Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The milpa: more to learn from Indians

The article in the New York Times last week about Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman was so good, so inspiring, that I just have to pass it on: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/dining/new-native-american-cuisine.html?emc=edit_th_20160817&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66175474

I was born and lived my first ten years in Minnesota, so the talk of walleye, deer, and game birds, chokecherries and wild rice is all familiar. Not so the other wild greens and spices that Sherman has traced back to tribal usage and brings now to sophisticated tables.

What I know about American Indian cuisine is small—because the subject is so big. But the article reminded me that the role of Indian agriculture and the adoption of Indian foods worldwide are constantly overlooked. I know I have said this in other posts, but it is always worth repeating: over half of today’s world food crops started in the Americas! Where would Russia, Norway, and Ireland be without potatoes, Italy without tomatoes, Africa without cassava (manioc)? The Americas are huge, and the food gifts to the rest of the world are immense—think beans, squash, maize, sweet potato and more, which, in the decades after Columbus, changed the faces (and tastes) of Europe, Africa, and Asia. American Indians before the Europeans were not all hunter-gatherers, and most who hunted and gathered also farmed.

This piece on Indian cooking got me thinking in another direction too, the milpa. In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles Mann describes “maize milpas” in Central America in which a dozen plants are grouped in a small field. A dozen plants that feed each others’ needs as they provide a balanced diet to their farmers. Some milpas have been productively “farmed” for 4,000 years!

Milpa four months after planting the maiz canopy shades
beans, squash, macal, amaranths and quiniopods and
much more. Credit: MacduffEverton.com
One of the earliest images of Indian North America which many of us learned as third or fourth graders mimicking the first Thanksgiving is of an Indian named Squanto hunched over a hole in the ground in which he is placing a fish in preparation for planting corn, beans, and squash. The fish will succor the plants, the corn will provide stalk for the beans to climb, and the squash will cover the ground and keep down weeds and enhance moisture for it all. Squanto was really Tisquantum, and the scene which we all saw was about indigenous American agriculture. There is no doubt in my mind that there were other useful plants in Tisquantum’s milpa—herbs and medicinals, plants the English probably saw as weeds.

The English and Spanish adapted the American plants, took many back to Europe, and planted them all in rows on both sides of the ocean. They ignored the milpa, and one can argue that the agricultural journey that they launched led to monocultures that eventually depends on hybrids and fierce amounts of chemical fertilizers while ignoring companion planting and even the related idea of crop rotation.

Jack Weatherford, in Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, says that North Americans continued to plant corn in hills until the 1930s. Even without the entire milpa, Weatherford argues that moving away from hilling has increased soil erosion in the Mississippi River system dramatically.

Mann recognizes that the milpa might be impractical in today’s large-scale agriculture, but suggests we might learn a thing or two from “gardens” that have been around for thousands of years.

And, I’ll add, from chefs like Sean who are exploring the same cultural legacy.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Canoe People

A year ago, Allen Pinkham Jr. worked for a few weeks as an artist in residence at the Josephy Center. He beaded and made drums and taught workshops in beading and drum-making. At the end of his stay, Allen said that he’d enjoyed himself, and that he would like to come back—and he had an idea.  “We were canoe people. I’d like to come back and build a Nez Perce dugout canoe.” We’ve been working with Allen and aim to help him do that this year.

Nez Perce Canoe--photo by E.S. Curtis c. 1910
It turns out that there are only a handful of Nez Perce dugout canoes in existence. The Nez Perce National Historical Park has four of them, so I went and looked at them, and talked with Park curator Bob Chenowith, who has studied them and written about them.  And with help from the US Forest Service, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, we are on the road to helping Allen realize his dream. Excuse me, the “water.”

In the course of this year, thinking about the history and cultures of tribes and reading about Indian canoes, I’ve had another historical aha moment. Allen’s right. The Nez Perce and many other Plateau tribes, other tribes of the inland Northwest, and coastal tribes as well, were canoe people. Because we live in a world of wheels and wings, automobiles, planes, roads, railroads, and airfields, it is another thing about Indian Country that most of us have to work at to understand. As Chenowith points out, we are so used to seeing the world from the road, we have a hard time imagining it from the river.

