Trust in Tule
Remember the children’s sermon or camp activity where you take one stick, and easily break it, but then bind together a bunch of sticks and they can’t be broken? Community is like that, we assure the kids; together we are stronger.
Call it “the tule sermon.” Today we honor the humble tule reed.
Visit a Monterey wetlands and these 15-foot sturdy, flexible plants are everywhere. Similar to bulrushes and cattails, they are home to myriad birds and fish. At the top you will see marsh wrens nesting, then find coots at home at water level, and under the water discover crustaceans and fish thriving in their wet roots.
Our region’s native Ohlone also used the tule for homes, weaving and binding them into quick and strong shelter. Tule became baskets, mats, duck decoys and even breathing tubes to hide underwater during attack.
I don’t have to use the past tense to talk about Ohlone tule boats – these sleek beauties still ply the waters.
Thanks, tules, for being so beautiful, flexible, useful, strong, and welcoming.
Two authentic tule boats set sail 3 times a day this summer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the educational and entertaining deck show, “Turning the Tide.” Local Ohlone wise woman Linda Yamane cut the tule, fashioned the crafts and speaks on the videos about how her ancestors fished from these boats. Later in the show other local folks tell stories of their particular ethnic and fishing ancestry and heritage. When the tule boats have left the Great Tidepool, out sails a Japanese abalone dive boat, a Chinese squid junk and a Sicilian lampara sardine boat. We’ve taken some of the youth groups on Blue Theology mission trips there this summer to learn about diversity and sustainable fisheries.
Some fun facts about tule reeds:
-“Tule” is a Native American word.
- Tule is essential in wetlands, serving as a barrier to wind and water forces, preventing erosion. California has built over 75% of its wetlands and eradicate much tule.
-Tulare Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, in the Central Valley, was named by white settlers for all the tule reeds in the lake. (I do have to use the past tense here; the lake dried up when the rivers that fed it were all diverted in the 1920’s for agriculture.)
-People said they lived “in the tules” when they meant they lived far away.
-It’s the source of more California names like tule fog, tule elk, Tule Lake Japanese internment camp.
So it’s a very California plant – linked to our native heritage, used creatively and also exploited, drained and killed, associated with beautiful bounty as well as with genocide, still surviving thanks to conservation and determination. Yes, we are stronger together. Let’s be like the tule and use our strength to create shelter and beauty. And to sail.