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October 2014

Fitting into the Forest

 

In 1982, Susan Marsh had just arrived at the Gallatin National Forest in Montana. As part of the Supervisor’s Office staff, she visited each of the five ranger districts to introduce herself. Marsh narrates this experience in her forthcoming memoir, A Hunger for High Country:

 

 At the Gardiner Ranger District I was greeted by a woman with graying blond hair, a tanned face full of wrinkles, and dark, friendly eyes. She led me down a hallway to a collection of map tubes and mismatched file cabinets where half a dozen employees gathered at a folding conference table over day-old doughnuts. Veiled eyes assessed me from under cowboy hats as I stood there in my Birkenstocks. The district ranger was a tall, florid-faced man with sun creases at the corners of his eyes. He had the long arms and large hands of a farmer. When I held my hand out, he declined to shake it. 

 

Today, Marsh joins us to reflect further on this moment—and the overall climate of the male-dominated U.S. Forest Service at the time—from which she managed to establish the prolific career A Hunger for High Country recounts.

 

******

 

It wasn’t the first time I’d been snubbed – left standing there alone and apparently invisible as a meeting ended and all the men filed out to have lunch together – but it was the most blatant signal to date of how welcome I would be.

 

In the 1980s, minorities, women, professionals other than foresters and engineers, and other ‘newcomers’ had a hard time of it—at least in the mountain west. People don’t like change, and we represented a lot of change coming all at once. In my own case, I didn’t help make the changes any easier to swallow for the old guard who were used to a predictable, familiar way. I could have learned to be compliant and tell others what they wanted to hear. I could have been less defensive and thicker-skinned about the insults – everyone endures them, after all.

 

But what frustrated me as much as how people were treated was how the land was managed – not as the crown jewel of the national forest system, with six major mountain ranges and legendary trout rivers on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park, but as just another “multiple-use” forest that could have been anywhere. Trees were seen as crops. A living forest was called “standing volume.”


 

Having held jobs in support of the timber program in Washington and Oregon, this was not a new concept to me, but somehow it didn’t seem to apply in a place of low rainfall and high elevation and spectacular mountain scenery. Visiting foresters from the west slope of the Rockies found reasons to chuckle over what was included in the Gallatin National Forest timber base. “Hell,” one old forester from the neighboring Beaverhead National Forest said. “They’ll have to load those pecker poles with a pitchfork.”

 

Ultimately, A Hunger for High Country isn’t just about people like me who struggled to fit in. It’s a portrait of the Forest Service, but not in the sense of airing a bunch of dirty laundry—in the end, I defend the agency. It's also a portrait of the wonderful wild places found at the headwaters of the continent and the world’s first national park. I hope to illuminate the value of the national forests that we are so fortunate to share and to relate my own story in terms of how these precious forests helped heal my spirit and transform me—from an angry, resentful person to one who is magnanimous and grateful for the experiences, good and bad, that have taught me how to live.

 



 

 

******

 

Susan Marsh is a naturalist and award-winning writer in Jackson, Wyo., with more than 30 years’ experience as a wild land steward for the U.S. Forest Service. Devoted to the conservation of public land and a deeper understanding of the relationship between people and wild country, her essays have appeared in a host of magazines and anthologies. Her latest book, A Hunger for High Country, will be available for purchase this November.

The Last River

A most commanding muse, nature continually captivates scientists and citizens alike. Perhaps few understand the call better than author and photographer Tim Palmer, who has spent decades traversing the Pacific Northwest by both foot and water. A prodigious writer and celebrated paddler, Palmer joins us today to share a piece of the beauty he found while researching his latest work, Field Guide to Oregon Rivers.

 

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The temperature hovered at 112 degrees. Ann and I had tied up our raft late in the afternoon and crammed ourselves among ancient rocks under the limited shade of alder shrubs, only ten feet from the prodigious flow of the Snake River. We looked across at Idaho on the other side.

 

Hot! In that precious shade we hid from the frying-pan heat of direct sunlight on blackened volcanic rock while we waited for the shadow of westward cliffs to creep our way with the relief that comes only in summer's evening hours.

 

There, in Hells Canyon, the temperature lived up to the name, but the scenery was far more heavenly than hellish: craggy outcrops stairstepping up to golden grassy benches, then farther to ponderosa pines pointing higher toward ridgelines green with groves of Douglas-firs, and then onward to heights of the Wallowa Mountains, which soared skyward to an alpine paradise, out-of-sight beyond the canyon rim. 

