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October 8th, 2019

mountains of parisDavid Oates is a writer and teacher currently based in Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of two books of poetry and five works of nonfiction, including his most recent memoir, The Mountains of Paris. He was a Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and is founder and general editor of Kelson Books in Portland, Oregon. Here, he introduces an excerpt from The Mountains of Paris.

When I lucked into a four-month arts residency in the heart of Paris, I wondered what I would make of it. This little extract is one answer. And it also points toward the wider exploration my Paris sojourn inspired, pursuing questions that had dogged me my whole life. Looking up into the starry night sky, or being simultaneously diminished and exalted before a sunset or the ocean’s roaring chaos . . . What is that big big feeling?

It seems half my life has been focused on hiking, climbing, getting beautifully lost in deep forest or on remote peaks. But the other half has been spent in very different obsessions: the music of Bach, a Vermeer painting, a poem that won’t let go of me. In all these terrains the same unanswerable lurked. What is this feeling? What is this tremendousness?

- David Oates

It appears I’ve come to Paris in order to go to church.

It’s a strange choice. Here I am in the world capital of culture, intellect, the chic of smartness. I’m living and working in an artist’s and writer’s residency: the Cité des arts international. All around me are those four hundred museums that Parisians like to mention. I try to tally them: museums for any taste, any period; museums of armor and weapons, hunting rifles and stuffed game, gizmos and technology; New Guinean fetishes, eroticism, medicine, Freemasonry; Balzac, Chopin, Picasso, in fact painters and writers without end; grandiose museums like Musée du l’Homme (anthropology) or museums that specialize in obsessions (locks and keys, smoking, playing cards, the thirties). New art is exhibited continually—big Palais, little Palais, Tokyo Palais. Of course, there is canonical painting and sculpture over at the Louvre and a feast of nineteenth-century kitsch across the river at the Musée D’Orsay, housed under its coffered nineteenth-century railway dome. And, within the tubed frightfulness of the Pompidou, all those seething moderns. There is cinema everywhere and photography shows big and little and edgy gallery-like little collections (Maison Rouge!)…and the insurmountable list of historic buildings, churches, parks.

And so much more. Isn’t all that the reason a guy like me comes to Paris?

There’s also the Paris of indulgence. Of shopping, which I simply refuse. Of food, if you can afford it. And of sex, ditto. Didn’t people used to come to Paris to have “a naughty weekend,” as Auden said? It must still be around here somewhere. But no . . .

Somehow I have managed to find the Puritan’s version of the naughty weekend. Here I am, sneaking off to church.

To speak plainly, I come for the organ. A particular organ, in a particular church. That was, and is, the great motive. It’s what gives me pleasure. And pleasure is really what’s behind everything, high art or base pursuit. So all this church-going, I might ask myself—is it fun? Well, not exactly. Satisfying?: yes. That’s what I have to explain.

How to get at it?

The lostness, off and on, for much of my life, despite massive good luck and frequent happiness. There was an emptiness and ways of filling it that were not always sordid. No, not always. But under the strange furor of living, and under the lostness, always there was something deeper yet. Something delicious. And possible.

I felt it. It could not be spoken.

Whose story doesn’t start in lostness, and perhaps end there too, in the emptied corpse? Pride, vanity, futility. It’s a lot of what we share, after all. Emptiness in its different forms has been tearing up the world for a long time. It is doing so now, accelerating even as we breathe and read and speak, our emptiness at work unmaking the air, burning up the globe, prying apart the ecosystems. Yet on we go, as if unable to imagine any change. We are that null, that empty.

Yet something there was that said: the last word of this tale is not vanity.

(excerpted from “St. Eustache” in The Mountains of Paris)
September 17th, 2019

In August this year Rainbow Honor Walk, a non-profit, all-volunteer group in San Francisco, installed a sidewalk plaque that recognizes Marie Equi as an LGBTQ individual whose life story represents groundbreaking achievement. The 3 by 3 foot bronze square was embedded along Market Street, one of San Francisco’s main thoroughfares, near the Castro Street neighborhood. An image of Equi and her signature accompany this inscription: “Marie Equi (1872—1952) American physician and political radical who fought for peace, an eight-hour workday, women’s suffrage and their right to birth control.”

OSU Press author Michael Helquist, the biographer of Marie Equi, assisted with the unveiling of the plaque. He commented, “All along I hoped my biography of Equi would reach a large number of people with her remarkable story of fierce independence and commitment to economic and social justice.” He added that his other motivation was to highlight LGBTQ history on the West Coast before World War II, since relatively little has been uncovered. Helquist makes the case in his book that Equi is the first publicly known lesbian in the Pacific Northwest and in Northern California. The American Library Association named Marie Equi a Stonewall Honor Book. Helquist noted, “The installation was quick but exciting and deeply gratifying.”

