A timber country memoir

  It's hard to make straight lines stick to the earth, writes Robert Leo Heilman in Overstory: Zero; Real Life in Timber Country, and even harder in hilly Douglas County, Ore. In his book of 32 essays, Heilman returns to this theme again and again; he likes the earth's reluctance to bend to blueprints, whether he is replanting a clearcut or laying out a house. Heilman is similarly happy to report on his valley's social scene - an alcoholic hitchhiker's last ride, the annual frenzy of American Legion baseball and his son's coming of age.

The book's title is a forestry term designating the height of the top layer in the forest canopy after a clearcut. Heilman himself belongs to a proud underclass of tree-planters, "winos and wetbacks, hillbillies and hippies," who have replanted acres of clearcuts. Though he recounts instances of frustrating, occasionally violent miscommunication between college-educated foremen and woods-educated workers, Heilman is never despairing. When he must sell his milk cow after an early 1980s depression cleans out the folks who used to buy his milk, Heilman is grateful, at least, to hold on to his wife and son. In his mind, rural communities are stronger, funnier and much more real for the conflicts they suffer.

Sasquatch Books, 1008 Western Ave., Seattle, WA 98104. Paper: $14.95. 221 pages.

*Sarah Dry

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