August 2013

Totem Poles of the Northwest

D. Allen, Totem Poles of the Northwest (Surrey, B.C., Canada: Hancock House Publishers, 1977

Allen - Totem Poles of the Northwest
Well-illustrated with many photographs, this small book explores the totem poles of Alaska, British Columbia and Washington. Included in the discussion are the meanings of the carvings, the stories that the poles tell and different kinds of carvings from crests to memorial poles to mortuary poles, house poles and other cedar carvings. The book also provides a brief introduction to the tribes of the Northwest. The map of tribal territories inside the front cover was worth the price of the book for me, as I am just learning of the indigenous people of the region. We did some studying and reading of legends and stories in 2006, when we took a sabbatical, spending part of our time in British Columbia, but we did not discover this book at that time. It was a good volume to accompany our travels in Washington state this year.

There really isn’t much text in the book, just captions for the pictures, but the pictures give good detail and provide a guide for the totem poles we saw in our travels.

White Spirit Bear

Tess (Grandma Tess) Tessiere, White Spirit Bear, (Surrey, B.C. Canada: Hancock House, 2000.

Tessiere - White Spirit Bear
This is a book that was specially prepared for the Roots and Shoots program of the Jane Goodall Foundation. The program is especially strong in Canada where children and adults are educated about the world and tis unique creatures through the educational work of the group. This small book is fascinating in that it contains two sets of text, one to be read to or by younger children and another to be read by youth and adults. Both texts tell the story of the Spirit Bears that inhabit the rainforest of northwest British Columbia. Spirit bears are black bears that have white fur. They are not albino, nor are they polar bears, but rather a unique variation on the common bears that are found all around the Rocky Mountain west. Black or brown b ears come in a variety of colors but the unique genetic variation that makes for these bears seems to be restricted to a relatively small area. Fortunately that area is isolated and not frequently visited by humans.

There are native legends about the spirit bears that go back hundreds of years. These legends come to live with the stunning and beautiful photographs that are in this book. It is an easy read and a beautifully executed book.

American Spirit

Dan Kennedy, American Spirit: A Novel (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).

Kennedy - American Spirit
This is the second Dan Kennedy novel that I have read and like the other one, I find the main character to be not particularly likable, but his story captures me nonetheless. The tale is the story of someone whose life is falling apart and who has to start over, but not before quite a few missteps, dangerous behaviors and just plain strange thoughts. Through all of this, Kennedy keeps the reader engaged despite the need to enter into a story that wanders quite a ways from the world that we normally inhabit.

In the midst of the story, the main character spends some time in Yellowstone National Park in a motorhome driven by a friend and engages in a strange quasi-religious ceremony that involves igniting a chunk of magnesium. This particular scene required a significant suspension of disbelief for me. Kennedy didn’t do his research on towing vehicles, so the connection and towing is not at all the way that the process works and the process as described in the book wouldn’t work. I happen to be familiar with Slough Creek and the area and wondered that they found a place for their pyrotechnics that didn’t end up igniting the entire forest. A fire there could burn into multiple river drainages and thousands of acres of wilderness before it could be extinguished.

Nonetheless, I kept reading, found the somewhat unbelievable characters and situations to be engaging and the storytelling to be strong. It is a fascinating novel and a well-written contribution to contemporary fiction.

Ah Mo

Judge Arthur Griffin, compiled; Trenholme J. Griffin, edited; Margaret Chodos-Irvine, illustrated, Ah Mo: Indian Legends from the Northwest (Surrey, B.C., Canada:Hancock House, 1990)

Griffin - Ah Mo
We have made it a practice to collect and read the stories and legends of indigenous people when we travel. This summer’s visit to the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound has given us another opportunity to learn more about people with whom we have had relatively little contact. Although there are some legends and stories that we recognize from our time with plains tribes and with indigenous people in Australia, these stories are mostly unique to the region. Characters such as the Orca and Salmon are very important in these tales and they exist to explain some of the natural phenomena of the area. Plains tribes have seen Ravens, but Raven doesn’t play a similar role in their stories.

Pioneer merchant and judge, Arthur E. Griffin collected native legends and stories from Washington State and British Columbia tribal peoples beginning in 1984. Because these legends were collected relatively early in the time of contact between non native and indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest, they provide a unique window on the people who told the stories. These are the kind of stories that were told over and over again during long winter nights and through the process of group memorization were preserved for long periods of time, perhaps centuries before they were translated into English and recorded for us to use.

This little volume provides unique onsite and gives some stories that are perhaps best read aloud.