Since Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions was published by the Press in 2015, Equi has been recognized as a Notable Oregonian by the Oregon Secretary of State and has been honored by the National Park Service, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Bonneville Power Administration in Portland for Pride Month. Equi has also been honored in New Bedford, MA, her hometown, as a significant suffragist in preparations for the 2020 centennial of women obtaining the vote.

In San Francisco, the Rainbow Honor Walk has embedded sidewalk tributes for fifty-two individuals since 2014. Honorees include artists, scientists, political activists, and writers such as Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, Alvin Ailey, US Representative Barbara Jordan, Josephine Baker, Freddy Mercury, transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, and astronaut Sally Ride. The plaque for Marie Equi is located outside the building at 2282 Market Street near Noe Street. For more information, see marieequi.com or, regarding the plaque, rainbowhonorwalk.org. Michael Helquist can be found at michaelhelquist.com.

September 9th, 2019

Smokey the Bear is turning seventy-five this year! In honor of Smokey’s birthday, we (1) promise not to start any forest fires, and (2) want to share some of our favorite local forest-fire-related books with you. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re pretty big forest enthusiasts, so we have books for all types of readers:


For the History Buff . . . Money Trees

Emily Brock approaches the history of forestry in the Pacific Northwest through an interdisciplinary lens, exploring political and economic forces, ecological changes, and wilderness activism in the twentieth century. Money Trees is a key resource for those interested in environmental studies and the history of forestry management in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.


For the Forest Service Enthusiast . . . Toward a Natural Forest

Part revealing memoir, part historical account, longtime Forest Service employee and leader Jim Furnish honestly and candidly explains the controversies assailing the US Forest Service in the late twentieth century. As he grows as an environmentalist, so does the Forest Service as an organization dedicated to the stewardship of our natural resources.


For the Young Reader . . . Ellie’s Log 

Judith Li and M. L. Herring have created an engaging book set in the Oregon Cascades that blends science and storytelling. Encouraging both natural curiosity and scientific practices, such as keeping a field notebook, Ellie’s Log is set to inspire future botanists, foresters, and researchers.


For the Forestry Student . . . Silviculture and Ecology of Western U.S. Forests, Second Edition

John Tappeiner II, John Bailey, Timothy Harrington, and Douglas Maguire compiled this introductory text that covers the biological, ecological, and managerial silviculture practices associated with western U.S. forests. With particular focus on contemporary research and practice, new and experienced silviculturists will appreciate this refresher on forestry management. 


For the Philosopher . . . The Way of the Woods

In this interdisciplinary text, Linda Underhill explores the ways America’s forests contribute to the health of the planet, and her own relationship with them. Meditative, thoughtful, scientific, and lyrical, The Way of the Woods inspires its readers to ponder the magnificence of our forests of all types.


For the Concerned Activist . . . The Tillamook

Gail Wells transcribes the history of the Tillamook Forest in this book. She explains how, after a series of devastating fires, foresters and ordinary citizens rallied to create one of the largest forest rehabilitation efforts ever. However, its fate is still undecided as competing perspectives of forest use continue to create controversy. Wells uses the Tillamook Forest as a touchpoint to explore the activism of ordinary citizens and the ways we conceptualize contemporary forest-use issues today.

August 28th, 2019

Interviewing: The Oregon Method (2nd edition), edited by Peter Laufer with John Russial, is one of our newest fall selections. With additional chapters featuring information for both digital and traditional journalism, it instructs readers on the art of interviewing. And what better way to share the best of the guide than by featuring our favorite parts? Here are seven stand-out tips from the faculty at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and other experts:

