Book Review: That Went By Fast

That Went by FastFrank White wrote a remarkable autobiography, That Went by Fast: My First Hundred Years. A Canadian born in 1914, White spins a lively, event-filled story. His life was far from ideal or genteel–it was full of hard work, grit and the kind of knowledge you learn the hard way.

When his mother is widowed, White, still a young boy, works to help the family. By age thirteen he has two professions: butcher and truck driver. He marries Kay when he’s 25 and soon goes into the logging business.

White describes the early days of British Columbia’s gyppo logging, and his descriptions are harrowing. Raising a family in logging camps, learning various types of logging, moving logs on water, surviving logging camps in the dead of winter—the stories of sheer survival are incredible.

As his family grows, White becomes owner of a gas station in Pender Harbour, B.C. which proves to be non-stop work and worry. They ride the tide of 1970s hippies which causes a lot of local friction. In White’s view, while the hippies seems hopelessly inept, many of them find their way into worthy occupations. After several years, the Whites sell the garage and White travels first to Alaska, and then eventually abroad. Typical of White, he travels the back roads, sees the countries and people with fresh inquisitive eyes, always open to learning new ways.

White has a piercingly honest way of describing people, situations and places. He’s a tough man with low tolerance of flakiness and frills. I loved this book, the honesty of living a full life, of owning up to wrong-doing and living with regrets, but generally attempting to do the right thing. He’s lived from the horse-and-buggy days to jet travel, from scratching notes on paper to computers. White says “living to the age of one hundred is not all it’s cracked up to be, but it has some pluses.” He’s taken it all in and put his own mark on it. It’s an amazing story.

A Welcomed Oasis: Bates State Park

Bates State Park OPRD VisitorsAlthough it was only mid-June, eastern Oregon was hot. We happened upon Bates State Park, near the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the John Day River, and discovered a lovely oasis with shade trees and green grass. At 4,000-feet elevation, the park offered cool relief at night.

Bates State Park is the site of a former thriving lumber mill that operated for nearly 60 years. The 131-acre park is adjacent to the former Bates company town, home to about 400 families at its peak. In 1975, when a new mill was built in nearby John Day, the Bates mill was shut down and the town gradually disappeared. After the mill and many of the homes were dismantled, the land sat empty for more than 35 years.

A non-profit group, later named Friends of Bates State Park, worked tirelessly for many years advocating for the property’s preservation as a state park. Oregon Parks & Recreation Department purchased the land, and the park officially opened in 2011.

One of the central features of the park is the mill’s log pond. In its hey-day, local mill workers and ranch hands used to water ski in the pond, towed by a pick-up driving the bouncy road at the edge of the pond.

The park offers more than three miles of well-maintained hiking trails along the Middle Fork John Day River, Bridge Creek and Clear Creek. Interpretive panels throughout the park describe Bates life in the early to mid-20th Century and the steps taking place now to restore the land and waterways.

Although the park’s 28 sites do not offer hookups, there’s plenty of space to park rigs or to set up tents.

The area is a rich fish habitat. The Middle Fork of the John Day River and its tributaries are home to Chinook salmon, steelhead, trout and other native fish. Oregon Parks & Recreation are currently in the early stages of a restoration project, including a fish ladder, that would improve access to 14 miles of ideal fish habitat.

We found that Bates State Park makes a great home base when touring the area. The campground is situated between three nearby Wilderness Areas: Strawberry Mountain and Monument Rock to the south and North Fork John Day to the north. Hikers can climb to spectacular views atop Indian Rock and Vinegar Hill, which together make up the summit of the Greenhorn Range of the Blue Mountains.

Bates is convenient to the Old West Scenic Bikeway, a 174-mile loop that passes through landmarks such as John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The park is also on route for cross-country cyclists touring the TransAmerica Trail, which runs along nearby Oregon Highway 7.

On U.S. Highway 26, nine miles from Bates State Park, we found a nice little hike at the old Sumpter Valley Interpretive Trail that overlooks the historic Dixie Switchbacks. The tracks were used by the Sumpter Valley Railway that connected Prairie City, Oregon to Baker City, Oregon.

Bates State Park was a great find–just our kind of place.

Book Review: Being Mortal

Being Mortal_Physician Atul Gawande has written a powerful, moving book on aging and death. Being Mortal provides a logical, clear-eyed view of dying and what is important.

Gawande emphasizes the importance of questions we ask someone whose death is in the near future. Ask “If time becomes short, what is most important to you?” Most people will want to be relieved of pain, to be among those they love, and at peace. Many doctors tend to try to prolong life, even though life has ceased to be one of quality. Studies have shown that people in hospice, where patients are kept comfortable and without extensive treatment, live longer and happier.

