Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Nuggets of Naked Truth

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

I find little bits of “truth” in unlikely places.  Actually, maybe they should be categorized as “facts” rather than truths.  Take this small passage for instance:  … and a pair of denim trousers with a dreaded elastic waist.  It was perhaps the worst thing about growing old, the pouch she was forced to lug around all day, like her memories of Kim.

It jumped out at me from the middle of Daniel Silva’s latest book, The Other Woman and I find it a most delightful description of my own elderly figure, though I have not yet succumbed to the dreaded elastic waistbands.  This is Silva’s twenty-first book centering on Israeli spy-master Gabriel Allon.  The books are classified as fiction, of course, but they include (maybe more than) nuggets of truth.

Author Daniel Silva, 2013

In this one, there is an entire chapter devoted to Kim Philby and his double-agent cohorts known after-the-fact as “The Cambridge Five.” I remember Philby’s defection to the USSR in 1963 as one of the big shockers after World War II.  I’ve not finished the book yet and so I’m not quite sure how I feel about this real-life character being so central to Silva’s plot.

Actually, this is not a new ploy by Silva.  He often weaves fiction and fantasy together but, until this book, my own knowledge about the world of espionage is too sketchy to be able to discern the differences.  I just know that I usually come away from his books feeling like things in our part of the world are probably under control… barely.

Kim Philby (1912-1988)

This book is right up to date as is typical of Silva.  As the Kirkus review says:   Although he doesn’t name the current American leader, he does mention “a presidential tryst with an adult film star” as well as that president’s strange fondness for Vladimir Putin. Silva depicts a world in which communist true believers are dying out while far-right populists around the world look to the New Russia as a triumph of hard-line nationalism. The alliances that have sustained Western democracies are fraying, and Europe is preparing for a future in which the United States is no longer a reliable friend, nor a superpower.

I don’t know how I’ll feel 200 pages hence.  (Did I say it’s a long book?  478 pages.)  But I do know that Daniel Silva often cuts to the chase.  I mean, really…  the pouch she was forced to lug around all day!  That man does have a way with words!

Or is that an oxymoron?

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Reference Books

One of my go-to places when researching local history is the two-volume set of books, History of Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington that sit on one corner of our library mantle.  They were published by the Northwest History Company of Portland, Oregon, in 1889 and, together, weigh 19 pounds.  Not that you can learn about the past by the pound, mind you, but they are certainly impressive, beginning with their size!  They belonged to my great-grandfather R.H. Espy.

One of the reasons for my frequent visitations to these tomes is their abundance of illustrations.  Beautiful lithographs, mostly of people but, also, of notable places, can be found every few pages.  Unfortunately, they are not indexed nor is the artist credited.  Looking for the likeness of a specific person requires a page-by-page search – a time-consuming operation which I usually undertake as a last resort.

Fabric Swatch

During a recent perusal for information about an early resident of Washington Territory, I ran across a swatch of fabric tucked between the pages of Volume II.  A scarlet and white checked pattern, perhaps from a woman’s dress or skirt. My first thought was of my great-grandmother Julia’s wedding dress.  Her wedding photograph, of course, is in black and white but, for whatever reason, I’ve always thought that the color was red.

Somehow, it made sense to me that she might have saved a bit of the fabric.  They were married in 1870 and, in the thrifty was of our pioneer forebears, it is likely that she saved any left-over fabric or even remade her wedding dress for her own use or for one of the children.  I know for a fact (well… as factual as family lore can be) that after nineteen-year-old Julia had said “yes” to Mr. Espy’s marriage proposal, she finished out her teaching contract at the Oysterville School and went home to Salem “to sew up the family” for her impending wedding.  That was her responsibility as the eldest of Delos Jefferson’s eight children.  (Her mother, Matilda, “remained unbalanced” after the loss of two young daughters to diphtheria within two days of one another.)

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

Julia’s wedding photograph shows her in a checked dress – probably made for the occasion but, possibly, simply her best dress which was the still customary attire for many brides in those days.  (Dressing brides in a special gown of white did not become de rigueur until sometime after the Civil War here in America; in the American West practicality overrode fashion for some years after that.)

