On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak


Reading books about Oregon is one of the many ways I develop my own sense of place here. So, I try to choose books that capture other people’s experiences as well as the history and natural phenomena that make Oregon so special.

Recently I finished reading On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak by Jon Bell (2011). As I said before, Mt. Hood is MY mountain, so everything I learn about it fascinates me. This book is an easy read – accessible and personal – and a quick lesson about the marvels and perils of the most summited peak in the world.

I connected immediately to his story from his very first sentence…

Mount Hood is not a story that I intentionally set out to know. It’s one that instead has slowly been built for me since the first time I laid eyes on the mountain.

Bell weaves the story of his own 41-mile trip around Hood on the Timberline Trail into a fascinating tale of volcanic eruptions, melting glaciers, waterfalls, forests, heroes and heartache as he reveals the mystery and magic that is Mt. Hood. He did his homework – researching documents and events and meeting face-to-face with people whose lives were changed by Mt. Hood.

From the Mazamas to the building of Timberline Lodge to the chilling accounts of lives lost on the mountain, Bell captures beautifully the spirit of the mountain and the people who love it.

I’ve been toying with the idea of hiking the Timberline Trail all the way around Mount Hood. It seems like a rite of passage for someone who wants to make Oregon their home. After reading this book, I’m more convinced I should do it. In the afterward, Bell explains…

After eight years of exploring Mount Hood, climbing it, camping around it, paddling the lakes at its base…I felt like I knew the mountain pretty well. But something about ticking off the Timberline Trail made me look at Mount Hood in a different way…

This is what “sense of place” is all about…knowing a place through time and experience. Seeing it from a perspective that is yours and your alone. Understanding it through seasons, terrain, weather, plants, animals and spirit.

For anyone who loves Mount Hood, this book will add to your own experience and knowledge and inspire you to spend more time with the mountain.



Book Alert: Portlandness – A Cultural Atlas


Here’s a great book for exploring sense of place…

Some generous friends recently gifted me a book called Portlandness – A Cultural Atlas by David Banis and Hunter Shobe. It’s the culmination of several years worth of geography student/professor initiated questions and classes at Portland State University and is meant to be a collection of stories about Portland’s social and cultural landscape told through maps.

It’s also one of the most entertaining and informative collections of Portland stories I’ve seen. The maps and graphics are anything but typical, starting with the very first map int he book called “Putting Our House in Order”, where they start with Pioneer Courthouse Square – known as Portland’s living room – and draw the rest of “the house” plan. Forest Park is the “backyard”, Alberta in the “craft room”. I live in the Hawthorn District, which they have dubbed the “teen room”. That’s about right.

Each map or graphic tells some story of the culture and social structure (or social history) of the city. There’s even a map created by 3rd graders based on their mental images of the city. It’s fantastic. One of my favorite maps is called STOP! WRITING ON STOP SIGNS and maps every stop sign that has writing or a sticker placed on it turning it into a pointed phrase or political statement on the central eastside around my neighborhood. Examples: STOP wanting; STOP The 1%; STOP Rewarding Failure. I’ve seen these as I walked around the neighborhood and it was cool to see them all mapped out.

This was the first time I’d read the story of Maywood Park, the city within the city of Portland. And the student-generated maps depicting Street Emotion and sounds and smells are quite enlightening. I was particularly intrigued by the section called “Social Relations” which included maps of the city’s “green” credentials, punk houses, homelessness, discriminatory housing practices and gentrification.

This is a book every Portlander should read, discuss and argue about, because it’s not meant to be “the truth”. It’s meant to start conversations and maybe, just maybe, motivate people to understand this city in a whole new way – maybe even understand a little about where it came from, where it is now, and where it’s headed.

Here’s one of the authors, Hunter Shobe, giving a talk about the book. He’s right about this book helping us to re-imagine a place we think we know really well. What gives Portland it’s sense of place? Good question… what do you think?

