Saturday, April 26, 2008

Camassia

When I was pregnant with twins, my husband and I could only agree on one girl’s name and one boy’s name. Fortunately we had a boy and a girl, so we were set.

The summer before their birth we drove from Oregon to Wyoming, where my husband was helping a relative remodel his home. Near McCall, Idaho we encountered fields of a lovely wildflower called Camas (Camassia). It was a beautiful sight and at that moment we decided we would name our child Camas, if we had a girl. (We didn’t know then that I was incubating twins.)

The indigenous people called this plant Quamash.Camas flowers range from pale, light blue to deep violet blue. One kind, the death Camas, is fatal and can easily be confused with the edible variety. (Photos of the Camas flower can be found here.)

Camas was one of the most important "root" foods of western North American indigenous peoples, from southwestern British Columbia to Montana, and south to California. The part of the plant that was valued is actually a bulb. Dried Camas is the most expensive form of Camas, with baked and then raw Camas being less expensive. Camas roots were given at marriage trades and to friends and relatives by the widow at funeral trades. The bulbs were usually dug after flowering, in summer, although some people dug them in spring. Harvesting the bulbs traditionally took weeks or months. Each family group "owned" its own camping and harvesting spot. These were passed down in families from generation to generation.

In the Pacific Northwest one can find cities, streets, creeks, sloughs, and businesses with the name Camas. When my daughter lived in NYC she met someone from Washington state at a party. After being introduced to Camas, he commented on how unfortunate it was for her to have to been named, "after a lumber mill."

8 comments:

Rock Kyndl said...

Beautiful drawing of an obviously meaningful flower. Nice, light touch.

willow said...

Nice post, Sharon. Now I know what a Camas is. It is a unique and lovely name. Now I am curious as to what you named your son.

juj said...

Great story - and beautiful painting. and I think the lumber mill is quite lucky to have a name as lovely as your daughter's!

africantapestry said...

I love the name Camas for your daughter..what a lovely story! and your sketch is beautiful...yip, what is your son's name and the story behind?
Ronell

Sharon said...

My son's name, Zachary, is much more prosaic, although there is nothing ordinary about him!

Sherry said...

Camas is a lovely name. Your post about the flower was a revelation to me. I had never heard of, nor seen the flower before. The explanation and the personal story were interesting to me.
Sherry

mARTa said...

It's late into the evening and I can't work on my school assignments now till tomorrow. Thank you for the kind comment. I have been enjoying all your posts. I love the blue atrichoke and the Camassia and story are lovely. I don't know if I've ever seen one.

SCquiltaddict said...

this is soo lovely