But, when I checked the fabric against the photograph, I realized that the pattern was much smaller and more delicate than young Julia’s wedding dress.  And, then, in one of those déjà vu moments, I remembered that I had “discovered” this fabric swatch once before and replaced it for someone else to find someday.  In all, I prefer to think of this “re-discovery” as a sort of oxymoron rather than a failing of my aging mind.  Or… is it possible to really discover the same thing twice?

It’s On! The 2018 Cranberry Harvest!

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Corralling Cranberries at a CranMac Bog

“Isn’t it earlier than usual this year?” I asked Malcolm McPhail.  We were standing on one of the CranMac dike roads looking out at the bogs – some of which had already been harvested and one, in the distance, flooded and waiting for the beaters to come “after lunch,” he said.  “We’re harvesting some new varieties this year,” he told us.  “They color up more quickly and Ocean Spray wants them before they get too dark.”

I guess I might have had more questions about that had I not recently written a book about cranberries on the Washington Coast for the Pacific Coast Association Research Foundation.  Getting just the right color is an important factor for members of the Ocean Spray Cooperative.  Berries are green at first and begin sizing and turning color in July and August.  Due to the cool nights near the coast, the berries get much redder and darker than in any other region.  West coast fruit is prized for its dark color and is often mixed with berries from other areas to make juice darker. This dark color, however, is less desirable for making sweetened dried cranberries since the finished product looks too much like raisins, I wrote.

Seen on the Peninsula

After we left the Malcolm and Ardell’s bogs, we drove by the Ocean Spray Plant.  There wasn’t a lot of activity just then but there were piles of huge totes stacked up and at the ready.  From another chapter in the book: Harvested berries from the Long Beach Peninsula and from northern Oregon are hauled to Ocean Spray’s Long Beach Receiving Station.  They arrive in dump trucks or in trailers loaded with totes. At the receiving station, berries are moved along a conveyor belt as leaves and weeds are removed with brushes and blowers. The berries are washed and then bounced to remove bad berries.  When the process is complete, they are loaded into totes and taken by semi-trucks to freezers in Forest Grove, Oregon to await processing.

And, in case you wondered… Although the numbers occasionally change, as of 2017 there were 1,513 acres of Ocean Spray affiliated cranberry bogs on the Washington Coast (579 wet-picked and 924 dry-picked).  In addition, 189 acres were grown by independent growers not affiliated with Ocean Spray. “Independents” must make other arrangements for their berries.

Harvest Moon Over Willapa Bay

So, now that you are armed with a few pertinent facts – take a little drive around the Peninsula in the next few days.  You are bound to see the harvest in progress – beautiful to watch and labor intensive for the growers and their crews.  It’s the make-or-break time of year for them.  We should all be clapping and cheering!  And… is your calendar marked for October 13th and 14th at the Cranberrian Fair?  I hope you’ll let me sign a book… personalized if you like, just for you!

as things go bump all over the world…

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

P.G. Wodehouse

For nonsensical distraction in its purest form, there is nothing like P.G. Wodehouse (pronounced Woodhouse).  When I am out of page-turners to read at the midnight hour and I am wakeful for no apparent reason, I sometimes turn to Sir Pelham Grenville W’s novels or short stories to lull me back into a peaceful frame of mind.  Right now, I am re-reading Psmith Journalist (silent P).

As Wikipedia will tell you, P.G.W. was (1881-1975) a humorist known for “a unique writing style based on a combination of very formal language, references to classical literature, and contemporary club-room slang.”  Take for instance his commentary on an incidental character on page 31 of the aforementioned book: “…who from a cursory glance strikes me as an ideal candidate for a lethal chamber.”  So beautifully (and genteelly) stated, don’t you think?  And highly applicable even all these years later!

Psmith – 1909

Psmith takes the stage in four novel-length works, all of which appeared as magazine serials before being published in book form.  The character was based upon hotelier and impresario Rupert D’Oyly Carte and was, according to Wodehouse in 1970, “the only thing in my literary career which was handed to me on a silver plate with watercress around it.”  Apparently, one of his cousins, who had been at school with Carte, told P.G.W. of the latter’s monocle, studied suavity, and stateliness of speech, all of which rounded out Psmith’s distinctive qualities.