  1. “Cornelius Ryan, the novelist who wrote The Longest Day, said one of the basic rules of reporting was that you should ‘never interview anyone without knowing 60 percent of the answers’” (“The Art of the Interview,” Jack Hart, page 39)
  2. “If you catch sources in a lie, your impulse will be to call them out. Don’t—at least not right away. Your goal should be to keep sources talking until they’ve shared all the relevant details. That’s because the moment you confront them, they’ll likely get defensive.” (“How to Interview Somebody Who’s Lying,” Todd Milbourn, page 72)
  3. “The rules of interview discourse and interpersonal exchange have changed with the times. Contemporary audiences don’t want to be ‘talked to’; they want to be ‘engaged with.’ Engagement implies higher levels of participation and less formality. This is the essence of rapport.” (“Creating Rapport,” Ed Madison, page 202)
  4. “In many of my encounters with people in grief, my ‘technique’ was simply showing up and shutting up. That’s my five-word crash course on the topic. The showing up part is critical. It’s the one aspect that we have control over.” (“god bless the ded,” Alex Tizon, page 232)
  5. “Try this exercise: Sit down as you normally would, and write all the regular first-line questions that you expect to ask in your next interview. Then don’t ask any of those questions. This is going to force you to find new lines of questioning that will reveal facets of the story that are usually left unexplored.” (“Please Don’t Ask That Again,” Michael Swan Laufer, page 340)
  6. “Interviewing—if interviewing means asking questions to get responses—does have a function, albeit limited: If you want a quick opinion about something you deem important, a quote or a sound bite to fit into a story, then ask the appropriate person. Otherwise, I would suggest that journalists consider more authentic, more thoughtful ways of delving into the personality and the peccadilloes, the motivations and challenges, the beliefs, attitudes, quirks (you name it) of a person important to the story they are crafting.” (“Re-Thinking the Interview,” Lauren Kessler, page 377)
  7. “Control the architecture of the interview venue. Don’t accept a seat on a low couch while the interviewee choreographs a dominant role behind the massive desk.” (“Epilogue,” Peter Laufer, page 396)
August 13th, 2019

We are excited to announce our new interns for the 2019-2020 academic school year! Get to know Isaiah Holbrook and Ashley Hay and what OSU Press books they are currently reading for the summer.




I’m a second-year MFA candidate at OSU where I study fiction. My writing veers more into Young Adult literature as I explore themes of identity, queerness, and religion, and the complexities that derive from them. I also find myself writing about the concept of family, specifically motherhood, and examining family dynamics that differ from mine. As an avid reader, I am most attracted to YA novels, especially ones that tread along the intersections of identity, power dynamics in a relationships, feminism, activism, and the process of recovering from trauma. Outside of my genre, I’m becoming more familiar with nonfiction, specifically narrative essays and memoirs, on similar topics.


cover image, Wet Engine The Wet Engine by Brian Doyle: Because of my curiosity to read in more genres, I was elated when I ran across this book. What intrigues me about nonfiction is the challenge to interconnect multiple threads that don’t seem to correlate at first into the central theme of the story, and Brian Doyle does just that. He examines the intricacies of the heart in a physical and metaphorical sense, outlining the ways in which a heart functions, which all tie into the story of his son’s heart deficiency, the surgery he had to endure, and the doctor who saved his son’s life. Within the first few pages, I was immediately drawn into his knowledge of the heart and the kind of lyricism that his writing imposes, and I can’t wait to finish this book.


cover image, Interviewing

Interviewing: The Oregon Method (2nd Edition) edited by PeterLaufer and John Russial: One of my favorite things about minoring in Communications during my undergraduate years was learning the art of the interview and seeing the ways in which different journalists approach their interviews; this book covers both of these interests and more. Peter Laufer, with the help of his colleagues, gives readers an insight into interviewing and the various approaches one can take to have a successful and constructive interview. This will be particularly helpful for me as I conduct interviews with authors for The Rumpus, so I’m really excited to dive more deeply into this book and receive some helpful approaches that will be useful for me later on.


cover image, Aurora

Aurora by J. J. Kopp: I’m constantly looking forward to reading a different perspective of adolescence, especially ones that subvert from my own experiences, and this story captures just that. Told in an epistolary form of diary entries, J. J. Kopp’s historical novel details the life of thirteen-year-old Aurora Keil and her experiences living in Missouri, exploring the Oregon Trail, and relocating to Oregon with her parents and eight siblings, where her father eventually started a utopian community of over six hundred people. This book not only highlights the voice of a young adult but also recognizes an integral part of Oregon’s history. 





I’m an undergraduate at Oregon State University studying Speech Communications and Psychology. I’m fascinated by the impact of the stories we tell in our daily lives: right now my research projects include the modern fairy tale and archetypes in romance novels. In addition to my work at OSU Press, I’m an Undergraduate Writing Consultant at the Research & Writing Studio on campus and an intern at the International Women’s Writing Guild, both of which allow me to help shape the creative and collaborative writing processes of others. In the upcoming year, I’m eager to bring my creative and professional skills to support authors on their journeys toward publishing, and look forward to learning as much as I can from OSU Press! 

