holyoutlaw: (me meh)

Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America
Jack Nisbet
Sasquatch Books, 2007

David Thompson was the first European to explore and map the full reach of the Columbia River from its source in the northern Rocky Mountains in what is now British Columbia. He ranged over the inland upper northwest, setting up trade houses and surveying for the NorthWest Company, a competitor to Hudson’s Bay Company for the fur trade. His sharp eye and meticulous practices lead to such accurate latitude and longitude readings that they stand up to modern techniques. He also observed the social practices of the First Nations he encountered (sometimes as the first white man they’d seen). He was able to record the locations of the tribes he encountered, mineral deposits, forests, and other geographic details. His work was motivated by a curiosity for the land and a desire to do a good job. The stories of his travels — compiled from several remaining notebooks, and a “Narrative” unfinished at the time of his death — are riveting, I can barely imagine the difficulties he and his crews faced as a matter of course. Unfortunately, after retirement, he was unable to get his maps published during his lifetime, and they have languished half forgotten. Nisbet interposes his own travels in the modern day inland NW, on a heavily dammed Columbia River.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

holyoutlaw: (me meh)

Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest
Timothy Egan
Vintage Departures, 1991

This book, written in the late 1980s (and published in the early 1990s) chronicles a journey and all its reflections brought on by a chance thought: while distributing the ashes of his grandfather, Egan becomes curious about how the glacier he visits got its name.

I take Grandpa out of the pack and set him next to a rock. No wind. From below comes a marmot whistle, a high pierce. I think: Winthrop. What is an old Puritan’s name doing up here, on the frozen side of a mountain that wasn’t even spotted by white men until after the Revolutionary War? What cartographer’s trick, or cheap flatter, placed the name Winthrop here, a country of noble Indian names — Tacoma, the original word for this mountain; Sluiskin Falls, named for the native who first led whites to the demon-dwelling pit of fire at the summit; Ohanapecosh, where the rivers meet below. Most of the English names were coined by syphilitic prospectors and timber beasts — the Frying Pan Glacier, Old Scab Mountain, Anvil Rock, Panhandle Gap. Why Winthrop? It’s too genteel for this massive chunk of glacial anarchy….

This leads Egan to discover that Theodore Winthrop named the glacier in 1853, during a summer visit to the Pacific Northwest. He also wrote a book called The Canoe and the Saddle, which Egan buys from a rare books dealer. In 1853, Winthrop traveled from Vancouver Island through Puget Sound and then up the Columbia River. More than 130 years later, Egan makes the same journey, chronicling the differences.

The journey is at times harrowing, amusing, sublime, and tragic. Egan’s writing throughout is beautiful. This beauty makes it painful, at times, as when he’s talking about the extraction industries that have nearly destroyed the Pacific Northwest. Each chapter visits a locale that Winthrop visited in 1853, usually at about the same time of year as Winthrop did. Egan uses the location to focus on a particular aspect of the PNW, examining, for instance, Vancouver’s role in the British Empire, the development of the red delicious apple, or a nearly-forgotten court case that made the first cracks in the Communist with hunts (with tragic long-term aftereffects). Particularly hard for me to read was chapter 10, “Salmon,” which looked at the extent to which the rivers of the NW have been dammed, and what that has cost our our rivers. Hydropower is not “clean” at all. The rivers are shallower, slower, warmer, less alive. Salmon runs that used to number in the millions now number in the thousands, on a good year.

At times, I found his writing to be a little heavy-handed, and there were the occasional missteps such as referring to a woman ranger as a “rangerette.” But overall I found “The Good Rain” to be a fine, if saddening, read about the state of the Pacific Northwest in recent history.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

holyoutlaw: (picture icon iv)

Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians
Hilary Stewart
University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1995

The Western Red Cedar (Thuja Plicata) was so useful to Coastal Salish people that they said it was the reincarnation of a man who was helpful to everyone. When someone needed, he gave; when someone hungered, he fed. His reward was to be made the Western Red Cedar, which was used for clothing, shelter, transportation, storage, and ceremony.

