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  • Writer's pictureKarl Koerber

Today’s Walk: Desperately Seeking Bluebirds in Blagodatnoye

Updated: May 7, 2023

April 20, 2023

I thought I’d find bluebirds in the old, now long-abandoned Doukhobor farmlands of Blagodatnoye (Bla-ha-dat-nya is how I’ve heard it pronounced) but no luck. I hope it’s just that they are late, but they really should be back by now. There are nest boxes scattered through the area and I normally see a half-dozen or so birds when I visit in the spring. Anyway, here’s a picture of a bluebird from another time.

There’s a bit of a path along the Columbia River here and, if it wasn't for the occasional glimpse of a distant house or powerline, I can imagine the scene as the Sinixt people experienced it over the millennia. They may well have been at this very spot harvesting wild chives. Along the high-water line of the river, there’s a band of boulders interspersed with soil where the chives seem to have found their niche.

As I leave the riverside to wander up into the old fields and orchards, I find a few patches of glacier lily, just beginning to flower. Glacier lily bulbs were another food source for Indigenous people, and were harvested just after they’d finished flowering.

I’m sensing the ghosts of those who once built a rich, organic life and economy on this ground. First, the original people - the Sinixt - for whom the terraces and hillsides surrounding the confluence of what we now know as the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers were a source of sustenance, with well-worn pathways wending through the forests of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, connecting the wild gardens of bulbs, roots, berries and other foods and materials upon which they depended. The people lived in close harmony with the land, which they tended and nurtured for thousands of years before European settlers arrived and pushed them aside.

Later came the Doukhobors, settlers as well, but a people also driven from their homelands - refugees fleeing persecution. They cleared the land, built their communal villages and created a whole new agrarian paradigm for this land: orchards, vegetable gardens, livestock. The land flourished in a new way but, after only a few decades, the thriving community faltered. By the early 1970s, it was abandoned and the remaining buildings were burned, leaving the land to begin a gradual return to its natural state.

Today it is a hodgepodge: decrepit fruit trees and lilacs that are relics of the Doukhobor past intermingled with Douglas fir, western larch and various pines that have re-established over the fifty-odd years since the communities were abandoned.

Native trees are gradually taking over the old Blagodatnoye orchards and fields

Foundations and other stoneworks are all that remains of the Doukhobor

community that flourished here in the early 20th century.

The land is now habitat for a diverse population of fauna: deer, elk, black bear, squirrels and birds. Along my meandering route I see Columbian ground squirrels, a golden-mantled ground squirrel, eagles, mergansers, turkey vultures, juncos, sparrows, chickadees and a yellow-rumped warbler. No bluebirds, though. Where the heck are you guys?

No bluebirds today, but a few black-capped chickadees are busy foraging seeds from Douglas fir cones.

I'll try to come back in a couple of weeks to make sure the bluebirds have returned. In the meantime I'll have to be satisfied with the rich blue on the hem of this mourning cloak butterfly's velvety wings.

Here is an article about Blagodatnoye by local historian Greg Nesteroff.

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