But it’s P.G.W.’s body of work concerning Jeeves and Bertie Wooster that I love most and that I daresay are best known. Certainly, Jeeves is thought of to this day as the quintessential butler and his wealthy and idle young employer, Bertie Wooster, seems to epitomize our idea of the “idle rich.” Wodehouse wrote about Jeeves and Bertie in numerous short stories and novels published over a sixty-year period – between 1915 and 1974!

In this house, we have most of the Wodehouse canon on our bookshelves – always at the ready for a midnight perusal and, whatever my choice, never failing to amuse.  After all, how can you go wrong with a man who said:  “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

 

Pondering Pooh and Other Perplexities

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

E.H. Shepherd Illustration

We seem to have bookmarked the summer by going to matinees – “The Rider” in June and “Christopher Robin” yesterday.  I loved the first one.  The second, not so much – but I’m not sure why.

First, let me say that I am a huge A.A. Milne fan.  I love the Winnie-the-Pooh books and usually have trouble accepting any animated versions of the denizens of Hundred Acre Woods.  That was not the case with this movie.  I thought the live-action character portrayals were superb – especially Pooh.  He was precisely the Pooh of my imagination.  So was the setting, or at least the Hundred Acre Woods part –  the rickety bridge, the makeshift falling-down shelters, the hand-lettered signs of childhood.

E. H. Shepherd Illustration

The movie makers got all that just right.  It was the story I found ho-hummish.  Predictable and overstated.  Disappointing.  And the human characters – especially Christopher Robin and his daughter Maddie – a bit too old.  He should have been in his twenties; she in her single digits.  Maybe then I’d have found the happy ending more acceptable.  But… maybe not.

I left the theater feeling robbed of the bittersweet longing that the books, themselves, always give me.  It’s the same feeling I get when I hear “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  For the adult me, it’s that filled-with-wistfulness for what can’t be recaptured sensation that is the magic of Pooh and of Puff.  But the tears I shed yesterday in the movie weren’t the tears that go with nostalgia.  More the tears of disappointment.  Still… you probably have to see the film for yourself.  It may speak to you differently.

Considering Revisionist History Some More

Friday, June 29th, 2018

I am still stewing about the name change of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award by the American Library Association.  (See yesterday’s blog:  http://sydneyofoysterville.com/2018/the-hardest-changes-of-all/).  Somehow, I expect more of the ALA.  In my mind, they are the gatekeepers of our written heritage and should not fall into the pit of revisionist history.

In the introduction to their policy manual, they state:  ALA recognizes its broad social responsibilities. The broad social responsibilities of the American Library Association are defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem; and the willingness of ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service set forth in the position statement.

Obviously, their definition of “broad social responsibilities” differ from mine.  I wrote to Cheryl Heywood, Director of our Timberland Library system, and asked how “our” librarians voted on the renaming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award.  I hope she responds and tells me a little more about the decision than I could learn from the media reports.

The first inkling I ever had concerning revisionist history was in my History of Western Civilization class in my Freshman year at Stanford.  I remember being appalled to learn that many of the Roman Caesars ordered the destruction all statues and other evidence of the Caesars before them.  Wipe out the evidence and change our history was the theory.  We still subscribe to that theory, of course.  It’s part of Winston Churchill’s infamous statement, “History is written by the victors.”

When I think about how we play fast and loose with the facts, I sometimes get into what I call the Zone of Reveries.  This very morning, I fantasized that sometime in the future Americans would live in an era of No War.  And then… would we wipe out all evidence that there had ever been war?  Would we take down the Viet Nam Wall and bulldoze Arlington Cemetery?  Would those we recognize as heroes today lose their status?  And what would the American Library Association’s position be on books about war?

But… I digress.

The Hardest Changes of All

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

On our return to old stomping grounds (mine) in California last week, I found the physical changes to the landscape disorienting and somewhat distressing.  I was pretty sure, though, that given enough time I could get used to the new freeways and buildings, the new housing developments and shopping malls and the huge influx of people that are responsible for all of the above.  Growth and change, as difficult as they are to accept as we age are, after all, inevitable.

