The Good Rain by Timothy Egan

Monday, June 16, 2008

I would recommend this anyone raised in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) who is currently living away from home and is a bit nostalgic. I will be curious to know the thoughts of non-PNWers or PNWers still living in the area if they have read or decide to read this book.

Timothy Egan is the Seattle correspondent for the New York Times. I came across his writing in a very particular way. One morning while purusing the NY times online, I read an editorial written by a Stanford undergraduate student studying in Italy. She was writing about the impressions she had of being an American in Bologna while another student from Seattle (Amanda Knox) was being held in an Italian prison as a murder suspect after her British roommate was found fatally stabbed in their apartment in Perugia. Anyone from Seattle, Italy or the UK will know of this story.

I was very impressed with the article written by the Stanford student. Only later, while reading an Italian paper, was it mentioned that the writer's father wrote for the NY Times. This same article inferred that this was the reason her article was published. Regardless, the father is Timothy Egan, author of The Good Rain.

The Pacific Northwest is truly a region without borders. It stretches into British Columbia and moves down through Western Oregon. There is certainly something that links people from this area. The terrain plays a role as people from the area are comfortable both with the ocean and in the mountains. The long gray and drizzly winters become normal for those adapted but standout for the new arrivals.

Egan certainly loves the PNW and represents it very well in this book and in his Times articles and blog . Even when he writes about the Iraq war you can tell he is not doing it from the 42nd floor of a Manhattan skyscraper.

This book is about the history of the region. He travels from one area to the next tying in current events with historical ones. He justifiably declares the importance of the geography giving particular focus to the Columbia river and Cascade Mountains. He also drives home the message (perhaps too often) that the Army Corp of Engineers mutilated a lot of rivers in the area with dam construction thus drastically reducing the salmon runs. As a result, the way of life of the Indians in the area was altered forever because they were no longer able to fish the rivers they had depended on for 10,000 years. European Americans push west certainly did not help the situation either as Indian land was snatched up with support from the federal government and was only relinquished after drawn out court rulings, which were often too late.

This book was written in 1990 which in Seattle terms is a lifetime ago. The city has changed so much since then. This book demonstrates how European Americans moving west wanted to take as much from the land as possible in the shortest amount of time. They also felt that the power of man could conquer the massiveness of the terrain mainly though engineering. Land protection, zoning laws, pollution, were not terms that were digested well by the new arrivals. My fear is that these same issues are still not given enough consideration as the population in the Seattle region is estimated to reach four million over the next two decades. Many things I am seeing, hearing, and reading are convincing me that a book such as Egan's holds vital messages that are still relevant today.


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