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Ancient Places: People and Landscape in the…

Ancient Places: People and Landscape in the Emerging Northwest

by Jack Nisbet

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Jack Nisbet, the author of Sources of the River (Sasquatch Books, 1994), is back with a collection of essays about the landscape and natural history of the Northwest. Each chapter tackles a different topic, united by the central theme of humans interacting with natural forces and natural landscapes. The book includes the story of one man’s effort in 1902 to salvage the 15-ton Willamette Meteorite and the subsequent battle over its ownership. There are also discussions about the quiet discovery of a rich Eocene fossil bed in the Okanogan Highlands, the cataclysmic Ice Age Lake Missoula floods, Native American artifacts, mining tramways, a terra-cotta plant, the big 1872 central Washington earthquake, and several other tales from the geological, botanical, and biological history of the Northwest.

Nisbet draws from his own experiences, field work, and explorations. He often writes himself into the investigations for first-hand perspectives. Each essay is told in a loosely meandering narrative style similar to oral storytelling. Nisbet often gives no clear indication at the start where his tale will lead and does not necessarily arrive at any particular conclusions. Along the way, however, he manages to steer his way through interesting material about our interesting region. The essays are more about the journey than the destination.

Shelf Appeal: This book will appeal to amateur naturalists and anyone interested in the natural history of the Northwest. It also makes a fine companion to Nisbet’s earlier book Visible Bones: Journeys Across Time in the Columbia River Country (Sasquatch Books, 2003).

-- I wrote this review for the Books section of the Washington state website: http://www.WA-List.com
  benjfrank | Mar 29, 2016 |
There is a lot of interesting information here, but I found this to be a very frustrating book. It is a collection of essays about the Pacific Northwest - geology, botany, art history. What aggravated me is that none of the essays have an argument or a thesis - they just ramble on about some stuff. Maybe this is my academic background biting me in the rear, but when I'm reading non-fiction, I need an argument (or at least a question!) to guide me through the writing. I need to know where the author is going and what they are trying to say. As far as I can tell, all Nisbet is trying to say is "there's some interesting stuff in the Pacific Northwest."

One of the essays particularly encapsulates this point: he is talking about a plant that has roots that Native Americans eat in various forms. He talks about working with a biologist who is trying to answer questions about these plants. The problem is that he never really explains what the question is. Apparently botanists find these plants to be really mysterious... but he doesn't say why.

I learned some interesting things from this book, but it just felt like a random string of facts. ( )
  Gwendydd | Sep 23, 2015 |
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In early November 1792, Hudson's Bay Company fur agent David Thompson led a crew of hungry men through the wilderness of lakes that extended north and west of their York Factory headquarters on the bay.
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