But while we were gone, I learned of another change that I don’t find quite so easy about accepting.  Two days ago, the New York Times Book Section ran an article that began:  The American Library Association is dropping Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s literature award in order to distance the honor from what it described as culturally insensitive portrayals in her books… The decision was made out of a desire to reconcile the award with the organization’s values of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect,” representatives of the association said in a statement on Monday. The award is given out by its children’s division.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

OMG!!  The award recognizes authors and illustrators whose books have created a lasting contribution to children’s literature.  It has been distributed to just 23 people over more than six decades. Wilder, herself, received the first award in 1954, three years before her death in 1957.  It was initially distributed every five years, but its frequency has steadily increased. Since 2016, it has been given annually.

The Library Association’s decision to rename the award is based on their belief that the “Little House Stories” set in the complicated context of westward expansion, are anti-Native and anti-black.  Not so argues book reviewer Dedra McDonald Birzer: “Wilder’s works lead readers of all ages to ponder important truths about American history.”

Birzer’s article, “Librarians without Chests: A Response to the ALSC’s Denigration 0f Laura Ingalls Wilder” can be found at https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/laura-ingalls-wilder-alsc-award-removal/ and is worth reading.  She concludes her article with this paragraph:

The rejection of the author and the rejection of her semi-autobiographical novels produce the same result: In favor of safe spaces and trigger-free zones, this country’s professional librarians seek to destroy the literary heroine that millions of American girls (and boys) identified with and aspired to emulate. In doing so, they seek to destroy us all and re-make us in their own image, based on their core values of inclusivity and responsiveness, rounded out by respect (properly placed, of course) and their version of integrity. Join me in being naughty on the inside (one of my favorite aspects of young Laura’s character) by refusing to accept the Association of Library Services to Children’s version of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We know better.

The Summer Itch

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

I’m crediting our recent spate of warm, sunny weather for our urge to get on the road!  Or maybe it’s the fault of our friends Fred and Vicki who recently began an entirely new lifestyle and are on their “maiden voyage” with their new-to-them-fifth-wheeler.  Or, perhaps, it’s because the Dorrances are off to Dartmouth for his 55th class reunion.  Or because more than one friend has said they are “outta here” over the Fourth.

But most likely, it’s because Nyel feels so much better than he has in several years and we’ve got the summer itch – the direct opposite of the winter itch (defined as a common name for the skin symptom of generalized itching in the winter. It is primarily caused by dry skin and is most common in the elderly.)  No, the summer itch has nothing to do with dry skin or with being elderly.  Quite the opposite.  It has to do with getting on the road and having an unexpected adventure or two!

The Nickle Plated Beauty by Patricia Beatty

But before I leave the winter itch subject – this is the first I’ve ever heard of the ‘elderly’ connection.  I’ve always associated winter itch with tales of youngsters being sewn into their winter long johns and, around here anyway, the inevitability of a drenching on the way to school.  In The Nickel-Plated Beauty, her book about the Kimball family of Ocean Park, Patricia Beatty described the cause perfectly: …but no matter how we walked, sideways or backwards or forwards, the water ran down our necks into our long underwear and made us itch.

Nope.  The summer itch I’m speaking of is a good thing.  Not a skin condition, but a set of mind.  It’s all about hitting the road, exploring new territory, making new friends or, perhaps, revisiting special places and people of the past.  And, as always, one of the best parts is the planning…

What’s your preference — tube or gun?

Friday, June 1st, 2018

If there’s one thing most locals have strong opinions about, it’s razor clams.  We either love them or hate them and that goes for digging them, cooking them, eating them – everything except cleaning them.  I’ve never heard anyone express great joy about that, but even so, there are opinions about which method is best, often depending upon how they’ll be served.  And when.

Right now, of course, it’s between seasons. No clamming during the summer months.  Not like the ‘olden days’ when our forebears said, “tide’s out, table’s set” and came home with as many as they needed and could dig on a tide.  Nowadays there are regulations.  And consequences if the rules are broken.  But clam digging is still the sport of choice here at the beach.  So, now that we can’t be out digging, I suggest we all do a little reading and maybe a bit of lobbying, as well.

