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Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land…

Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land

by Bette Lynch Husted

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Bette Lynch Husted is one of those writers who deserves national attention, but probably will be relegated to the 'regional writer' ranks. Her book of essays, ABOVE THE CLEARWATER: LIVING ON STOLEN LAND, is a memoir of family covering at least four generations in the Pacific Northwest, and tells of a hardscrablle existence in the timber country of Idaho and Oregon. But her stories are about so much more than just family. She writes too of "a special kind of separation reserved for women," poignantly illustrating this inequity with vignettes from her own life and also her mother's. Husted's mother, looking back at the limitations and narrow straits of her frontier life, called her own father "judgmental" and "sanctimonious," and told her daughter, "I'm almost seventy years old ... and it's the first time I've realized that I'm mad at my father."

Lynch-Husted herself is still trying to understand her relationship with her own father, a man broken and bent and gone too soon from the hardships of working in the woods and lumber mills most of his life. Yet she understood how hard and hopeless his life had been as he struggled to support his family, and writes of it in her essay, "Tracking My Father" -

"Men like my father were competent, but if civilization meant banks and progress meant bank accounts, they could not compete. The harder Dad worked at his manual labor, the more he condemned himself. He could see it happening, of course - but he didn't know how to stop it."

Recognizing the very hopelessness of a life of physical backbreaking labor, Husted worked her own way through college with the lowest of menial jobs, cleaning toilets and washing dishes, experiences I mirrored in my own college years, so yeah, I could relate. And then she tells of her first teaching job at rock-bottom wages and her subsequent graduate school experiences and more than thirty years of teaching in high schools and community colleges. She paints a picture of a woman infatuated her whole life with learning, of trying to learn it all, to read it all, and trying to pass this fierce feeling, this need, along to her students. And through all of it, she conveys her constant feeling of unworthiness to sit at this high table of learning; her inability to overcome the circumstances of her birth. Because Husted is all too aware of the unspoken class system in our country, a theme she explores in even greater detail in her later book of essays, LESSONS FROM THE BORDERLANDS.

Finally she describes the hardships and struggles within her own family - a Vietnam veteran husband with PTSD and a teenage son hooked on alcohol and drugs who disappears, stories told with heartbreaking clarity in "Salmon Run" and "Homeless."

And through all of her stories and thoughtfully poetic ruminations lurk the elusive shadows of the people who came before the Lynches and Husteds and other early homesteaders and settlers, the displaced Native Americans who provide the book's subtitle, LIVING ON STOLEN LAND. Husted demonstrates an enclopedic and intimate knowledge of their history too, the story of Chief Joseph and the flight of the Nez Perce; and the butchery and betrayals and the near extermination of many other tribes.

This is simply one hell of a good book, fascinatingly told stories in language that often approaches poetry. Read it, please. ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 25, 2012 |
Disjointed story of author's family connections to homestead and her life story.
  Amante | Dec 7, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0870710079, Paperback)

Like her father before her, Bette Husted grew up on stolen land. The bench land above the Clearwater River in north-central Idaho had been a home for the Nez Perce Indians until the Dawes Act opened their reservation to settlement in 1895. As a child on the family homestead, Husted felt the presence of the Nez Perce: "But they were always just out of sight, like a smoky shadow behind me that I couldn?t quite turn around quickly enough to catch."

Above the Clearwater chronicles her family's history on the land, revealing their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and tragedies. In a series of graceful and moving essays, Husted traces this intimate history, from her Cold War childhood to her struggles as a parent and finally to her life as a woman and teacher in the rural West. Her family's stories echo those of countless other families in the American West: the conflicts with guns, the struggles over land ownership and water rights, the isolation of women, the separations by race and class, the family secrets of mental illness and suicide.

With a powerful, poetic voice, Husted illuminates the tangled relationship between the history of a particular place and the history of the families who inhabit that place over time. As Above the Clearwater explores one family's search for a home on land taken from its original inhabitants, it quietly asks all readers to examine their own homes in the same light.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:02 -0400)

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