cover image, Homing Instincts


Homing Instincts by Dionisia Morales: I’m about to enter my final year as anundergraduate at OSU, and the inevitable question I encounter, from family and well-meaning strangers alike, is where will you go next? So Morales’ collection of essays about her own journey moving across the country—from New York to Oregon—piqued my interest (and not only because I’ve hopped states myself). With thoughtfulness and clarity, she explores the issues of migrating, settling in, changing, and ultimately, establishing a new home. As a soon-to-be-newcomer in some unknown place, I’m looking forward to diving in and learning from another person’s experiences. 


cover image, Turning Down the SoundTurning Down the Sound by Foster Church: The theme of movement continues! Not only am I looking to explore new places to (potentially) settle down in, I’m also an avid traveler and curious wanderer. My favorite trips are always those that allow me to immerse myself in a new place and meet the people who live there, and Church’s collection of small towns in Washington seems like an excellent guide to encourage just that. I appreciate that he writes not just about the features of each town, but also the attitudes of its inhabitants. There are so many unique facets of this book—its emphasis on small towns, its holistic approach to summarizing them, its essay-like formatting—that I’m already mentally packing my bags (and hiking boots). 

cover image, The Way of the Woods   The Way of the Woods by Linda Underhill: Speaking of hiking boots…part philosophicalreflection, part scientific exploration, Underhill’s book is a study of American forests and her place in them. Like Church’s book, Underhill also imparts an antsy message of movement and wonder. However, unlike Church or Morales, Underhill also explores the sacred—and asks her audience to join her in reigniting our spiritual connection with the natural world. This book calls to me both as an inspirational nudge and a fascinating glimpse into another’s experiences in nature. I make no promises that after this, I won’t just pull a Thoreau and leave the city life behind. (Sorry in advance, OSU Press.)

July 31st, 2019

In a closely-watched media auction, the EO Media Group, a family-owned company that has been publishing newspapers since 1908, outbid Adams Publishing on Monday for the Bend Bulletin and its sister publication the Redmond Spokesman. The central Oregon company originally placed a bid of $2.5 million, but ended up offering $3.65 million.

William F. Willingham’s Grit and Ink gives extensive insight into the development of the EO Media Group and the ethical decisions the Oregon company has made throughout its history. Its portfolio of local and regional newspapers epitomizes the spirit of a free press and the core values of journalism.

Enjoy a brief excerpt from Grit and Ink from R. Gregory Nokes’s “Foreword”: 


Being part of a community is the clarion call to any newspaper. And few have responded to that call better than newspapers of EO Media Group, which began life as the East Oregonian Publishing Company. 

From Pendleton to Astoria, these papers have helped bring forth an array of fixtures. They include a bridge across the Columbia; a dam for cheap power, navigation and irrigation; survival of the Pendleton Woolen Mills; launch of the Pendleton Round-Up; preservation of Astoria’s Liberty Theater. These newspapers’ eyes have been focused on community development to create jobs, readers and civic betterment. They have also stood up to destructive forces such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation movement.

 J.W. “Bud” Forrester, editor of the East Oregonian until 1970 and The Daily Astorian until his retirement in 1987, perhaps said it best: “A good newspaper is the voice of its community.”

My late father, J. Richard Nokes, editor of The Oregonian, was a peer, friend and admirer of Bud Forrester. Both played a large part in the rapid growth of newspapers in Oregon at a time when newspapers were the main source of news in cities large and small.

Although I was away from Oregon for twenty-five years during my career as a foreign diplomatic correspondent for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C., and Latin America, I had the pleasure of meeting Forrester.

 The first of the properties that would become today’s EO Media Group was the four-page East Oregonian, established by Virginia-born Mathew Bull in 1875. It went through several ownership changes before acquisition by C.S. Sam Jackson, the future owner of the Portland Evening Journal. Jackson was succeeded in 1908 by Edwin Aldrich, who would remain with the paper for 42 years. He was a graduate of Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU). He joined the paper as a reporter in 1904 and is described in this book as “an activist, unafraid to take up a public issue or controversy or promote a cause.”

 Aldrich helped engineer the major acquisition in 1919 of the Astoria Evening Budget, now The Daily Astorian. A dozen other newspapers and publications would be added during subsequent decades. The company spans the region with eleven newspapers and other publications in four states and a news bureau in Salem.

 In this detailed history of the growth of the newspaper chain from its fledging beginnings, you will read about the enterprising editors and publishers who guided the growth. Among them are Jackson, Aldrich, Merle Chessman, Bud Forrester, Amy Aldrich Bedford, Eleanor Aldrich Forrester, Mike Forrester, Steve Forrester, Kathryn Bedford Brown, Fred Andrus, C.K. Patterson, John Perry and many more. Beyond reporting the news of their communities, these leaders kept abreast of changing technology that included photo-offset printing, computers, digital journalism, centralized design and solar power.