 

There at the eastern limits of our state was the last waterway I would be floating in a quest to complete research for my Field Guide to Oregon Rivers.

 

It couldn't have been more different from the cool, rain-soaked, intimate rivers of the Pacific Coast, where I had started the book, and where my wife, Ann and I normally live. In between lie the rivers of the Willamette basin, the Cascade Mountains, and Columbia Gorge, along with dryland streams radiating from isolated ranges and down to the Columbia, Klamath River, and Great Basin desert. 

 

The Snake is the largest tributary to the massive Columbia and the second-largest river in Oregon (though the Willamette is the largest flowing wholly within the state). The river's powerful flow streamed past at 17,000 cubic feet per second, a lot like the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The upper half of the original Hells Canyon was dammed, and its salmon migrations blocked. But thanks to courageous citizen activism, the lower half remains a free-flowing river where thundering rapids have long enticed adventurers in rafts to join the flow for one of the classic wild river journeys of the West. Here below the dams, a few of our beloved Chinook salmon still spawn in the main stem of this great waterway. 

 

 I felt privileged to be there, and to be learning about the place first-hand, but even more fortunate for my opportunity to systematically explore the rivers of Oregon over the course of the past several years—experience that I added to several entire decades of intermittent canoeing, rafting, and hiking along small streams and large from the Willamette to Winchuck, Umpqua to Imnaha.

 

 Rivers are the essence of Oregon, and so to know the state one must know its streams. They are the lifelines that provide for our fisheries, our wildlife, our farms, towns, and cities. The rivers underpin entire ecosystems that make life possible. The rivers' health is essential to our own health. Yet the perils of development and mismanagement challenge us in striving for a future that will serve not just people today, but for all the generations to come. In launching my Field Guide project, I reasoned that knowing about these waters is fundamental to meeting that challenge. 

 

 Ann and I relaxed in the heat of the day, refreshed by a cool dip in the current, and I took immense satisfaction in completing my tour of Oregon rivers along that impressive artery at our eastern border.

 

Now, all I had to do was write the book.

 

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Tim Palmer is the author of 22 titles, including the recently published Field Guide to Oregon Rivers. He lives with his wife, Ann, on the Pacific coast, where he combines his love for nature with the power of words to promote conservation. An avid paddler, Tim was recognized for his efforts by conservation organization American Rivers with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Learn more about Tim and his work by purchasing a copy of Field Guide to Oregon Rivers today or by visiting his website at www.timpalmer.org.

Books on the Rocks: Celebrating Earth Science Week

Rock on, friends: it’s Earth Science Week! And from a geological standpoint, there are few better places to celebrate than the Pacific Northwest.

 

“Earth’s Connected Systems” reigns as this year’s point of emphasis, according to the American Geosciences Institute. Daily activities across the nation will “help the public gain a better understanding and appreciation for the earth sciences and encourage stewardship of the Earth.” From coast to coast, organizations are hosting events that cover a variety of topics, from engineering to plate tectonics.

 

As Oregonians, our environment teems with unique topographical features and prime examples of nature’s inspiring power. Hike local favorite Mary’s Peak or take a day trip to the coast to join the festivities. But before you do, consider reading up on our local geography and the processes that made it so. Browse below to find just the resources you need to make any Earth Science Week event more meaningful and enjoyable!

 

 

Oregon Geology

Sixth Edition

Elizabeth L. Orr and William N. Orr

 

A comprehensive look at the state’s geologic history, Oregon Geology moves through Oregon’s regions to closely examine the unique geologic features of each, from the Blue Mountains to the Willamette Valley and beyond.

 

This 2012 edition includes biographical sketches of notable geologists, highlighting current environmental problems and tectonic hazards. Lavishly illustrated with an extensive bibliography, Oregon Geology offers an in-depth analysis of the state’s striking topography and geologic features.

 

 

The Next Tsunami

Living on a Restless Coast

Bonnie Henderson

 

In The Next Tsunami, Bonnie Henderson shares the stories of scientists like meteorologist Alfred Wegener, who formulate his theory of continental drift while gazing at ice floes calving from Greenland glaciers, and geologist Brian Atwater, who paddled his dented aluminum canoe up muddy coastal streams looking for layers of peat sandwiched among sand and silt. The story begins and ends with Tom Horning, a local geologist and native of Seaside—arguably the Northwest community with the most to lose from what scientist Atwater predicts will be an “apocalyptic” disaster.