First, I urge you to read Razor Clams, Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest by David Berger.  Long ago I met David when he was one of the Espy Writers in Residence here in Oysterville.  I don’t think I had any idea of his passion for razor clams and all of the history, accoutrements, mythology, and scientific information that accompany them.  Nor did I have any idea of the innumerable ways to eat them (clams with snap peas in champagne vinaigrette???) or how it is, exactly, that a clam can sometimes out-dig a grown man with a gun!

“Clamming in the Good Old Days” (Espy Family Collection.)

Speaking of which, the author also takes up that clam gun issue.  Which do you think that particular moniker applies to – the shovel or the tube?  The results of David’s research into the history of clamming implements may surprise you.  And the statistics he reveals about numbers of clams under the sand and clam digger trips to the beach will blow you away.  Plus, you’ll learn more about the dreaded domoic acid problem and NIX disease, about the Fisheries Commission and Indian treaties and… just about anything you’d like to learn about razor clamming and its attendant rules and rituals.  To say nothing of a dozen and a half mouth-watering, tried-and-true recipes.

But… one of the best parts about this book is that it lays the foundation for David Berger’s idea to make the razor clam the State Clam of Washington.  As David points out: Washington has a state tree, a state amphibian, a state vegetable, and a state endemic mammal.  It does not have a state clam…  (western hemlock, Pacific chorus frog, Walla Walla sweet onion, and Olympic marmot, respectively, in case you are wondering.)  For more information on this worthy project, go to David’s website projectrazorclam.org to learn about the Bill (HB3001) that has been recently introduced in the Washington State Legislature.

Clam Station (Dobby Wiegardt Collection)

Considering that the razor clam is only found only on the west coast of North America and that, from Oregon to Alaska, our Washington beaches are the world’s epicenter for recreational clamming for the simple reason that… well, read the book and learn!  Indeed – for us who live within a mile or two of this genuine buried treasure – the book is a must.  (And did I mention that, before you’ve read very far, you’ll run into a couple of people you are likely to know – a little extra serendipity for your summer reading enjoyment.)

Whys, Wherefores, and What the F***s!

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Chinook Observer Publication, 2006

As most (but, surprisingly, not all) of my readers know, I am a writer.  I have seventeen books in print, several now out of print, and several ‘in the works’ and not yet published.  I write about the history of our little corner of the world – southwest Washington.  It’s a subject of limited interest (silly ‘them’!) but near and dear to the hearts of a chosen few. Publishers aren’t likely to do a heavy-duty marketing campaign when books about the Peninsula or Pacific County come out, so sales aren’t necessarily brisk unless the author, herself, beats the drums.

Some years (seven!) back, I began this blog with that very fact in mind. I wanted to raise my profile in order to sell books.  Pure and simple.  I’m not sure of a way to make a direct correlation in that regard.  Probably I’ve sold more books than I would have otherwise.  But many more things – mostly positive – have happened because of the blog and, though I think of stopping now and then, I doubt that I will anytime soon.  Writing each morning has become a daily habit right up there with breathing… or so it seems when, for some reason, I am forced to post late in the day.  Or, god forbid as happened once, the next day!

My writing has improved because of my blog.  My fan base has expanded.  I’ve made new friends and have been able to assist many people (actually, folks from all over the world!) in answering questions about their ancestors or relatives or people and places from the past. Who’d a thunk that our tiny spot on the map would garner such interest?

Not all responses to my blog are positive, of course.  I’ve had my share of hate-mail (or, more accurately, hate-comments), most of which I leave posted on my blogsite in the belief that they say more about the writer than they do about me.  One of the strangest responses was not too long ago, when I blogged about an experience at a local service facility – a somewhat humorous blog (thought I) – and received not one but two letters (to my P.O. Box!) from the PR person of that facility calling me to task and explaining why they did what they did.  The letters addressed “my recent complaint.”  Say what???

Introducing Mrs. Crouch

Don’t get me wrong.  I love responses to my blog.  There is a place for comments directly below each day’s entry, though I’m the first to say that the WordPress publishing platform does not make that an easy option to utilize.  Many people comment through FaceBook or email me directly.  Often, I write back.  Once in a rare while, I get a request for a book.  Yay!!!  If that idea intrigues you (Christmas is coming!), I commend you to this link for a list of my books:  http://sydneyofoysterville.com/books2/ Click on any of the books listed for details about content, price, where available.  And… Merry Christmas!