Book: The Northwest Nature Guide by James Luther Davis

nw nture guide cover

I promised that I’d share some of the books and authors that help me connect to Oregon, and here is one that I love dearly: The Northwest Nature Guide: Where to go and what to see month by month in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by James Luther Davis.

I usually get my books at the library to save money and resources, but after seeing this one at the local Powell’s Bookstore I decided it was worth having my own copy. This book is exactly what the subtitle says – a month by month guide to nature watching. I like that it is easy to read, easy to use, contains maps, and highlights the phenology of the Northwest.

As a nature watcher, one of the things that has always cemented my connection to a place was learning – through personal experience and over time – the seasonal changes and patterns of plants and animals. The key to that is being out in nature a lot and witnessing both the dramatic and subtle shifts in animal behaviors, plant life cycles and weather. In Florida, over many years of observation and note-taking on the same trails, I got really good at knowing when something was about to happen or when something was happening sooner or later than usual. I was connected to that place like no other. I felt a kinship with the plants, animals and habitat. I knew their rhythms and cycles.

Here in Oregon, I’ve had neither the span of time nor a single place to learn those patterns in-depth. I’ve been exploring many places during this first year and picking up bits and pieces of life cycles, but because I’m so new to the area, I’ve yet to grasp the flow of annual patterns. This book articulates someone else’s phenological experience in Oregon and helps me understand what I’m witnessing as I learn about Oregon’s plants and animals.

The book is organized beautifully.  As an example, the chapter on October suggests readers look for:

  • Autumn Color in the Mountains
  • Arrival of the Geese
  • Fall Salmon Run
  • Sandhill Cranes

Each of those four sections includes a description of the topic/phenomenon followed by a list of “Best Bets” which are specific instructions for where, when and how to go out and witness the phenomenon in each of the three geographic areas: Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

Near the end of the chapter he has a section called October’s Nature Nuggets, which includes shorter descriptions of things you might see just about anywhere such as woolly bears, spiders, and seeds. He concludes with a section called “A  Closer Look” where he gives an in-depth description of some special subject relative to the month. The October topic is Mushrooms.

It’s a book that invites me to get outdoors in all kinds of weather and see for myself the seasonal treasures that make the Pacific Northwest so special. It also teaches me why things happen when they do and gives me context for the seasonal changes I have already witnessed and recorded in my wanderings. For those of us trying to develop our senses of place in the northwest, this book gives us a jump-start.

Book Review: The Great Birthright by Matt Love


“It is exceedingly rare when authentic legal decisions…open a work of pseudo pulp historical environmental detective socialist metafiction. In fact, it’s never happened before.

So, here it goes.”

I’ve written about Matt Love before. He’s one of my favorite Oregon writers. When I attended a writing workshop with him back in August he gave me a copy of his newest book – and first novel – The Great Birthright (An Oregon Novel). One sunny afternoon I rode my bike up to Mt. Tabor and sat in the cool grass to read it. While it’s billed as a novel (Matt claims at least 57% of it is fiction), it is loaded with facts and autobiography. There is even one whole chapter where Matt departs entirely from fiction to explain how the ground-breaking Oregon Beach Bill was passed in 1967 – at least that’s what it seems like.

Beyond that, The Great Birthright is one man’s vision, indeed a manifesto about how, when and why Matt plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beach Bill come July 7, 2017. Matt’s passion for keeping Oregon’s beaches public, free and unfettered by development is so intense that it oozes from every word, every phrase, every action in the book. This is a man on a mission. No holds barred!

He casts himself and washed-up private investigator Tom West in the roles of unlikely heroes determined to save the beaches from future destruction by big money and nasty politics. You simultaneously cheer them on and wonder if they will self-destruct. With witty dialogue, charming characters, authentic settings and quirky, biting Matt Love style, it’s a story that rolls over you like waves from the Pacific, drowning any notion that the bad guys might win.

It’s a story every Oregonian should read and ponder at least once – whether you are a pseudo pulp historical environmental detective socialist metafiction fan or not.

Buy the book direct from Matt here nestuccapitpress.com