Here's What He Thinks About That

Revisiting Old Friends


At the end of summer’s lease, it’s time to renew some old acquaintances. 

No, not those people you owe a dinner; not those friends who were too busy to stop by like they said they would (even after you cleaned the bathroom); and no, not that neighbor who mows his yard at night.

It’s books.

I spent this summer, like all my summers, outside doing whatever was available to do.

Go sailing when there’s no wind? You bet. Paella at the winery? I can do that. Sunrise skinny dipping with the local coven? Um, I guess.

As a consequence, dedicated reading has been relegated to the longer, lonely months of fall and winter — probably the time I really should be out socializing more just to stay sane(r). But as the days grow shorter, I find myself revisiting the bookshelves we have in every room of the house and the old friends biding their time thereon.

We introduced KP Reads in our June 2020 edition, at the beginning of the pandemic, thinking it might help readers with an entertaining distraction as we collectively faced the stresses of a new unknown. The feature has since grown popular as a place to become reacquainted with classics, get exposed to controversial perspectives, and to attract new writers with a story to share.
We now have a stack of submissions describing more books than there are months in the year.

So, as we enter a season best illuminated by reading lamp, it occurred to me I might perform a public service by listing just a few of what I, some of my colleagues, and some of our readers consider important reading for anyone living on or near the Key Peninsula.

You will disagree. That is as it should be. Let us know, and we’ll add it to the stack.

“The Canoe and the Saddle: Adventures Among the Northwestern Rivers and Forests” by Theodore Winthrop (1863). Winthrop was the first bona fide tourist to write about our region after visiting in 1853 when he was a 25-year-old employee of a steamship company that facilitated his travels. (You’ve heard his name before, right?) He landed in Port Townsend, hired a canoe full of Indians (including the S’Kllallam Chief Chetzemoka), paddled to Fort Nisqually, then rode a horse across the shoulders of Mount Rainier to The Dalles, where he joined a convoy home to Connecticut. The writing is dense, in the fashion of the time, and his portraits of Indigenous people are rather snotty (he was a Yalie, after all). However, after meeting Chief Owhi of the Upper Yakama, Winthrop could only say, “Dignity tells.” His firsthand description of the Puget Sound region before the Medicine Creek Treaty and the war that followed may not be comprehensive or even fair, but it is useful.

“Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey (1964). Favorably compared to William Faulkner’s best work, this sweeping novel describes the lives and troubles of a family of loggers set in a small town in Oregon who are too independent for their own good. Might seem far removed from our bucolic peninsula, but the repeated eruptions of stubbornness, passion and pain in a tight-knit Northwest community will be familiar.

“Half-Sun on the Columbia: A Biography of Chief Moses” by Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown (1965). There are a small number of good histories on Indigenous people in Puget Sound country, and this isn’t even one of them, but I include it because of the primary accounts of 19th century life in the Columbia basin. Chief Moses (from whom we have Moses Lake), known as Sulktalthscosum or Half-Sun to his people, was a complex character trying to enforce agreements with the whites while maintaining peace in his own community, facing the same challenges at the same time as Chiefs Seattle, Leschi, Owhi, Joseph and uncounted others. But he succeeded and provided safe haven for Joseph and his people, while Leschi and Owhi were judicially murdered, and Seattle and his tribe sidelined without federal recognition to this day.

“A Small World of Our Own: Authentic Pioneer Stories of the Pacific Northwest from the Old Settlers Contest of 1892” by Robert Allen Bennett, editor (1985). Stories submitted by local pioneers to a newspaper contest, including our own William Vaughn. The winner got a ticket to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

“The Living” by Annie Dillard (1992). This bestselling novel by our goddess of writing is set in and around Bellingham of the 1850s and tells a story of the Northwest that is as good as the best kind of history class, meaning one that makes you wail with the angry tears of injustice against an indifferent universe.

“Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank, Jr.” by Trova Heffernan (2012). Frank’s fight for Native fishing rights in Nisqually put the cause on the map, literally, and his work to save salmon still touches us today. (Culvert replacement on State Route 302, anyone?) I met him once at a salmon bake in the ’90s. We talked flatbread. Turns out we had that interest in common.

“Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay” by Llyn De Danaan (2013). Born in the 1850s, after her people were dispossessed Gale struck out on her own to Totten Inlet, founded an oyster company, raised a family and escaped an abusive husband in a fascinating community of Indigenous people, Americans and immigrants from Europe and Asia competing against each other to survive.

There are many famous names we could put on this list too, but I wanted to keep it closer to home.

Like the obvious essential “Early Days of the Key Peninsula” by R.T. Arledge (1998), available at the KP Historical Society Museum. And “Trying Home: The Rise and Fall of an Anarchist Utopia on Puget Sound” by Justin Wadland (2014) about founding Home Colony.

And for a literal taste of our beautiful life, “The New Ark Cookbook: Fresh and Simple Cuisine from the Pacific Northwest” by Jimella Lucas and Nanci Main (1990). The Ark restaurant, once perched on an outcrop of oyster shells in Willapa Bay, is long gone but was worth a weekend drive just for dinners inspired by Northwest traditions and local ingredients.

Make one of their recipes, invite me over, and I’ll owe you a dinner too.

We’ll talk books.

Associate Editor Ted Olinger steps in this month.