So the “aha” involves recognizing the obvious: the Northwest is ribboned by river systems, primarily the Fraser and the Columbia with their huge networks of tributaries. For the Nez Perce, it was the Snake and Clearwater and Columbia. Commerce and trade traditionally took place on riverbanks; Celilo was a physical and spiritual meeting place for peoples from the far north, coastal tribes, and inlanders to the Rocky Mountains; the diets of these river peoples were salmon and lamprey, whitefish, sturgeon, and other river offerings. Coastal tribes fished and hunted whales—in canoes!

And the first white people depended on rivers and canoes as well. The Lewis and Clark journey was mostly by water—although the Corps of Discovery was staffed with men used to traveling on water and making their craft, the Nez Perce probably helped them build five canoes that took them to Celilo. Canoes propelled the fur trade in the 18th century, and botanist David Douglas was canoed up the Columbia and the Willamette in the 1820s.

Even after the horse, which the Plateau people gained about 1730, Indian people of the inland Northwest, “Salmon People,” were still tethered to rivers. The Nez Perce no longer had to backpack to buffalo country (evidence is that they did so prior to the horse), and horses became huge items of trade and prestige, but there were still canoes. Lewis and Clark saw hundreds on the Columbia, and Clark says “I saw few hourses they appeared make but little use of those animals principally using Canoes for their uses of procuring food etc.

Of course the Nez Perce were proficient with horses. In 1855, Looking Glass came to the Walla Walla treaty grounds horseback from the buffalo country. Looking at Sohon’s drawing of their dramatic entry, one can imagine Stevens trembling a bit, and helping him to decide that the Nez Perce would get their own reservation rather than one shared with other peoples.

And if you ask people who know a little bit about Indians how they think of the Nez Perce, horses is usually one of the things that comes up. Right up to current  controversies over the origin of the Appaloosa horse.

Nevertheless, Allen’s question has changed my own thinking, and having him build a canoe here, in some proximity to the Josephy Center and nearby Nez Perce Fisheries, should help us all understand more of how life was lived for thousands of years before it was interrupted by horses, European diseases, missionaries, white settlement, dams, roads, railroads, and airfields.

And remind us that the salmon and the Nez Perce, in spite of all kinds of such disruptions, are with us still.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Nez Perce Return

Few Indians live in the Wallowa Country now, but Indians come here every year—maybe, even through war and exile, some few have always made their ways here to hunt and gather foods and be in this place. Now, they come to run Nez Perce Fisheries, to manage a small piece of Precious Land in the canyons, and in the summer for dances and parades. And there is a 320-acre place we call the Nez Perce Homeland Project near the town of Wallowa.

Tamkaliks, Nez Perce Homeland, 2016
Last Sunday, Nez Perce peoples from Colville, Umatilla, and Lapwai—Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—drummed, sang, and danced in the new Long House at that Nez Perce Homeland grounds. Most were descendants of the Joseph, or Wallowa, band of Nez Perce who made this country home for thousands of years before being forcibly removed in 1877.

The drumming and singing seemed louder and the dancing more spirited than I remember from past years, when services were held in the dance arbor; some of that heightening might have been my own emotions. There were smiles and tears among the bell ringers, drummer-singers, and dancers. Words too. Words of homecoming and thanks to the Creator and to all who have gone before and all who came together to build this Long House and make this homecoming possible.

I stood with Indian and non-Indian men on the north side of the Long House, facing the women on the south side with the sacred earthen floor, the wash, on which the dancers moved between us. Dancers were boys and girls, women and men, young and old; the drummers all men, included elders and sons of elders I have watched and listened to in the past.

Indians honor age and wisdom in ways that we in the majority culture seem less capable of. They mentor the young as well, passing on names and ceremony and regalia. Restrictions on these things, and on language and the length of hair, were pervasive a century ago; that these cultural artifacts and practices are alive today is a miracle.

No—it is fortitude and resilience, belief in land and place and people. When Europeans came to this continent, Indians died by the millions. They died in wars, but more of them of diseases that crept eerily among them before most Indians ever saw white men and women. In the northeast, diseases came ashore with fishermen who supplemented their fish-takes with furs and sometimes slaves for the old world. This before the Puritans landed in the early 17th century. On the north Pacific coast they came ashore with English and Russian and Spanish ships seeking otter and looking for rivers from the interior in the late 18th century. Inland, they preceded and followed free fur traders and Hudson’s Bay Company men as they made their ways from the East.

Lewis and Clark estimated 5,000 Nez Perce; an Indian friend thinks there might have been 20,000 before smallpox and measles and other European diseases.

