East of the Mountains

One of the perks of being a writer is entrance into an entire community of people who write. If you’re lucky, and willing to help others in this literary band, you just might be invited to some beautiful places and invigorating conversations. Even in the midst of a global pandemic.

I had just such an opportunity the end of September when I joined author David B. Williams (geologywriter.com) in conversation about his new book,  Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound. We first met by phone, then in person at the Lopez Island Historical Museum, to discuss “the ecological complexities” of this region in the northwest corner of Washington State. 

Here’s how David’s publisher, University of Washington Press, describes Homewaters

“Focusing on the area south of Port Townsend and between the Cascade and Olympic mountains, Williams uncovers human and natural histories in, on, and around the Sound. In conversations with archaeologists, biologists, and tribal authorities, Williams traces how generations of humans have interacted with such species as geoducks, salmon, orcas, rockfish, and herring. He sheds light on how warfare shaped development and how people have moved across this maritime highway, in canoes, the mosquito fleet, and today’s ferry system. The book also takes an unflinching look at how the Sound’s ecosystems have suffered from human behavior, including pollution, habitat destruction, and the effects of climate change.”

Yes, Homewaters covers a lot of territory—geographically, historically, and philosophically. And David is a knowledgeable and entertaining guide.

After the Lopez Island gig with David, the Naked Hiker and I traveled east of the mountains (the North Cascades) so David and I could again talk with readers in Leavenworth, Washington, the ancestral homelands of the šnp̍əšqʷáw̉šəxʷ (p’squosa or Wenatchi) people. This time, we had three hosts: the Wenatchee River Institute, the Leavenworth Public Library, and A Book for All Seasons bookstore. Just as on Lopez, David entertained and enlightened the audience with his knowledge about Puget Sound and its connection to the ecology and history with the center of the state.

Being in Leavenworth was a bit of a homecoming for me. Just east of Stevens Pass on U.S. Route 2 at the border of King County and Chelan County, the town’s commercial center is a Bavarian-styled village on the Wenatchee River. I’ve lost track of how many times my family and I have driven through there on the way to Stehekin, WA. If you’ve followed my posts here or ready my memoir, Hiking Naked, you’ve learned a bit about that remote village on Lake Chelan. Leavenworth has long felt like an important entry to the climate, geography, and culture of the North Cascades, and it was good to be back.

A stop at the Leavenworth Public Library led to reminiscing with branch librarian Amy Massey and the supervisor for the North Central Regional Library System (NCRL), Michael McNeil. I offered them a long overdue thank you for the ways the library system supported us in Stehekin. When we lived there in 1994-96, there was no Internet, no phones, and of course, no library branch in the tiny village accessible only by boat or foot. Books were readily available, though, the same way that groceries were—ordering through the mail. For library books, that meant thumbing through the paper catalog mailed out periodically, then listing desired titles on a post card. It might take a week or two, but eventually the books arrived at the Stehekin post office in zippered canvas bags with free return postage.

Thanks to the generosity of the event’s host organizations and my grad school friend and fellow writer, Jackie Haskins, the Naked Hiker and I were able to spend a couple of days soaking up the beauty of this mountain community. Before the author event, we hiked Mountain Home Ridge and savored the craggy peaks, the scents of fir and pine, and aspens taking on their golden autumn hue.

Through the wonders of social media, I kept track of what the weather was like on Lopez while we were away. I saw multiple posts about a double rainbow on the island, a sight that always fills me with hope. Well, one of those beauties made it across the Cascades to Leavenworth to welcome us the morning after David and I chatted.

See what I mean by perks?

If you haven’t yet read Homewaters, I encourage you to buy a copy or ask for it at your local library. It’s available everywhere books are sold as well on David’s website (you’ll find half-a-dozen of his other titles there, too). And for a little fun on a dreary day, check out David’s Puget Sound quiz. The questions will give you a taste for some of the amazing history he shares in the book. For example, do you know what the Lushootseed name for Puget Sound—xw̌əlč—means?

Whether you live east or west of the Cascade Mountains, or somewhere else, this book will remind you how we’re all connected, geologically and historically. 

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