June 3rd, 2019

Red Coast


We’re delighted to tell you that The Red Coast is now available!


Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider present an accessible and engaging history of radicalism and anti-radicalism in Southwest Washington from the late nineteenth century until World War II, focusing on Wobblies, “Red” Finns, and Communists.


The authors write that The Red Coast demonstrates “that at one time Southwest Washingtonians organized by the thousands to protest injustices great and small, ranging from the horrors of laboring in a deadly workplace to the insult of a short paycheck.”


To learn more and purchase the book, click here.




And if you’re interested in learning more about the histories of labor and unions, we recommend reading the following titles:

Beyond the Rebel Girl

Beyond the Rebel Girl explores women’s roles in the Industrial Works of the World (IWW) in the Pacific Northwest from 1905-1924. By doing so, author Heather Mayer challenges the predominantly male and masculine narrative about IWW. Women played a vital role in many efforts, including fundraising and organizing.


In a OSU Press Interview, Heather Mayer gave two important examples of women’s involvement, stating, “Kate MacDonald edited the Industrial Worker when her husband was arrested. Edith Frenette arranged for boats to take Wobblies into Everett during the free speech fight.” Additionally, women brought food to men in prison and helped spread important information, among other necessary actions.




Marie Equi


Mayer explores historical figure Marie Equi as does Michael Helquist in his book dedicated to her: Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions. This account of the life and work of Dr. Marie Equi is an inspiring narrative of activism in Oregon during the early 1900s.


Bettina Aptheker writes, “With meticulous archival research, including access to oral histories, Helquist presents this generous, passionate, and complicated woman in a respectful way that Dr. Equi herself would undoubtedly have appreciated. A splendid contribution to both feminist and lesbian history.”


To learn more about this title, click here.





The Color of Night

The Color of Night examines a murder trial that captured the nation’s attention in the 1940s. Robert Folkes, a young, black trainman from South Central Los Angeles, was charged and convicted of the crime of murdering a white, newly married southern woman. The trial, conviction, and execution of Robert Folkes by the state of Oregon revealed how many in the West thought about race, class, and privilege.


Throughout The Color of Night, Max G. Geier mentions how the union in South Central supported Folkes and his mother during the trial. The books also touches on the racist practices of unions in Portland and the civil rights efforts to change them. The Color of Night will appeal to readers who are interested in the history of race and labor relations as well as working conditions.

May 30th, 2019

Interested in the linguistic heritage of the Pacific Northwest? Northwest Voices is for regional residents, language lovers, and anyone interested in learning more about the fascinating ways that language, culture, and place intersect.


In Northwest Voices, editor Kristin Denham gathers perspectives from a variety of contributors, including a middle school teacher, a tribal linguist and language teacher, and the leader of the Lushootseed Language Institute, among others. These chapters cover everything from place names in the Pacific Northwest to Indigenous language revitalization to addressing the common belief that the region is “accent-less”.


Enjoy an exclusive preview to Northwest Voices in the following excerpt from Kristin Denham’s chapter “Language and Power, Language and Place”:




Before there was a Canadian and US border or provincial and state borders, there was still a region—a region with borders defined largely by the natural geographical boundaries of mountains, rivers, and coastline, and the trade routes that followed them. The use of Ichishkiin (also known as Sahaptin) spanned the Columbia River, and Athabaskan languages were spoken across what is now the coastal California and Oregon border, oblivious to these modern-day state boundaries.


Spread throughout this region are the speakers of many Indigenous languages. The contributions by Hugo, by Zenk and Cole, and by Miller (all this volume) acknowledge cover of Northwest Voicesmany of these languages, and the place-names throughout the region (Richardson, this volume) are a daily reminder of the peoples who have long lived there. Parts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana have been designated as “language hotspots” by National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project and The Living Tongues Institute, an Oregon-based organization devoted to the documentation, maintenance, preservation, and revitalization of endangered languages around the world.


The region is one of the five hotspots in the world because of its high number of diverse Native languages that are from different “genetically diverse” language groups (as different as English and Italian, in some cases; in others, as different as English and Chinese) that are highly endangered. When an entire group of languages is no longer spoken, we lose not only linguistic information that is of great importance to linguists, but also, as Crawford puts it, “The loss of linguistic diversity means a loss of intellectual diversity” (1995, 33).