Pieces of the Nez Perce story are carried from generation to generation in Indian country, and are told in books and carried too among whites. Last week a Marine pilot—announced by his cap—of Vietnam era told me that Marines still study the Nez Perce fighting retreat of 1877.

The story is carried in the hearts of tribal families whose ancestors endured exile and injustice. In 1877 these prayer songs sustained families struggling through the 1,400 mile-long retreat that we call the Nez Perce War, then bolstered them on the trains headed to Oklahoma after the surrender at Bears Paw and through years of exile, and carried them on the return train trip to the Northwest in 1884.

In order to bring us to Sunday, here is the briefest recap: Nez Perce (Niimíipu) and related Plateau people of what is now the Northwestern United States lived here for millennia. In the 1730s they got horses from the Southwest, probably through the Shoshone. In 1805 they befriended Lewis and Clark; in the 1830s allowed missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding to put up a church in what is now Spalding, Idaho. In 1855 most bands of Nez Perce signed a treaty in Walla Walla negotiated by Isaac Stevens, allowing them to retain a huge chunk of territory stretching from present-day Wallowa County, Oregon to northern Idaho and northeast Washington.

In 1861 gold was discovered along the Clearwater, and in 1862, 18,000 illegal white miners flooded the reserved lands. In 1863 some bands signed a new treaty, which reduced the reservation by over 80 percent. This divided the Nez Perce into treaty and non-treaty bands. Joseph didn’t sign, but went home to the Wallowas, where no gold had been found. In 1877, crunched and dislocated by post-Civil War settlers, harassed by government troops smarting from Little Big Horn, Joseph and his people crossed the Snake River and headed for the reduced reservation in Idaho.

There were killings, and there was a war. Almost 1400 miles and six months later, Joseph surrendered, just 40 miles short of Canada at the Bears Paw, Montana. They were promised a return to the Northwest, but spent seven years in exile in Kansas and Indian Territory. The Nez Perce called it “the hot place.”

The Nez Perce did return to the Northwest, but were scattered on three reservations: those close to Joseph were sent to the Colville Reservation in Washington; some of the old and young were allowed to go to Lapwai, Idaho. Some who had escaped to Canada or elsewhere returned to the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon. Joseph himself was rebuffed when he tried to buy land in the Wallowas in 1900. He died in Colville in 1904.

On Sunday the Nez Perce returned to the Wallowas with singing and dancing and Nez Perce prayers. They shouted and banged, and after all of this they thanked the white people of this place who are trying to take care of the land now. And the Indian elders invited ministers of other faiths to use the new Indian church for their own prayers.

And then we all ate salmon and buffalo and elk. And we non-Indians watched the Indian dancers, and, invited, danced ourselves. They were proud in regalia passed down, maybe since the time of War, maybe hidden for decades, and maybe augmented by aunties last week.  Proud in the language long suppressed in boarding schools. And all of us—maybe 600 Indians, whites and blacks—listened and looked out the east ends of the Long House and the dance arbor and knew this was a homecoming of special people to a special land.

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For photos and words from Bobbie Conner and the Sunday, July 24 Longhouse celebration, go to my share on Facebook: 
https://www.facebook.com/rich.wandschneider.1?fref=ts

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sebastian Junger—You missed something else

Dear Mr. Junger,

I went to a funeral mass for a friend last week. As I listened to the priests—one from Africa, the other from South America, and bathed in Catholic ritual with the large extended family and members of the local congregation, it occurred to me that you missed something else in your interesting analysis of PTSD and our tribal nature in your recent book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

You argued that most of the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan who claim PTSD have not experienced combat, and that what they are really experiencing is a homecoming reaction. You say that they have lived for a time in a highly interdependent military culture in which small groups of people have jobs, meaning, and each other.  They serve together in foreign lands—and then return to the competitive, individualistic, wealth driven scene at home.

I said last week that I agreed with much of your argument, but criticized you for lumping all New World Indians into one—“a native population that had barely changed, technologically, in 15,000 years”(quoting from your text)—“ignoring the diversity of economies and cultures, the growth and spread of agriculture, and the rise and fall of civilizations over millennia.” (my response)

To that indictment, I now add your omission of the importance of “ritual.”

When I returned from the funeral, I said to a friend that the Catholics do a good job with ritual. “Catholics and the Marine Corps,” he replied. And Indians, I would add.

