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Know the West

Tales from the heartwood


Working the Woods, Working the Sea: An Anthology of Northwest Writing
Edited by Finn Wilcox and Jerry Gorsline
400 pages,
softcover, $22.
Empty Bowl, 2008.

The second edition of Working the Woods, Working the Sea — the first was published in 1986 — contains a lot of new material, but its core is still fiction, nonfiction and poetry centered on the relationship between labor and nature in the Pacific Northwest.

The book is divided into four parts: "Treeplanting," "Working the Woods," "Working the Sea," and "Coda," which consists of just one piece, Richard White's "Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?," a 1995 essay that still resonates today.

Particularly evocative are Mike O'Connor's insightful piece "When You plant a Tree, Where is the Buddha?" – a conversation with  longhair co-operative pioneer Jesse Miller about the beginnings of treeplanting co-ops on the Olympic Peninsula — and Mike Shepherd's stark story "The Bridge," which captures a deadly bridge demolition  in split-second detail. The anthology truly finds its rhythm in its third section, "Working the Sea," and the alternately wistful, reverent and wrenching accounts of salmon and their decline in the hydroelectrified watersheds of the Pacific Northwest. This section ranges from a reprint of a richly reported news story by the Seattle Times' Lynda Mapes, "Tribes Mourn Loss of Falls," to Mike Connelly's "Lost & Found," chronicling the sense of place shared by the author and his Danish-born great-grandfather, both of whom planted permanent roots near the Klamath River headwaters. The piece toggles between the former's contemporary musings and entries from the latter's 1951 journal.

With a breadth ranging from koans to field journals, the book's entries are not uniformly great literature, but that was not the editors' intention. They want to pull back the curtains — the roadside "beauty fringe" of trees masking great clear-cuts and the supermarket ads showcasing cheap salmon — and let the reader enter these unique and often wild worlds. The stories, essays and poems in Working the Woods, Working the Sea paint a rich portrait of the controversies and contrasts surrounding  loggers, fishermen, environmentalists and treeplanters from Ketchikan to Eureka.