 

Henderson’s compelling story of how scientists came to understand the Cascadia Subduction Zone and how ordinary people cope with that knowledge is essential reading for anyone interested in the charged intersection of science, human nature and public policy.

 

 

Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest

A Survivor’s Guide, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded

Robert S. Yeats

 

An essential guide for anyone interested in understanding earthquake science or in preparing for the next earthquake, this book is also a call to action. Vivid descriptions of recent disasters – including the great Northwest coastal tsunami of 1964 and 1993 earthquakes – underscore the urgent need for better earthquake planning and awareness.

 

In this expanded new edition of Living with Earthquakes, Robert Yeats, a leading authority on earthquakes in California and the Pacific Northwest, offers fascinating, updated information about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a great earthquake fault which runs for hundreds of miles offshore from British Columbia to northern California.

 

 

Ever Blooming

The Art of Bonnie Hall

Bonnie Hall

 

Resolved to "share the privileged close scrutiny of nature" that she had enjoyed as a scientific illustrator, Hall created her first screenprint in 1992 while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Inspired by old botanical prints and motivated by a desire to draw attention to "the overlooked, undervalued, or threatened wild things native to our Pacific Northwest landscape," Hall produced scientifically accurate prints that revealed the personality, life stages, and the very essence of her subjects – what a fellow artist aptly called the "gesture" of each plant.

 

Hall’s narratives are rich in detail and informed by thorough study into plant distribution, life histories, use by Native Americans, taxonomic discoveries, and conservation issues. For botanists, wildflower enthusiasts, gardeners, and artists, as well as anyone who loves the Pacific Northwest wilderness, Ever Blooming offers a singular glimpse of the natural world as seen through the eyes of a gifted and inspired artist.

 

 

Oregon Fossils

Second Edition

Elizabeth L. Orr and William N. Orr

 

Providing an unparalleled fossil record of the state, Oregon Fossils covers a variety of terrains and time periods. From ocean beaches to the high desert and Blue Mountains to the Siskiyous, all known fossils are organized by county, age, rock formation and published source.

 

Unique among fossil field guides, Oregon Fossils includes both specimen identification and interesting notes about their discovery naming and conservation. Sprinkled with biographical sketches of influential paleontologists, the text is richly illustrated with photographs, line drawings, charts and maps. A complete bibliography lists full citations to fossil material. The only single volume that provides Oregon’s fossil record and history, Oregon Fossils is an excellent reference for classroom and library use, for researchers, and for private collectors and hobbyists.

 

 

Living with Thunder

Exploring the Geologic Past, Present and Future of the Pacific Northwest

Ellen Morris Bishop

Available Nov. 2014

 

Celebrate the beauty of Earth Science Week all year long with this beautiful upcoming title. In Living with Thunder, geologist and photographer Ellen Morris Bishop offers a fascinating and up-to-date geologic survey of the Northwest—Washington, Oregon, northern California, and western Idaho. New discoveries include Smith Rock as part of Oregon’s largest (and most extinct) volcano, portrait of Mount Hood’s 1793-1795 eruptions and new ideas about the origin of the Columbia River basalts and course of the ancestral Columbia River.

 

Intended as an introduction for the general reader and geological non-specialist, Living with Thunder enlivens Northwest geological history by combining engaging science writing with the author’s stunning color photographs. In addition, color maps and time charts help guide the reader. The book presents evidence of changing ecosystems and ancient life, as well as the Northwest’s exceptional record of past climate changes and the implications for our future.

Obsessions, Otters & and Other Brian Doyle-isms

Author Brian Doyle chats with former OSU Press intern Maya Polan about his passionate writing style, unusual obsessions, and why kids are “like the otters of human beings.” Catch Brian yourself at one of his upcoming readings promoting his latest book, Children and Other Wild Animals:


·       Fri., Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.: Powell’s City of Books (Portland, OR)

·       Thurs., Oct. 16 at 7:00 p.m.: Broadway Books (Portland, OR)

·       Tues., Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m.: OSU Valley Library (Corvallis, OR)

·     Thurs., Oct. 30 at 7:00 p.m.: Buckley Center Auditorium, University of Portland (Schoenfelt Distinguished Writers Series)

Maya Polan: You write so ferociously and passionately about many a subject, creature, and scene that it’s made me want to ask you about obsession. (I love the scene “The Creature Beyond the Mountains,” where your wife says: “What is up with you and sturgeon?”) Do you consider yourself obsessive? Or does the “obsessiveness” (read: your ferocity, attention, passion, regard) happen primarily on the page, as you craft?