Over centuries, Protestantism has gradually erased and eroded ritual in Christianity—favoring “does” and “don’ts” over tradition and accommodation. The attitude was prominent in 19th century missionary work in the West, where clergy worried about white fur traders and settlers intermarrying with Indians. The Methodists outlawed them; Presbyterians grudgingly accepted. The ritualistic and tradition-bound Catholics, on the other hand, were more accommodating, and, valuing the institution of marriage, trained clergy in eastern Canada and sent them West to minister to and marry mixed families.

Unfortunately, these stories are often lost, as the standard historical narrative is not strong on mixed bloods and their place in the settlement of the West.

The long-term history of history is ignoring Indian roles, and the history of Indian-White relations is of course largely about forced assimilation. Indian lands and migration patterns were divided and shattered by Indian removal and the creation of reservations. At the conclusion of the Civil War, President Grant turned the reservations over to the churches, which intensified the war on Indian cultures. The Dawes Act of 1887 demanded that Indians take up farmsteads, and Indian boarding schools demanded that they cut hair, lose language, and dress white. In the 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration pushed one more time, with “Termination Policy,” to put Indian lands and culture behind us.

Not all Indians complied, of course. Some hid regalia, elders spoke among themselves, and names of people and sacred places were passed down quietly. And, gradually, beginning in the 60s, Indian voices were raised, old treaties examined, fisheries regained, language programs begun, and regalia taken out of closets. Indian art celebrating the past and present began to flourish. Land—reservation land, culture, and ritual are saving them from complete assimilation.

Although not all tribes are healthy or wealthy, there is a fine National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington D.C.; there are tribal, state historical, and regional museums which celebrate Indian culture. And there are proud Indian writers, artists, and Indian drummers and dancers who perform at powwows across the country.

And here, Mr. Junger, is where your veterans come in. At every powwow that I have attended, veterans are honored. At the local dances in the Wallowa Country of the Nez Perce, veterans—white, Indian, Black, Filipino, all—are honored in a grand entry with songs and dances and in a ceremony in which each veteran steps up and announces his or her branch of the military and dates and theaters of service. There is a drum roll for each vet. And when an eagle feather inadvertently falls from headdress to the floor during a dance, all stops; a veteran must pick it up with special ceremony.

(Why, you ask, are Indians eager to celebrate their service at all? Because, as Indians say, “We are fighting for ‘our’ country.”)

From sign up through boot camp and into service, soldiers and marines comport to ritual—ceremonies of completion and good conduct; medals for places and battles served; advancement of rank and station; changing of leadership, etc. Throughout, they are shoulder to shoulder with peers and cohorts.

Indian veterans who have ties to their reservations come home to ritual, but any veteran in reaching distance of a powwow can get a little bit of what’s been missing.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sebastian Junger, PTSD, and 500 Nations

I liked the argument in Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, but cringed throughout the first chapters as he lumped all American Indians together and made them stone-age hunter-gatherers, “a native population that had barely changed, technologically, in 15,000 years,” ignoring the diversity of economies and cultures, the growth and spread of agriculture, and the rise and fall of civilizations over millennia.

Alvin Josephy would say that this is yet another gross misunderstanding of American Indian history and its intertwined relationship with all American history, that the “standard narrative” once again sees all Indians as hunter gatherers with headdresses.

Sebastian Junger gained fame with a book about the sea, The Perfect Storm, and, after being embedded for five months with troops in Afghanistan, produced a well-regarded documentary film, “Restrepo," and book, War, based on that experience.

In the new book, he argues that “humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern Society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.” His experiences with soldiers and vets, and his own brief encounter with PTSD—which he at first did not recognize as such—sent him on and exploration of PTSD that led him to the concept of “tribe.”

He’d quickly learned that most of the military veterans claiming PTSD now have not been involved in combat—only 10 percent of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have experienced combat, while almost 50 percent claim PTSD. He thinks that most of what is diagnosed as PTSD is really a readjustment problem. Humans have evolved over eons in small interdependent groups—tribes—and need to be needed and need community in order to thrive. Soldiers leaving a situation that mimics ancient tribal culture and reentering a highly competitive, individualistic America have trouble. In the Peace Corps, which Junger gives a nod, it is called “reverse culture shock.”

Tribe is the book’s title and the answer to PTSD. His historical exploration begins with America’s founders and first relations with Indians. There are stories from Benjamin Franklin and other Founders about white men donning leggings and living like and with Indians on the frontier, and about women and children captured by Indians who did not want to be rescued. A Frenchman, Hector de Crevecoueur, lamented that “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become European.”