The bark was used for clothing; the wood for storage, planks for longhouses, and canoes for transportation; the withes were used for rope; the roots for baskets. A coastal Salish person would use some aspect of the cedar literally from cradle to grave.

Stewart’s book looks at each part of the tree and its uses in depth. The words are accompanied by detailed line drawings of tools that worked the wood and the uses it was put to. You might not be able to go and build a cedar plank house, but you could probably describe the process well enough for a novel. And you certainly have a greater idea of how important the tree was, and how many people making a canoe or a house required. Or how the baskets were woven.

I found the amount of detail intimidating, in fact, which isn’t Stewart’s fault at all. This would probably be a better book for reading the specific section that interested you, or as a reference in a paper. The material is presented at a writing level that would make it appropriate for high school or undergraduate research.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

holyoutlaw: (picture icon iv)

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
John Vaillant
W.W. Norton & Company, 2005

The Golden Spruce in 1984.
Photo by Mike Beaureguard, from Wikimedia Commons

The Golden Spruce was an anomalous tree that should not have survived, but did, for hundreds of years. Its outer needles were too pale to photosynthesize properly, and its inner needles were too shaded to have received enough light. Yet it lived and prospered for hundreds of years, a tree of ancient legend to the Haida when Europeans arrived in the 18th century.

To tell the story of the Golden Spruce and its eventual destruction, Vaillant combines threads of history, ecology, biography, journalism, and economics without losing pace or losing track of the plot. One question he asks (and makes a good case for) is whether forestry or agriculture made a greater change on the face of the planet. Removal of the forest, after all, has to come first.

And he describes the rapacious destruction of the Pacific Northwest rainforest in truly harrowing terms. It’s not just that the forests were clearcut, but that trees considered commercially valueless (such as Western Red-cedar) were chopped down and thrown aside. The most accessible areas in the British Columbia rainforest were on steep river slopes, resulting in massive erosion.

Until late in the 20th century, the British Columbia rainforest was considered nearly infinite, that it would never be completely logged. It is only recently that we are at last slowing down. Vaillant gives us the details of the logging industry, and the effects it has on the people who work in it and live in the areas affected by it, without editorializing, letting their words and objective descriptions speak for themselves.

Grant Hadwin was one of the people working in the logging industry. He could (and did) go into the forest with nothing but matches and coffee and survive for weeks. His job was to plan roads to logging areas. At the time he did this, it was truly independent, with little or no oversight. But he came to despise the logging industry, became unemployable, tried to make a living at other occupations but the constraints of civilization were too tight.

He focused on the Golden Spruce — allowed to live in a memorial ten-acre patch — as a symbol of all that had gone wrong with the industry. He cut it down in January, 1997, in an evening raid that included swimming across a near-freezing river and climbing a steep bank. The job was considered expert by all who saw it.

Attempts to grow the spruce from cuttings were unsuccessful. Grant Hadwin disappeared on his way to trial. There is much, much more in this book.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

holyoutlaw: (picture icon iv)

Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest
Newly Revised and Expanded Second Edition
Rick M. Harbo
Harbour Publishing Co., Ltd., 2011
Madeira Park, BC

The first edition of Whelks to Whales has been our go-to reference for all the strange and colorful creatures we find in tide pools. We usually bring it with us on our expeditions and look at it as soon as possible.

The second edition is larger by more than 80 pages. Particularly of interest to us was a new section on egg cases, which allowed us to specify the squid egg mass as being those of the opal squid. That alone was reason enough to snap it up.

In addition to the new section, the book as a whole is better designed and laid out, with a more readable typeface. Many species have new information, whether updated population surveys (the first edition was published in 1999), new research data, or a more detailed description. There were also new species in almost every section I checked.

The photographs are largely the same, but they were good in the first edition. However, there were many different and new photographs, and not just of new species.

All in all, this is a genuine revision and update, and well worth buying even if you have the first edition.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.


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