 

Brian Doyle: This made me laugh out loud, for I once answered a moppet who asked me Sum up your writing career? with Serial obsession (dead silence from muddled class). I suppose I get fascinated by something and then dive into it and away we go; and everything is fascinating (I mean, I have written about automats, hawks, basketball, noses, Van Morrison,  angels, dragonflies, crewcuts, portapotties…you get the picture); and so…

 

 

MP: When I read your writing, I am always struck by its humor—by your willingness to include the silly, delightful, and incongruous facets of your subject matter. Blue Jays as a “little blue biker gang” is a great example from Children and Other Wild Animals. But I have also heard you read on multiple occasions, and am always struck then by the raw emotion that accompanies your readings. Why do you cry as you read your work?

 

BD: Because stories just nail me, and when you tell a really piercing one, like about unbelievably brave firemen on September 11, or the two incredibly brave women who ran right at the rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary, or about little kids who are awfully terribly sick but they won’t quit, how could you not weep, you know? Plus more and more I think that tears are good, tears and laughter are windows opening in your usual dignified prison wall. I try to open all my readings now with true funny stories so we all start out giggling, which seems healthy, and laughter lets people drop their masks a little, and then you can more easily talk about pain and grace, I think.

 

 

MP: Do you ever reread books? Are there books you find yourself returning to?

 

BD: Dear yes. Stevenson, Conrad, Jan Morris, E.B. White, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez’s essays, Steinbeck, Tim Robinson (I wish Tim Robinson would be reborn as Tim Robinson so he can have another sixty years to write more books about Ireland), the King James Bible. Books singular? Hmm. The King James, Kidnapped, Morris’ Pleasures of a Tangled Life. Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy and Someone and After This. I reread or re-dip into some writers as compass points, lodestars, refreshers; I mean, when I feel convoluted as a writer, clogged, I go cruise Gilead for a while and emerge cleaner and refreshed and attentive again to a sort of held note of music that some writers achieve – Robinson’s one, Jan Morris, David Duncan.

 

 

MP: One of the notes in Children and Other Wild Animals, “Fishering,” ends with the line: “Remember that.” This shivery direct address, both intimate and instructive, appears throughout these pages. Is there someone in particular you are speaking to?

 

BD: Us. You. Me. Us. Me as you as us.

 

 

MP: I noticed you often don’t use quotation marks for dialogue—why is that? (I was particularly interested in how “The Unspoken Language of the Eyes” morphs from a narrated anecdote to a monologue.)

 

BD: I really feel that they are mannerisms, generally, and if I write clearly enough I can avoid them. Also I love the way the lack of quotes allows me to slide between and among voices – spoken and heard, written and spoken, spoken and thought silently, spoken and thought by all sorts of beings. I dislike any filters between me and the reader and try to destroy them cheerfully where possible, as long as I stay clear in communication, and avoid self-indulgent self-absorbed writing. I suspect that’s partly why I like laughing in my prose – if we grin together, another filter fell down and died.

 

 

MP: I kept noticing your use of the word “salt” and “salty” as a descriptor—not just in “My Salt Farm,” but sprinkled throughout your writing: a salty soul, a salty song, “the salt of that feeling.”  What does that word in particular mean to you?

 

BD: Hmm. Tough, wry, bony, blunt, pithy, tart, painfully honest, a distilled grainy character, I guess. I have several times received letters from readers listing all the words I am addicted to.

 

 

MP: One wildly unfair question. In “Mascots,” you write about the thrill we derive from even the removed representation of a wild animal—a cougar or a wolverine or a boll weevil—how “even wearing one on a shirt, or shouting the miracle of its name in a stadium…gives us a tiny subtle crucial electric jolt in the heart, connects us somehow to what we used to be with animals…” so, on that note, if you had to chose one animate mascot for this collection of writing—right at this moment—what would it be and why? 

 

BD: Haw – probably an otter, one of the all-pro cool animals – no real enemies except us, a nutty sense of humor, bad-ass musculature and maritime skills. Otters rock.

 

 

MP: In another essay in Children, “Otter Words,” you say: “sometimes I feel like the eyes in my heart close quietly without me paying much attention…and then wham a kid, it’s always a kid, says something so piercing and wild and funny and unusual that wham my heart opens again…” Why is it, finally, “always a kid” for you?