For women, Indian life might have been hard, but the dominance of husbands was not so absolute. For Junger, the important notion is that tribal life offered the mutual support, egalitarianism, and community values that contemporary European society did not. And today in America, vastness and radical individualism are at odds with our tribal natures.

It’s no accident that Josephy’s book and the Kevin Costner TV series were named “500 Nations of North America,” an upfront declaration that there was great diversity in the Americas before the Europeans came. And in the National Book Award nominated Indian Heritage of America Josephy uses linguists’ work to show two continents evolving into groups or tribes that spoke some 2500 mutually unintelligible languages.

There were, among these “nations,” vast differences in economies, cultures, life-styles, wealth, governance, etc. etc. There were the imperial peoples of South and Central America—Incas and Mayans and Aztecs; the wealthy, class-bound, matriarchal, and extremely artistic cultures of the northern Pacific Coast; and the treaty and governance pioneering Haudenosaunee Confederacy of northeastern North America.

Nations—no civilizations—had risen and fallen: Inca, Mayan, Aztec, Cahokian. The Mayans’ intricate irrigation-based society might have fallen to global warming. Incans’ penchant for revering dead leaders might have sapped their economies. The mound-builders that summited at Cahokia near present-day St. Louis might have fallen to overcrowding, or drought, or disease. And the agriculture! Who tamed and developed corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, rubber, manioc, squash and all the rest? And how did they do it?

No, Mr. Junger, none of this touches your basic argument about humans evolving over hundreds of thousands of years to best function in small groups—groups of about 50, he estimates—and to value and practice mutual support and co
operative working and living. And the history of early North American interactions among “the English” and tribal peoples is enlightening and important.

But painting all American Indians with the same brush (caveat—later in the book there is some minimal admission of tribal differences) is robbing two continents of histories that are as rich, complex and tragic as anything Europe and Asia have to offer.

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Happy Fourth of July

American Indians’ patriotism and Indian celebrations of America’s favorite patriotic holiday are as complex and convoluted as is the overall dance of American History—although Indians, as Alvin Josephy said only half jokingly, don’t have history—or biography; they have anthropology, or archeology, or ethnography. (Look, as Alvin always did, for books on Indian cultures and heroes on bookstore shelves. See where they are shelved.)

The real early history of the people and places in the new world, the on-the-ground complexities of interrelationships between Indians and white Europeans (and later Black Africans and various groups of immigrants from Asia), is the push and pull of new relationships in a strange land. The pull was “help”—Early European immigrants needed help with food, clothing, and shelter to stay alive; the “push” was for Indian lands the newcomers needed to realize their visions of freedom and prosperity.

Indians tried valiantly to deal with the relentless colonization of the continent. They fought and they negotiated. And intermarried. There are many examples of that (which is not paid much mind in our standard histories), and only in Canada, with the Metis, does this intermarriage result in a new broad cultural melding. Most intermarriage was “local”—although the products of those unique pairings were sometimes historically important, from Tecumseh to the Western wagon guides for missionaries and settlers.

Josephy again: “from the beginning, Indians had three choices: assimilate, become white; move—west until the country filled; or die.” Assimilation was the first choice of government bureaucrats and religious do-gooders. Policy—from boarding schools to Dawes Act allotments to Eisenhower’s Termination, put as kind a face as possible on assimilation, and although men hungry for land seemed always in the wings, there were serious assimilationists who truly believed that Indians were doomed to die if they did not become white. Alice Fletcher of Dawes Act note and General Pratt and the Carlisle Indian School are two committed and sympathetic assimilationists. They believed their Indian friends’ alternative was death. It’s easy to criticize their assimilationist views now, but probably unfair to their circumstances.

I don’t know the background of Henry Teller, Secretary of the Interior in the 1880s, don’t know the roots of his assimilationist beliefs. But it was during his tenure that what has come to be called the Religious Crimes Code was enacted. These were regulations at the heart of the Department of Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, and they prohibited American Indian ceremonial life. Teller's general guidelines to Indian agents were to end tribal dances and feasts. The “code” banned Indian ceremonies, disrupted religious practices, and destroyed or confiscated sacred objects. Consequences were imprisonment and/or the withholding of treaty rations. Indian superintendents and agents implemented the code until the mid-1930s.

