The Ohlone people surely knew how to husband their land. While their perspective was to keep their land and water productive, it actually served the purpose of environmental caretaking better than we do today. Only recently has our mind set come to realize that the annual burning of the meadow lands was actually good, enriching the ground and promising a rich growth of plants the coming year.

The Ohlone people knew, for instance, how to make the multi-use creek willow (salix laseolepis) grow in a way to produce both the proper basketry materials and the long poles for their tule house frames and boats by copicing the trees. They knew that they could strip the bark from the creek willow in the long strips to bind their house frames together only when the sap was up. That the tule is at its prime for gathering through July.

Traders came through with, perhaps, obsidian cores or already produced arrowheads and Washington clam shells to trade for local shells, shell beads, salt, dried fish, chert cores. They might also have brought herbs and medicines that are not available locally.

Lastly, they would all have looked forward to attending summer gatherings to greet friends and family, to sing and dance and celebrate their lifeways. They worked hard to sustain the life they lived, and they celebrated that life.