Older patients and their families often feel desperate in the face of terminal illnesses; they’ll try anything to prolong life, whatever the improbability, the misery, or the cost. Instead, we should consider how to face mortality and preserve the essence of a meaningful life. When we ask our loved ones what they want, what is most important, what are their worries, the answers and the steps to be taken become clear.

As health conditions worsen, mounting crises often create a series of temporary rescues. Gawande terms this ODTAA, One Damn Thing After Another. Perhaps a better way to face these crises is to explore the idea of living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later.

The science of medicine is to enable well-being. Whenever serious illness or injury strikes, vital questions should be asked: What is your understanding of this condition and the likely outcome? What trade-offs are you willing or not willing to make? Being Mortal gives readers the means and confidence to raise and answer these questions.

Although the subject matter is serious, the book is written in an encouraging, inspiring way, sometimes even with humor. Atul Gawande has left a lasting impression on how I look at terminal illness and the importance of preparedness. Being Mortal is a worthy addition to our personal library.

Book Review: Eruption

Mount St. Helens

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson, describes the events surrounding the powerful volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18, 1980 . Fifty-seven people died as the result of the eruption, either by extreme heat, by falling rocks, drowned in raging rivers, or buried in massive mud slides. Of those known dead, 27 bodies were never found. The eruption laid waste to hundreds of square miles of prime forest, and subsequent land slides and floods damaged or destroyed 200 homes. Eight bridges were demolished, along with more than 185 miles of highways and roads, and 15 miles of railways.

The author delves into the history of the forests and of the massive Weyerhaeuser forest products company. He describes the railroad genius Jim Hill, and the role the Northern Pacific played in developing the northwest. And we learn the important role conservationists such as Gifford Pinchot and John Muir played in the preservation of wilderness.

As the mountain neared eruption, politics came into play, but boundaries of authority were blurred and restrictions inadequate. Common sense seems to have eluded otherwise intelligent people; others kept their distance, but still were caught in the far-reaching devastation.

The blast occurred at 8:32 Sunday morning. If it had erupted that afternoon or on a workday, hundreds more people would have died.

Courageous rescue efforts saved many lives. By the end of the first day helicopter pilots had flown 138 people, 8 dogs, and 1 boa constrictor to safety. In many cases, the Huey helicopters were dangerously overloaded, yet no one was injured or killed in rescue efforts, amazing with the air thick with hot ash and visibility at times near zero. Some were able to walk out on their own. Even though people had been warned to stay away, many came to see a volcano erupt, never dreaming that it would be so catastrophic. Some who died were professionals just doing their jobs—a geologist, a newspaper photographer, and loggers.

Eruption discusses legislation subsequent to the blast, and the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, created to ensure preservation of the land surrounding the mountain for future generations.

I found Olson’s book particularly fascinating. While conducting research for my book Tenderfoot, a romantic suspense novel with the subplot of the Mount St. Helens eruption, I became fascinated by the circumstances surrounding this unique event. Although my story is a work of fiction, I made every effort to keep the facts of the eruption intact. After reading this in-depth study, I felt even more confident that I had followed the events accurately.

Book Review: The Tilted World

The Tilted World

The Tilted World, co-written by man and wife team, Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, is not only a gripping story of Mississippi bootlegging, but is also a revealing true account of the 1927 massive 27,000 square-mile flood.

Dixie Clay Holliver, married to slick Jesse Holliver, still grieves over the death of her infant son. Dixie Clay is not only married to a bootlegger, but, unknown to the townspeople, she makes the best moonshine in the county. Jesse is in complete control of the business and is commonly credited for making the contraband.

When Federal agents Ted Ingersoll and Ham Johnson arrive in the town of Hobnob, Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents, they come upon a crime scene and find an abandoned baby boy. Ted, who was raised in an orphanage, feels compelled to find a home for the little boy. He learns that Dixie Clay recently lost her son and he rides out to her house to deliver the baby. As Ted and Ham continue their investigation, they uncover more than they bargained for.

Have your umbrella and waders handy when you read this novel. Knowing that the flood portion is based on actual events makes this story even more powerful. By the end of the book I felt saturated, not only by the awful weather, but by the unique story of intrigue, murder and moonshine.

The Terror of a Coup d’etat

Village women & childrenThe attempted military coup in Turkey this past week reminded me of the terror we experienced during an attempted coup while we served in Gambia with the Peace Corps. Following is an excerpt from my memoir TUBOB: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps:

Mortars thundered close to the house where 118 of us sought refuge. A particularly loud and close-sounding explosion made us jump and the house shudder. Not for the first time, I thought, Is this the end?