Some Indians saw in the 4th of July and its commemoration of American independence a small opening through which they could publically continue their own important ceremonies. There were 4th of July fireworks, dancing and celebrating across the nation; superintendents and agents justified allowing reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July as a way for Indians to learn patriotism and celebrate American ideals. They could take their regalia out of hiding.

And then, after WW I Indian vets—there were 12,000 of them—could be honored in patriotic parades that crossed the culture barrier.  With a nod to American patriotism, they marched under American flags. At this point it is interesting to note that Alvin’s first Indian book, Patriot Chiefs, was loved by Indians for naming them patriots. “No one has ever called us patriots,” they would tell Alvin, “but this is ‘our land’ that were fighting for.”  To this day American flags fly alongside eagle feathers at reservation powwows and dances. And many of them fly on or near the Fourth of July.

As in so many ways, Indians had to be very creative to keep traditions and culture alive. Here’s more in a piece on 4th of July from Indian Country Today: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/07/04/do-american-indians-celebrate-4th-july-155660

See also “Code of Indian Offenses”: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Code_of_Indian_Offenses

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Western History, 1960-1980

I graduated from high school in 1960. We didn’t know where Vietnam was, and automatic draft deferments for college and the Peace Corps allowed me to skate by that evolving war easily until I turned 26, in 1968. By then, I was on Peace Corps staff, and, after Tet, fighting with only limited success to keep Volunteers in the field from being drafted. And fighting, without success, to keep the Peace Corps in Turkey amid the anti-American sentiments unleashed by Vietnam

Skip Royes was a few years younger.  He came out of high school in eastern Oregon when the Vietnam mill was gobbling up recent graduates and college students who hesitated. Skip went to Vietnam, where he apparently was “good at war,” and came home to a world of alcohol, drugs, alternative cultures, and madcap college. He quickly left the whirlwind for horses and solace in Snake River Country.

Pam Severson was a few years younger than Skip, restless in North Dakota and then Ashland and Eugene during the tumultuous late 60s and early 70s. A fast 1976 trip to the Wallowas in her VW bug to visit high school friends, and a backpack trip to the Snake River introduced her to that big country—and to Skip.

Pam’s written a memoir about their four years together in Snake River Country. It’s called Temperance Creek, after a sheep ranch they worked on, and it is wonderful—honest, bold, and chock-full of memory triggers for those of us who spent any part of our 20s and 30s in those years. Who didn’t know someone home—or not—from Vietnam? Listen to the music? Think you were or wanted to be called a “hippie”? Get a letter from a friend urging investment in a commune in British Columbia? Search for a soul-mate as free and easy, or radical and committed, as were we?

It’s all here: the Dakota Norwegian heartland, Vietnam, Eugene, hippies, dude ranch, back-to-the land; and some of the most gorgeous and challenging country in North America. And, for good measure, throwbacks and reflections on other times, when sheep ranching was big, when herders were local misfits and societal escapees—and Spanish Basques. A time when environmental concerns, the wilderness movement, and a more urban, technical workforce were making livestock a tough business. Agriculture, like the rest of the economy and the country, was changing. And we—the baby boomers and Vietnam vets, college protestors and followers of the Grateful Dead, were trying to make sense of it all.

I came to the Wallowas in 1971 on a one-year contract with the Oregon State University Extension Service. In 1976, along with wife Judy, I opened the Bookloft, and, eventually, Judy’s Kitchen. For 45 years I’ve watched people come and go, read the country’s books, listened to stories from “old-timers,” and tried to grasp what it was like 100 years before my time, when Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce Indians wintered along the Snake, Grande Ronde, and Imnaha rivers and roamed the headwaters and the Wallowa Valley in summers.

Pam arrived the year the bookstore opened. I remember her running in and out with small children, using the phone on trips to town, I remember listening to her sing—she and Kathy Josephy and June Colony did some entertaining at the first Fishtrap—and have square danced and swapped stories with her and Skip around beers and potlucks ever since. This book’s kind of like that—strong stories of love and loss, dogs, sheep, horses, mules, friends and bosses, sheepherders and dudes. I told Pam it’s the best since Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight storied me past English imperialism and through the civil war in Zimbabwe. And this one is home turf, and for the last couple of years I’ve got to watch her sell the book to Counterpoint and live through the editing. It’s been a joy.

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Pam will be at Eliot Bay Books with David Laskin on Monday, June 27 at 7:00 p.m. And at Powell’s in Portland on July 19. Go say hi!