« Return to this article

Know the West

A celebration of Cascadia: A review of Open Spaces: Voices from the Northwest


Open Spaces: Voices from the Northwest
Penny Harrison, ed.
252 pages, softcover: $22.50.
University of Washington Press, 2011.

I read Open Spaces: Voices from the Northwest over two weeks, setting it down still open so that its pages made a neat tent on my coffee table, returning to it over morning coffee, between garden chores, after dinner with a glass of wine -- the way you'd read your favorite magazine. The more time I spent with this anthology, the less it made sense to me as a book, but the more I wanted to subscribe to Open Spaces, the Seattle- and Portland-based quarterly from which it derived. The essays and articles were unusually intimate, smart, thoughtful, artful and deeply connected to key regional issues. They worked wonderfully individually, but patched together as an anthology, they became something of a mish-mash.

The magazine calls itself an "open space" for discussion of issues that arise in the Northwest but affect us all. The anthology, however, gets off to a less than inclusive start with a forward by Denis Hayes (national coordinator for the first Earth Day and self-described "practical visionary") that reads like a booster's pitch for the Northwest: "The most important migration in today's globalized, mobile, wired world is arguably the movement of smart people to wherever they want to live. ..." And according to Hayes, all of those "creative, ambitious, world-changing people" want to live in Cascadia. In "Writing West," John Daniel widens the Northwest-Other Places divide, indulging in the stereotype about how city-dwelling Easterners think nature-loving Westerners are hicks and hacks. Daniel notes that Norman Maclean had trouble publishing A River Runs Through It because one Eastern editor claimed Maclean's stories had trees in them. But then the anthology gets better, with Sandra Dorr's lyric "Rhapsody for Blackberries" ("Let's be bears," she calls to her children as they gobble fresh blackberries on the porch); Lee C. Neff's amusing "Deadheading," wherein she extols the pleasures of cutting the heads off daylilies; and the political articles "Oregon Land Use Planning," by Richard P. Benner, "Water in the West," by Charles Wilkinson, and "A River Runs Against It: America's Evolving View of Dams," by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, all three of which educate and inform in a style that is universally fascinating and timeless.

Sometimes a book is a book and a magazine is a magazine, and sometimes the twain just don't meet. In the case of Open Spaces, readers might get better value and more enjoyment out of subscribing to the quarterly magazine than buying the anthology.