The Rivers of Washington

by Stewart Hendrickson

 The Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Stilliguamish, Shoalwater, Columbia, Copalis, Clearwater, Kalaloch, Klickitat, Humptullips, Hamma Hamma, Hoh, Dosewallips, Dungeness, Puyallup, Pilchuck, Physt, Quillayutte, Queets, Grey Wolf, Yakima, Taholah, Tieton, Naches, Elwha, Raft, Moclips...  As a relative newcomer to Washington, I am still amused by the recitation of rivers in weather reports of flooding in Washington. There ought to be a song there. In fact, there are several.

 Of course everyone knows of the big one that Woody Guthrie sang about – Roll On, Columbia, Roll On. He also mentions other rivers in this song, which became the official Washington State folksong in 1987.

 Other great rivers add power to you
Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat, too
Sandy, Willamette, and Hood River too
So roll on,
Columbia, roll on

 But there are other songs. Inspired by the folk song  Rivers of Texas, Mary Garvey wrote this song to the same tune.



I'm going back to the place I was planted
The place I was formerly taken for granted
Back where the rivers all ripple and wind
And you can come with me if you are inclined


I'll show you the lowlands most likely to flood
Show you the mess left by St. Helen's mud
And if you prove willing and anxious to learn
I'll show you some places where salmon return


In the Coweeman we'll go for a swim
Pick the blackberries when daylight grows dim
Undo our boat and just let it drift
Coweeman is gentle the Toutle is swift


We'll go where the Toutle used to run clear
And look for the track left by muskrat and deer
And think on the mountain before it exploded
The rivers diverted the banks all eroded


If you want to feel better than ever you felt
We'll stand in the
Cowlitz go dipping for smelt
You're sure to get cold and you're sure to get wet
But you'll sure have a day you can never forget


And if you're still up for what nature discloses
We'll seek out Kalama's sweet banks of wild roses
You've never smelt Mother Nature's perfume
If you've not smelt the banks of Kalama in bloom


I know you've seen sunsets quite often before
But have you seen one on Columbia's shore
And seen that great river turn into gold
It will give you more beauty than your poor heart can hold


So if you should ask where I'd like to reside
It's right at the point where these waters collide
And if you should ask just how long I'll remain
Just as long as these rivers are fed by the rain


This next song was written in about 1944 by Carlton Fitchett, and sold to Ivar Haugland (of Ivar’s Acres of Clams) for a box of Cuban cigars! It features a more northerly set of rivers than Mary’s song. You can find this song in Linda Allen’s songbook “Washington Songs and Lore” (out of print, but available in your public library).


As happy as a butter clam when tides are high I sing,
A grateful ode to
Puget Sound, the land of everything;
I love it from Tulalip to
Puyallup, Sequim and Pysht,
And to the Dosewallips where many times I've fished.

From Brinnon to the Bogachiel, from Lummi to La Push,
And from the lordly Sol Duc to lovely Duckabush,
From Samish to Sammamish, Suquamish to Quilcene,
The climate is so friendly it's a land that's evergreen.

There's peace on the Skykomish, on the Queets and on the Hoh,
There's calm on the Nisqually, born of ageless ice and snow;
A land that Nature loves so much she stays the whole year 'round
I'd trade a royal palace for a shack on Puget Sound!

There's Chimacum and Steilacoom, where spouts the geoduck;
The singing Stillaguamish and the swirling Skookumchuck
And Moclips and Copalis, where the razor clams abound
A little bit of heaven is a shack on
Puget Sound.


            And now there’s rumor of a bill before the State Legislature in Olympia to make identification of all these rivers and their proper pronunciation mandatory for getting a driver’s license and voting in Washington State. That ought to cut down on vote fraud and illegal immigration!


Stewart Hendrickson is Chemistry Professor Emeritus –  St. Olaf College, Research Professor Emeritus – University of Washington, and in his new career, an unemployed folk musician (voice, fiddle, guitar; .