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
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
    View full job description and how to apply at
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...