Consider, as an example, ways in which a language can encapsulate certain kinds of knowledge: the Halkomel’em Musqueam people group certain kinds of fish under the “salmon” label: sce:ɬtən. This includes fish that are called steelhead trout and cutthroat trout in English, but which genetic analysis has shown are, in fact, of the salmon genus, and not trout at all. Such information about flora and fauna from peoples who have lived in the region for millennia can disappear right along with the language, as well as, of course, the loss of culture and of identity, which are so closely tied to language. Our languages are important; each one and its many forms should be carefully considered as an integral part of language and place.



Northwest Voices will be available June 2019. Preorder your copy here!


Kristin Denham is Professor of Linguistics at Western Washington University. She received her PhD in linguistics from the University of Washington. She is co-author of Why Study Linguistics, Navigating English Grammar, and Linguistics for Everyone, and co-editor of Linguistics at School: Language Awareness in Primary and Secondary Education and Language in the Schools: Integrating Linguistic Knowledge into K–12 Teaching. She teaches courses on syntax, Salishan languages, language and identity, endangered languages, English grammar, and linguistics in education.

May 8th, 2019

Contreras Photo

It's May, and we are welcoming springtime flowers and a brand new book here at the OSU Press office! Edge of Awe: Experiences of the Malheur-Steens Country is fresh off the press. This anthology explores the perspectives and experiences of visitors to this beautiful region in eastern Oregon with a special focus on birds and featuring illustrations and poetry by Ursula K. Le Guin. Today on the blog, editor Alan Contreras speaks with OSU Press Griffis Publishing Interns Carolyn Supinka and Zoë Ruiz.

What inspired you to put together this anthology on the Malheur-Steens region? How did you select the contributors for the anthology?

There have been other books on the region that focus on the birds, a family’s history, the 2016 infestation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, and the general cultural history. There has not been a book that focuses on the experiences of visitors to the region, which seemed to me worth doing.

Most of the older material that I included was fairly obvious. Dallas Lore Sharp’s classic chapter from Where Rolls the Oregon and Charles E. Bendire’s bird reports are examples. I knew contributor Dave Marshall from our work on Birds of Oregon published by OSU Press in 2003,and I knew contributor Tom McAllister in part through his writing and in part through Dave. Both Tom and Dave came to Malheur as kids early in the 20th Century, and they also visited as adults.  

The harder part was choosing the essayists for the closing segment. In most cases these were people I knew whose experiences at Malheur were distinctive and different. There could have been hundreds of these, of course, and I intentionally chose a variety in terms of both age and experience.

How did you first come to visit the region? Can you describe your experience?

This is my 49th year visiting the Malheur-Steens region; I first went when I was 14.  Anyone who has come here knows what their first visit in spring is like. There are birds everywhere and many of them are unique and spectacular: cranes, avocets, yellow-headed blackbirds, and phalaropes.

Edge of Awe coverMalheur-Steens region has impacted a lot of writers, scientists, and individuals. Why do you think this is? What are some things about the region that draw people in?

The combined impact of the biological diversity and the large scale of the landscape is hard to match. There are places with one or the other but not both. Also, the spring and fall experience is very different owing to the seasonal change in hydrology and access to Steens Mountain in fall.

You’re currently volunteering at the Malheur Refuge Headquarters. What’s a typical day in the life of a volunteer?

There are two kinds of volunteers, those who work for the refuge and those who work for the nature store. In practice we help each other out, but there are several different functions. I signed up to be the front desk docent because I am too old and fat to do trail maintenance or move objects around the refuge. Also, I know the birds and the locations really well so most of the tourist questions are easy to answer.

My day begins with opening the front desk at HQ, dealing with security steps, making sure that the feeders and brochure racks are full and seeing if there are any special news items for the day such as road closures. After that it is mostly answering tourist questions.. I have some free time during which I keep a running count of birds I see and hear from the deck. As I write this at the end of April, I am finding a bit over fifty species a day, which is good for an area sixty feet wide.

What do you hope people who may have never visited the region take away from Edge of Awe?

A desire to have their own unique experiences in this beautiful and distinctive part of Oregon.


To purchase Edge of Awe, click the link. All royalties from the book go to Friends of Malheur, which supports user access such as trails, signage, The Nature Store, and more.

Alan L. Contreras fourth-generation Oregonian who has been visiting the Malheur-Steens region for five decades. A graduate of the University of Oregon and its law school, he is retired from work in higher education. He is the author of several books published by Oregon State University Press, including Afield and Birds of Oregon, and has also published three poetry collections, a book on state regulation of colleges, and others. He lives in Eugene.

