Loss and renewal in the Northwest

 

"These stories of loss are about farming and forestry in the Pacific Northwest," writes Steven Radosevich in this compact collection of essays. "They come along with me out of my vineyard." Radosevich, hunter, fisherman, grape grower and professor of forest science at Oregon State University, writes simple, painful prose about the diminishing natural wealth of the Pacific Northwest. In three sections — "Growth," "Loss" and "Renewal" — Radosevich family history sculpts the "homeplace" of Tieton, Wash. Once home to several generations, the farmhouse is now boarded up, its apple orchards dead — drought, corporate agriculture and family illness have all taken their toll.

Looking beyond his family farm, Radesovich is profoundly disturbed by the havoc humans have wrought on the Northwest. As lumber companies harvest ever more timber, the growing cycle shrinks; replanted conifers are merely "tree farms," not a forest.

The middle section, "Loss," offers the most upsetting, powerful essays. The "good wood" of the title, the metaphorical heart of the forest, dwindles under logging. Siletz Tribe member Charlie Wakenshaw shows Radosevich a new clear-cut in the Coast Range. "Listen, I ain’t no goddamned environmentalist," insists Charlie. "I’ve been a logger most of my forty years, but I ain’t never seen nothin’ like this."

Radosevich doesn’t leave us in despair, however. Back in Tieton, the family replants their orchard; he teaches his grandchildren to prune the good wood, as he learned from his father. But caution tempers his optimism: "The treadmill of chemicals, energy, and machines now has supplanted almost completely our real work — knowing about the land and its biological processes to grow food or wood."