Sunday, June 28, 2009

Books are trumping the tube

I've been writing on Crosscut about my decision to not go digital and allow my broadcast TV to fade to black. I'm watching more DVDs, but less TV. If you want to read up on my decision and updates, you can find posts here, here and here.

Less tube-time has also been good for my summer reading, and I thought I share some thoughts about a couple of books I've read recently.

The first is not yet published, but I had a chance to look over the uncorrected galleys of a book slated to come out this fall from my "Pugetopolis" publisher, Sasquatch Books. It's called "The Collector," by Spokane author Jack Nisbet, and it's a stirring account of the naturalist David Douglas's expeditions to the Pacific Northwest in the early 19th century.

Douglas, whose name is attached to our region's iconic Douglas fir, was in the enviable position of being one of the first men of science to get to roam and explore the region at will. He was a horticulturalist sent to find plants that would delight English gardeners, but his discoveries and contributions to science did so much more than that. A pleasant, energetic Scottish bachelor, he kept extensive journals from which Nisbet has been able to reconstruct his journeys. Keep your eyes peeled for this book if you have any interest in seeing the Pacific Northwest as it was, with its bison herds, grizzly bears and giant condors. The only meaningful density issues back then: thick forest and rivers choked with giant salmon.

I also greatly enjoyed Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano's "Flotsametrics and the Floating World," which I reviewed on Crosscut as the ultimate in beach reading this summer. Ebbesmeyer is a Seattle oceanographer who has made important discoveries by become the world foremost authority on flotsam and jetsam by studying how sea-borne junk moves around the planet. If you are interested in weirdness, like why do Nike sneakers float and what to make of those tennis shoes with feet in them that have been washing up in our region, this book has the answers. One piece of good news: you still have decades to look for those classic, old Japanese fishing floats because Ebbesmeyer's computer model predicts they'll continue to wash up for years to come.

A footnote: Ebbesmeyer sings the praises of legendary Northwest beachcomber Amos Wood who was the father of Japanese fishing float collectors and whose works have proved invaluable to those studying flotsam, jetsam and ocean currents. Back in the 1980s, Wood gave me a magnificent large float that he'd found, much like the one pictured here. When I edited Washington's Almanac years ago, I used the float as a crystal ball to make predictions with. It still sits in my study as I write. Thanks to Ebbesmeyer, I have a better sense of the journey it took to fall into Wood's hands.

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