May 2nd, 2019

Want to learn more about an important part of ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest? Field Guide to the Grasses of Oregon and Washington is a beautifully illustrated guide to all species, subspecies, and varieties in the region. Co-author Cindy Talbott Roché visits the OSU Press blog to answer some questions that our OSU Press Griffis Publishing Interns Carolyn Supinka and Zoë Ruiz had about the book and the process of studying grasses.

What are the ways in which grasses are an essential part of the ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest?

Grasses are definitely one of the more unappreciated life forms. It’s hard to know where to start. Underneath us, I guess, in the soil is as good a place as any. Grass roots not only hold soil in place, but contribute to its health and development by adding organic matter and creating structure and pores for water to percolate. In addition to preventing erosion along rivers and streams, they purify the water that flows over them. Grasses feed herbivores ranging in size from ants to elk, and provide habitat for an astounding variety of native mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and more. Many of our major crops are grasses: wheat, oats, rice, barley, corn, rye, millet; grasses used for hay and pasture for livestock. In urban ecosystems, we use grasses for landscaping, parks, and sports settings; grass surfaces allow water to follow its natural cycle of absorption and storage in the soil, rather than running off immediately as it does on paved surfaces. Some sports use artificial turf, but can you imagine a golf course (other than mini-golf) with anything other than natural grass?

Are there any dangers that Pacific Northwest grasses face at this time or in the near future? 

Native grasses in the Pacific Northwest face numerous threats in a wide variety of environments. Most of the disturbances are directly or indirectly associated with humans. Populations of native grasses are destroyed by urban development, farming of wildfires, and invasion of their habitats by aggressive non-native plants (weeds). In our photography work, it was particularly difficult to find native grasses in coastal environments. For example, grasses introduced in order to stabilize dunes have eliminated the habitat for grasses that requireDunes stabilized by introduced European beachgrass no longer provide habitat for native grasses. Photo by Robert Korfhage moving sand. Wetlands have been drained, prairies converted to fields, and pastures are full of introduced grass species. But, the coast is not the only place where native grasses are being replaced. In the forests both east and west of the Willamette Valley, falsebrome is forming a monoculture under the tree canopy. In the shrub steppe east of the Cascades, annual grasses such as cheatgrass, medusahead and ventenata are replacing perennial bunchgrasses. Rare grasses are decreasing in a number of habitats in Oregon and Washington, but the ones that surprised me when we were preparing the distribution maps were five annual species that hadn't been collected for almost 100 years. They were originally found in naturally disturbed sites, such as floodplains, riparian areas and vernal pools. These habitats have been largely overrun with more aggressive introduced plants. 

It took you almost two decades to make this book into reality. Can you describe the process of putting this book together? What were some of the challenges as well as high points of the process? How did you stay committed to the project? 

As you can imagine, the book evolved over time and the end product is probably not what any of us envisioned at the beginning. Bob and I had planned a field guide that described and illustrated important grasses in Oregon and discussed ecology and uses, probably without technical keys. I think that the Carex Working Group (Barbara, Dick and Nick) were planning a field guidebook just like the one they had published on sedges. In search of subalpine native grasses, we're headed to the top of South Sister. Photo by Robert Korfhage.There clearly was no call for two field guides to grasses in Oregon and there was more than enough work for all of us, so we joined forces on it. Early on, we met as a group to discuss funding, content, and format, (including how to illustrate it). One of the early decisions was to use photographs, not line drawings. I remember this clearly because I had recently finished illustrating grasses for the Flora of North America in which every taxon was shown with inked line drawings. The vote was 4 to 1 in favor of photos. (Yes, I was the 1.) A subjective cost/benefit analysis supported adding the state of Washington (cost of 30 additional grasses vs. benefit of the western Washington market). The Carex Working Group obtained funding for their time, and Bob and I set about perfecting our skills in photographing grasses, which are particularly difficult because their narrow leaves blend in with their surroundings and move in the wind. In addition, the identifying parts are generally small. Our techniques, equipment, and software improved so much over time that in the end we didn’t use any of our photographs from the first five years.

The highpoints for Bob and me were all of the amazing locations we went in search of the diversity of grasses in Oregon and Washington. My favorites were the top of South Sister for two alpine bluegrass species, and Ice Lake and the Matterhorn in the Wallowa Mountains for alpine bluegrass and fescue species, and the hinterlands of the Little Owyhee for Nevada needlegrass. We traveled from British Columbia south to Nevada, covering both sides of the Cascades.

