A new Northwest anthology finds both terror and magic in the darkness

‘Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest’ explores landscapes and life from the Inland Northwest to the Pacific.

 

On the Palouse, where Washington and North Idaho meet, the rolling fields appear desolate and shorn in January, as the months-old stubble of harvested wheat pokes through patches of wind-crusted snow, like millions of splinters jutting from the earth. It’s a sharp contrast to those same hills in July, when the lush green-gold of ripening grain looks like an ocean, wind-blown swells rippling across its surface.

Those mesmerizing summertime waves of wheat are reimagined through a darker lens in “Habitat,” a short story by Leyna Krow, in Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses From the Gloomy Northwest, a new anthology of stories, poems and essays. Set in an alternate present or near future, “Habitat” imagines that an invasive neon-green fern has replaced the wheat sprouting from the fields of the Palouse. Rather than wind creating the iconic “shimmer and sway” along its verdant hillsides, the motion is caused by an infestation of fluorescent green snakes — a shift in habitat that has forced the area’s human inhabitants to flee.

In casting a fresh and often fantastical eye on the Northwest, Krow’s story is typical of the pieces collected in Evergreen. From the mountains of Montana to the streets of Seattle, the book creates a vibrant, multilayered picture of the region, one that embraces complexity rather than shallow stereotypes. The Pacific Northwest in particular has often been portrayed in a binary way, writes co-editor Maya Jewell Zeller in the introduction, either the purview of loggers at “war with the woods,” or a “forest pastoral — something either too adversarial or too idolatrous, something dripping with capitalism, hypermasculinity, and Eurocentrism.”

Evergreen seeks a deeper examination of the greater Northwest, and largely succeeds. Many of its strongest pieces are by Indigenous writers, including the stunner of a story that opens the book, “Secondary Infection” by Beth Piatote, a Nez Perce writer, on the festering dangers of loneliness. The piece recounts a tale told by the narrator’s auntie, about a widow who “lived over that way, over at Yakama.” Its spare details embody the region where it’s set: A rattlesnake and rocky ridges both bound and animate the story, turning nature into a character and evoking the dry desert landscape of south-central Washington.

Courtesy Scablands Books

In Piatote’s story and throughout Evergreen, a sense of the mythical pervades the pages. Ruth Joffre’s brief yet exquisite “A Girl Plays with Thorns” exemplifies the collection’s fairy-tale feel. Though unmoored from any named location, the natural world — and human relationships with it — are fundamental to the story. In it, a mother learns that her young daughter is more independent, and stronger, than she thought, as briars sprout from the girl’s body: “(U)nder her skin … there is movement. First subtle, like a rustling of plants in a breeze, then deep and sinuous — the creeping of blackberry vines so embedded as to appear part of her musculature.”

While Evergreen dips toward the Pacific Coast, the heart of the anthology lies in the Inland Northwest, the home of Scablands Books, its publisher, located in Spokane, Washington. Named for the channeled scablands of eastern Washington, a stark landscape of basalt ridges and coulees carved by massive floods about 15,000 years ago, Scablands Books is a boutique press focused on regional writers. This hometown advantage is evident in the skillful curation of the collection, making it a rich gathering of stories and poems that are chiefly both about and for the Northwest; a view from the inside out, rather than a voyeuristic look from the outside in. 

 “I love the ways that our anthology floats free of the Northwest at times, because part of what is here is also what’s outside of here.”

Evergreen includes nearly 80 pieces, about half of which have previously appeared in print. It’s a collection focused on contrasts and connections, so perhaps it’s fitting that it occasionally strays beyond the Northwest; a few pieces plumb childhood memories from distant places, or examine injustices that cut across the entire nation. As co-editor Sharma Shields writes in the introduction, “I love the ways that our anthology floats free of the Northwest at times, because part of what is here is also what’s outside of here.”

The book’s power lies in those juxtapositions and harmonies, and the way its many voices cohere into a unique and complex whole. Evergreen celebrates that complexity, embracing the variety of the region’s particular landscapes, but also the intricacies of life itself, despair and wonder and the way the two are fundamentally intertwined: darkness as a source of both terror and magic. Shields and Zeller end the anthology with a poem that does exactly that, “Shrike Tree,” by the late Lucia Perillo. The poem describes a dead hawthorn on which a shrike has speared the carcasses of smaller birds, a way of storing its prey:

They hang there, desiccating

by the trail where I walked,

         back when I could walk,

before life pinned me on its thorn. 

It is ferocious, life, but it must eat,

then leaves us with the artifact.   

Emily Benson is an associate editor at High Country News, covering the northwest, the northern Rockies and Alaska. We welcome reader letters. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.See our letters to the editor policy.

High Country News Classifieds
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • ANNUAL FUND MANAGER
    Working closely with the Foundation's leadership, the Annual Fund Manager is responsible for the oversight and management of the Foundation's annual operating fund. This is...
  • DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR
    Looking for someone who loves public land and understands the value and importance of data in reaching shared goals as part of a high-functioning team....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The conservation non-profit Invasive Species Action Network seeks an executive director. We are focused on preventing the human-caused spread of invasive species by promoting voluntary...
  • NEW BOOK: A FEAST OF ECSTATIC VERSE AND IMAGERY
    Dynamic fine art photographer offers use of images to raise funds. Available for use by conservation groups. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com.
  • WANTED: TALENTED WRITER
    Write the introduction to A Feast of Ecstatic Verse and Imagery, a book concerning nature and spirituality. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com. Writer who works for conservation/nature...
  • MT STATE DIRECTOR- THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
    The Montana State Director is a member of The Wilderness Society's (TWS) Conservation program team who plays a leading role in advancing the organization's mission...
  • HIGH COUNTRY NEWS EDITORIAL INTERNS
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is looking for its next cohort of editorial interns....
  • THE MAGICAL UNIVERSE OF THE ANCIENTS: A DESERT JOURNAL
    Bears Ears, Chaco Canyon, and other adventures in the Four Corners area. 60 photos and lively journals. Purchase hc $35 or pb $25 from bigwoodbooks.com...
  • DIRECTOR OF PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE - HR
    Career Opportunity: Director of People and Organizational Culture Do you have interest in approaching organizational culture from a place of creativity and curiosity? Do you...