The Columbia River begins its journey in the mountains of British Columbia and travels over 1,200 miles before it empties into the Pacific ocean. Jekel gives the reader a closer look at the river’s history, from its very beginnings as the upheaval of the earth literally cut a new path through the Cascade range and sent the river west towards the ocean, to the time when it ran free and thick with salmon, and then to the present when its energy is harnessed to provide electricity and the nature of the river forever changed.
The book is broken up into several sections, with a jump of a generation between them, but all tying back to Chinook princess and shaman Ilchee, who as a young girl traveled alone into the mountains where she met “the raven” who spoke to her of the river’s future,
And Raven told her that the river would be tamed like a dog, the people would die, the land will float, and the red fish will come no more.
The ships begin arriving as well as the Hudson’s Bay Company who builds forts at Astoria and Vancouver. The River people are eager to trade, but get more than they bargained for when they succumb to the diseases that also come with the white men. In the next section, the wagon trains begin arriving from the east and Suzanna and her father rest from the journey at the Whitman Mission (I think you all know what happened there). 1870 sees the arrival of the Chinese who come to work the canneries, and in 1880 the logging industry booms and Ilchee’s grandson reaps its rewards, but will they listen to the old woman and heed her warnings so that the land may be saved for future generations?
…we could set out seedlings. That’d give ’em an even better chance. And then a hundred years from now, there’d still be big timber on these hills.
The very last section begins in 1915 and is aptly titled The River Movers, as modern man sees the potential in the river for generating electricity and begins building the dams that will forever change the landscape, as well as the livelihood of its native people,
Where once a set of rapids and falls had carved out the stones, leaping and thrashing waters around huge boulders, now a placid pool was rising.
Since this book isn’t heavy on plot or pacing, it might not appeal to all readers, but should interest those with a love of the Columbia and an interest in the area and its history – but be warned if you are coming into this cold with no knowledge of the towns and the locations you’ll feel a bit lost – find yourself a good reference map and use it. I liked how the author used Ilchee and the subsequent generations, finally bringing them full circle with their long-forgotten Indian heritage and ties to the river. 4/5 stars.
The Grand Coulee Dam is in Eastern Washington, where the landscape is just a tad bit dryer than the west. My favorite section of the Columbia to visit is just east of Portland, Oregon. An easy road trip (don’t miss all sections of the Historic Highway), and the hiking opportunities amidst the waterfalls are plentiful with choices from easy to very strenuous. Eagle Creek is tops, but very popular so get there early. Later in the day and you’ll be reminded of the Costco parking lot at Christmas time :).Jekel has written several historical novels, including one about the Navajo in Arizona and at least two set in the deep South.
FTC disclosure, I obtained a copy of this from my county library.