My Peace Corps supervisor Meri Aimes and I crouched under a small table with space only for the two of us. Others scrunched in where they could find room. My husband, Bruce, safely tucked under the desk he’d converted to a radio station, clutched the radio mic.

True, it was the American Ambassador’s house, but, though nice, it wasn’t the grand residence usually associated with a high-ranking officer’s home. At four thousand square feet, the concrete house wasn’t particularly large, not for this many people at any rate.

Our group of leaders had taken over the ambassador’s bedroom as a sort of headquarters, since the ambassador himself was “detained” at the US Embassy in Gambia’s capital city, Banjul. Families occupied the other two bedrooms; otherwise, people squeezed in where they could.

Meri’s eyes were huge. Her African American face was always expressive, but never more so than just then.

“This isn’t looking good, is it?” I said, trying to sound calmer than I felt.

Meri looked at me like I’d just made the understatement of the year. “Not really, no.”

“I’m wondering if Bruce and I will ever be able to get back to our village.”

“Right now I’d say it was doubtful.”

We both instinctively covered our heads at the sound of a close-by explosion. I broke out in sweat.

“I need to tell you something.”

Meri’s raised her eyebrows in question.

I waited until another flurry of rifle shots subsided. “We have about twenty-five hundred dollars buried in our chicken coop.”

“You what?”

“Well, what else can you do with American dollars? You can’t put it in a Gambian bank, we couldn’t keep it inside–we’ve already had our place broken into. We were converting our Gambian money into American cash so we’d have it when we left.”

Meri nodded. “You guys will probably be evacuated, but George and I likely will stay to get things wrapped up.” George Scharffenberger, Peace Corps Director, and Meri Aimes, Assistant Director, were the two highest ranking Peace Corps staff in the West African country of Gambia. We were lucky they were both with us, safe. For the moment, at least.

Meri touched my arm. “I promise I’ll do everything I can to recover your money. Draw me a map showing me just where it is.” She shook her head. “Only you and Bruce would think to hide money in a chicken coop.”

A runner, gasping for breath, banged on the bedroom door. “Someone is coming!” Bruce sprang out of his shelter and, quick and smooth with practice, dismantled the radios, forbidden to us by both the rebels and nationalists. He stuffed them into boxes kept under the desk. Within seconds he crawled back under the desk, cramming himself in front of the boxes. He was good. I was so proud of him.

Bruce’s and my eyes locked. As we had joked many times in the past two years, we silently asked, “Whose idea was this anyway?”

Tom Mosier, head of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Gambia, and George Scharffenberger came out from their safety places to greet our visitor. “Stay right where you are, folks,” Tom said, his voice tight.

The door opened and a tall African man strode in. He was probably an officer in charge; he reeked of authority. We couldn’t tell if he was a nationalist or a rebel from the local security force, Field Force they called it, which, together with disgruntled leftists, had started the coup several days earlier. He was a big man and to me he looked sinister. My stomach clenched. His black face glistened with sweat. He carried a rifle and wore a hand gun at his side. His eyes darted around the room. “This is good. Stay under cover. I have ordered that this house is not to be hit, but you never know…”

He nodded to Tom and George, and left. No one spoke until we heard a soft knock on the door. He was gone. Bruce sprang up and reassembled the radios just as a signal was coming through. He brought the mic with him back under the desk.

“Candyland, Lollypop. Candyland, come in. You guys okay?”

Bruce responded, his rich voice calm. “Lollypop, Candyland. Yes, we’re okay. One of the local officers just paid us a visit and…”

An explosion, even closer this time, drowned out his voice.

Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

 

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

 

A.J. Fikry’s world plummeted into a life of despair when his wife died. When the novel begins, A.J. is drinking heavily, has no friends, is rude, and lives without direction.

His bookstore on Alice Island, Rhode Island, has suffered its worst sales year ever. To make matters even worse, his prized possession, a rare collection of Edgar Allen Poe, is stolen.

When A.J. suddenly becomes the adoptive father of Maya, his life turns to one of responsibility, of love and humor. When a publisher’s rep, Amelia Loman, first calls on A.J., he treats her rudely, but as his life and responsibilities evolve, so does his attitude.

Each chapter begins with a short synopsis of a well-known book. Through these short brief reviews we learn more about A.J. and how the literature he reads relates to his own life.

I loved this book, loved the humor, the very real circumstances of second chances and of taking risks when befriending people. Author Gabrielle Zevin has a way of reaching into the heart, making readers care about these characters and their community.

