A new book explores our complicated connection to the ecosystem that we call home. We interview author David B. Williams about Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound, published this month by the University of Washington Press. The following is an excerpt from our publication the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Long before the explorer George Vancouver began remaking the names and maps of our region, Puget Sound was known as “Whulge,” an onomatopoetic Coast Salish word denoting the sound of waves.
If you listen closely, the waves washing against the Puget Sound shoreline make a subtle sound. It is not the booming surf of the outer coast but something unique to our region. The quiet, persistent sound of an inland sea.
For the Coast Salish tribes, Whulge — spelled phonetically from the Lushootseed dialect — also meant the saltwater or “the salt” and ethnographers say it is both a place name and a way to describe a connection to the land.
It “was more of a concept than a defined location,” writes David B. Williams in his new book Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound, published this month by the University of Washington Press. It was “more of a way to delineate a relationship to place for the waterway’s Coast Salish people.”
This “relationship to place” is also central to Homewaters, which begins with the origin of Puget Sound’s many names and extends to all kinds of hidden facts and stories about the natural and cultural history of our region. The book examines our modern struggle to understand how we — a population of millions — now connect with “the salt,” and by turn, the kelp and forage fish and geoducks, the orcas and the salmon that come with it.
Whether it is Whulge, or Puget Sound, or its most recent moniker the Salish Sea, Williams has been writing about various aspects of our regional history for years. His earlier books focused heavily on Seattle, including most recently, Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, and Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City. This is the first time Williams has tackled something on the scale of Puget Sound. He spoke with Encyclopedia of Puget Sound managing editor Jeff Rice.