Of course, we couldn’t get everywhere at the right time, so Barbara and Nick sent us numerous boxes of grasses from their travels, too. One of the major challenges was when the funding ran out for the Carex Working Group and progress stalled for a few years. After that point, I decided to shed other responsibilities and make a big push for completion. It had reached the point of “fish, or cut bait,” and all of us had invested way too much time to just throw it away. I started working full time on photo layout, filling out the descriptions to improve consistency, and getting the distribution maps started. The Carex Working Group had written and tested the keys; Dick stepped up and reworked the keys and descriptions and reviewed maps, while Bob edited the photos to perfection.

I think the keys are one of the strengths of this field guide; they aren’t just copied from another source and they include all of the grass taxa found in Oregon and Washington. This is an important feature. I have been frustrated with field guides that offer only a sampling of the flora. You never know, when you fail to identify a plant, if it is because you made a mistake using the key or if it’s something that isn’t in the book. This is why, when Barbara and Nick each came up with a species new to Oregon, after we had the book nearly to the final format, we squeezed those in. I must give Dick special credit for his tenacity in reviewing proofs because we went through six rounds of PDF proofs in the layout phase; bless OSU Press Editorial, Design and Production Manager Micki Reaman for her patience!  

We’re curious about your workshops on grasses. Who enrolls in your workshops and what do they learn during their time with you?

When I lived in the Rogue Valley, I taught grass workshops at the Siskiyou Field Institute, which was a great place to teach because we could walk out of the lab and explore a variety of habitats, from pasture and lawn to oak woodlands and serpentine slopes. Students in these workshops ranged from agency employees (BLM, Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service) to lay botanistscurious about grasses. I stayed flexible and taught whatever level of grass identification the students were ready to learn. Lately, I’ve been working with Barbara inGrass workshop hosted by the Siskiyou Field Institute at Deer Creek Center. Photo by Robert Korfhage. workshops that are mostly geared toward professionals, who need to improve theirskills. We have one day in the lab with microscopes and one day in the field with hand lenses. The emphasis is on identification, but we talk some about ecological aspects as well. When we have the book in hand, I plan to offer more casual grass walks and workshops. 

Grasses seem difficult to identify. What were the challenges when illustrating grasses?  And, when out in the nature, what are some key things to look for when trying to identify grasses? 

Grasses are only difficult to identify in a relative sense. I think they are much easier than many sedges, for example, or mosses and lichens, which I’ve never learned. What these things have in common that are considered difficult to identify is that the important traits are difficult to see. In grasses, it is because the parts are small and most tend to be more-or-less green in color. The main challenge in illustrating the key Can you identify this grass? Of course not, we can't tell which Muhlenbergia it is either; its an example of how most field photos of grasses don't show the necessary details. Photo by Robert Korfhage.features is to get a sharp image of them. To do that, it’s important for them to sit still. Outside, the wind is formidable foe. Grasses will sway or tremble with the slightest air movement. Many of our habit photos were done inside with a black background so the key features are visible. I used the digital camera attached to my dissecting microscope and a stacking program to get pictures of the small parts. Now, you might assume that movement would not be a problem here and you would be wrong. The bent awns on lemmas will flip the floret over near the end of taking 20 photos to be stacked for depth of field. Then its time to start all over again. Long callus or rachilla hairs also move and require redoing the entire set. I know that I lapsed into technical terms there, but if you’re going to talk about grasses, you need to learn the terms. How awkward would it be if you didn’t know the names for leg and elbow and I had to refer to them as the appendage that you stand on and the place of bending ofyour appendage attached to the upper part of your body? Learning strange names can be difficult, but in the beginning of the book we explain all the new terms with drawings showing what they mean, label the parts on the photos of the grasses throughout, and finish with a glossary that defines them at the end of the book.

With practice, one also learns to recognize in the field what botanists call the "Gestalt" of grass species. This is a German word that means shape or form. In the use of this term, one recognizes not only the shape but also the habitat, season of the year and other clues. It is the same idea of seeing a friend in the distance and recognizing them by a characteristic gait or way of standing. Thus, this kind of knowledge allows you to recognize a grass on the side of the freeway as you whiz by.


Purchase Field Guide to the Grasses of Oregon and Washington here!


Cindy Talbott Rochë illustrated grasses for the Flora of North America and has taught grass workshops; her experience with grasses spans both states over four decades.


Photo credits & captions: all photos by Robert Korfhage

1. Dunes stabilized by introduced European beachgrass no longer provide habitat for native grasses.

2. In search of subalpine native grasses, we're headed to the top of South Sister.

3. Grass workshop hosted by the Siskiyou Field Institute at Deer Creek Center.

4. Can you identify this grass? Of course not, we can't tell which Muhlenbergia it is either; it's an example of how most field photos of grasses don't show the necessary details.



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