To learn more about this best-selling author, visit https://gabriellezevin.com/

Book Review: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis

short-nights-cover-image

Edward Sheriff Curtis, a grade-school drop-out, started his career in Seattle where he opened a photography studio. He was drawn to an old Indian woman who, by law, wasn’t even supposed to live in town, even though the city was named after her father, Chief See-ahlsh. Although often tormented by rock-throwing school boys and barely tolerated by Seattle citizens, Princes Angeline, the name given her because her real name was unpronounceable, refused to leave. Curtis finally talked her into letting him take her photograph at his Seattle studio. The photograph, taken in 1896, is remarkable in its detail.

Edward Curtis’s ambition was to produce a 20-volume publication of Native American communities in the early 20th Century. Even today, the logistics of such a project would be daunting, but considering the hardships involved—difficult travel, language barriers, bulky equipment—it was a remarkable achievement. In quest of his project, he enlisted the help of the day’s big thinkers, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Even so, he was constantly plagued by lack of funds. He received no personal pay for his life’s work; all monies went into the production of the publication.

Curtis spent three decades documenting the stories, rituals, and even some languages of more than eighty North American tribes. It took tremendous energy. The title of the book “Short Nights” hints to this–Curtis rarely slept. The “Shadow Catcher” was the name Native Americans gave to him.

The undertaking influenced Curtis profoundly. He became an outraged advocate of the American Indian’s plight: the broken treaties, missionaries “misguided missions,” the deplorable treatment of innocent women and children by the U.S. Army.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis features many of the Curtis photographs, and they are stunning. The limited 20-volume publications, The North American Indian, produced between 1907 and 1930 are highly valued today and are considered a “literary, artistic, historical masterpiece.” In appearance and texture, the books are among the most luxurious ever printed.

Author Timothy Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times and best-selling author of seven books, has written a riveting biography. Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is a well-told story of Edward Curtis, a remarkable man who has enriched our understanding of the Native American.

Book Review: Ankle high and Knee Deep

Ankle HighAnkle High and Knee Deep: Women Reflect on Western Rural Life is an engaging collection of essays written by ranch women, cowgirls, and farmers. The anthology, edited by Gail L. Jenner, offers a candid look at rural life, its tranquil beauty and its messiness. This anthology is about lessons learned, sometimes the hard way.

Many of the essays reminisce about childhoods on a ranch or farm, sharing the joy of riding horseback in wide open spaces. Along with the joy comes the hard parts, the endless chores, the hardships, the doing without when that year’s crops or stock doesn’t bring the hoped-for price.

Several stories delve into experiences with horses and how they become an integral part of rural lives. Through the years horses have been the constant source of pleasure as well as of necessity.

The book is divided into sections: Fortitude, Horse Sense, Community, Self-Reliance, Memory, Resilience and Lessons. Ankle High and Knee Deep offers stories rich in inspirational experiences The collection isn’t all pleasant—real life never is. The stories shared are from the heart, memories and current experiences of life passed on from generation to generation.

Toward the back of the book a section about the contributing authors and photographers reveals the lives of those who have participated in this fine collection. These brief biographies reinforce the heart of the book.

Photographs throughout the book help the reader feel what the words portray.

This is an excellent read written by women who have lived what they write about. I highly recommend this anthology of life in rural America.

Book Review: Detroit: An American Autopsy

Detroit 2Charlie LeDuff returns to his hometown as a journalist for the Detroit News. Once the richest city in America, Detroit has plunged to one of the poorest. In its heyday, it was the vanguard of the automobile industry. Today it leads the country in crime, unemployment, illiteracy, and foreclosures.

LeDuff paints a vivid picture of empty factories which are routinely burned for their copper. Whole blocks of what was decent neighborhoods are now decaying or gutted- out houses. Crime is rampant; systems put into place to protect the public are corrupt.

As a newspaperman, LeDuff attempts to uncover what destroyed Detroit. He talks to city officials, to homeless squatters, to mothers whose children have been murdered or died of overdose. He befriends firefighters, pointing out their worn-out equipment, the holes in their personal protective gear. He talks to police, some of them good, some on the take.

LeDuff’s writing is tough—no tip-toeing around issues for him. He dives into the heart of a problem and sifts through the ashes to root out the truth. His writing style is caustic and revealing, funny, and honest. He gives specific examples of corruption and ineptitude, and backs up the charges with facts. This is the work of an investigative reporter at the top of his game.

Detroit: An American Autopsy was an eye-opener for me. I knew the city was a has-been, but I had no idea of its depth of despair. I’ve never been so thankful to live in the Northwest; never so grateful not to live in Detroit. This is a memorable work, a suspenseful chronicle of decay.

To learn more about this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Detroit: An American Autopsy, visit http://charlieleduff.com/