 

BD: Because it’s all about kids. Whatever else we say and do in life it’s about kids – protecting them, teaching them, being taught by them, laughing your ass off at them, listening to them, being saved and salved by them, roaring at them, dimly remembering when you were them, quietly hoping that you might get another chance, even if it’s being an otter kid in Scotland. Kids are like the otters of human beings, quietly the coolest of us all, with total respect for oboe players and Kevin Durant.

 

___________________

 

Brian Doyle is the author of many books, including the recently released Children and Other Wild Animals, a collection of short vignettes.  Other works include the novels Mink River and The Plover; The Grail, his account of a year in a pinot noir vineyard in Oregon; and The Wet Engine, a memoir about his infant son’s heart surgery and the young doctor who saved his life. He edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland.

 

 

A Novelist's Journey: From Mount Hood to Hanoi

He teaches creative writing in public schools.  He's a dad.  And most recently, a novelist. Author Mark Pomeroy joins us to share how a kid from northeast Portland, Ore. found vivid and lasting impressions in the forests of Vietnam and shadows of Mount Hood.  His debut novel, The Brightwood Stillness, is available now.


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I was raised partly by a Vietnam veteran stepfather whose anger and silences over the war both terrified and intrigued me. What had happened to him in that mysterious far-off land? What had he done? What was so difficult for him to talk about?


 Later, I started reading about the war. Watching documentaries. Then, toward the end of high school, I began tutoring Vietnamese refugees, whole families in some cases, often going into their apartments or houses and hearing stories about their lives in Vietnam, their escapes, and their adjustments to the United States. Here were actual Vietnamese people, offering me cashews and tea, sitting across from me, trying to sound out strange vocabulary words.


 After college, I put on a backpack and traveled for six months with a friend through Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, and Nepal. I kept a journal, and nearly every evening I would record what I’d seen, smelled, tasted, or heard that day. Scabby dogs nosing through trash alongside a Balinese rice paddy. Papayas, barking deer, and raw meat in a Bangkok open-air market. The soot-covered awnings along Calcutta’s avenues.


Ngoc Ha Market Hanoi                          


 When I was thirty-two, I journeyed with my wife to Vietnam. I had to see it with my own eyes, finally. Had to smell it. Here were the places I’d read about, seen on TV, heard about from Vietnamese students and from veterans willing to share their stories. Hanoi’s old quarter. The seared wasteland of the former DMZ. Saigon, where hundreds of blank-faced people on motorbikes were stopped at each red light, jammed in, awaiting the surge.


 My wife and I went to the mountains for a walk through one of the few remaining forests. At one point, I took a couple of minutes to myself, wandering off into a dim thicket. This was the land, and yes, this was the heat. Sweat in the eyes, sweat trickling into the mouth, streaming down the back. Insects alighting on my neck. A chaos of native hopea trees, imported acacia, bamboo, and shadows.    

        

 Everything could become an enemy in this forest, fast. Yes it could. And yet, of course, for other human beings it was home.


USMC-100531-M-4569K-159

                        

 Meanwhile, back in Oregon, my grandparents went on living in Brightwood, a village at Mount Hood’s western base, where they’d bought a cabin in 1972. My grandfather, a World War II veteran, had adored that green, mossy, shadow-strewn land ever since he was a boy; after a long career at the phone company in Portland, he managed to convince my grandmother to move up to Brightwood. My mother and I would drive up there often to visit, and from the time I was three years old, that mountain land began to seep into me. The moist woods, the Salmon River, the small dark cabins built at the turn of the twentieth century. The shadows.

           

Many years later, Brightwood would feature in my first novel, one written over the course of 17 years, The Brightwood Stillness. As would certain journal entries from that 1992 backpack journey through Asia. As would classroom stories that I’d heard from other schoolteachers. And as would the experience of Vietnam—both the place itself and the war—for American soldiers and their families, and for the Vietnamese and theirs.

           

We are all walking wounded.  Yet so often, of course, walking helps the wounds. At least a little. Walking, traveling, facing old enemies now and then. To say nothing of reading and writing, those ever-daring acts of imagination in a beautiful scarred world. 

             

The Dark Forest Ranger


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The Brightwood Stillness is OSU Press' second novel in its fifty-three-year history. Order your copy here.


Mark Pomeroy lives with his family in Portland, Ore. A recipient of an Oregon Literary Fellowship for fiction, he earned his MA in English Education from Columbia University, where he was a Fellow in Teaching. The Brightwood Stillness is his first novel.

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