Northwest Bookshelf: Ozette, Orcas and Ancient Places

ancient places nisbet
Ancient Places: People and Landscape in the Emerging Northwest
Jack Nisbet (Sasquatch Books)
Spokane-based writer Jack Nisbet is a treasure for anyone interested in the ways natural history, landscape and human cultures intersect in the Pacific Northwest. His previous books have traced the route of Northwest fur agent and geographer David Thompson, profiled pioneering naturalist David Douglas and his many discoveries and meditated on the unique flora and fauna of the dry side of Cascadia. His latest title journeys around the Inland Empire in search of “genesis stories,” events from long, long ago that shape our world today.
A highlight is the essay “Meltdown,” which flows across vast stretches of time to reach an understanding of how the cycles of ice ages and epic floods shaped much of Eastern Washington and, in turn, our habitation in and movements across the land.
From the Colville Valley to Lake Pend Oreille, Okanagan Highlands to Grand Coulee, Nisbet deftly connects past to present, human to nature.
Jack Nisbet reads from Ancient Places at Village Books in Fairhaven on Wed, June 10 at 7 pm; free!
Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village
Ruth Kirk (University of Washington Press)
It’s been nearly 50 years since the Makah’s whaling village at Ozette emerged from the mud in the far northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Richard Daugherty came across the site while surveying the wild Pacific Coast for archaeology sites as a UW graduate student. The subsequent decade of excavation by Dr. Daughtery and his team unearthed one of the richest troves of Northwest native artifacts ever discovered: clubs and combs made from whalebone, net sinkers and knives from stone, mussel-shell harpoon blades, beaver-teeth carving tools and a myriad of useful and ceremonial items made from the Tree of Life, Western Red Cedar. Their research also discovered entire houses inhabited by the Makah hundreds of years ago, close to perfectly preserved by being encased in a mudslide.
There is no better person to tell the tale of the Ozette dig than Ruth Kirk, an acclaimed photographer and author of 34 books on the natural and human history of the West who was actually on site for much of the archaeology work.
“Archaeology is not a search for things; that would result only in accumulating objects,” she writes, “The actual goal is to study relationships between objects and the people who made and used them.”
This new book is a beautiful synthesis of archaeology, cultural studies, photography, design and history of a fascinating indigenous people who thrived for tens of thousands of years on the edge of the world.
Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us
David Neiwert (Overlook Press)
Countless books on whales have been published, but Seattle-based journalist David Neiwert’s book sets a new standard with his comprehensive study of Orcinus Orca. With a special focus on our local Salish Sea pods, Neiwert’s exploration begins with the native views of orca whales as “the people under the sea” and their role in mythology through the coastal Northwest. He then digs deep in to our scientific understanding of their keen intelligence, sixth sense of echolation, family structures, hunting prowess and social culture. Neiwert retells the tale of Luna and digs in to the controversies surrounding the imprisonment of orcas at SeaWorld entertainment facilities.
“It’s certainly not a stretch to conceive of orcas as the oceanic counterpart to human beings,” Neiwert writes, except that while humans “have only been around for about 200,000 years as a species, killer whales have been the supreme creature in the ocean for about six million years, roughly thirty times longer.”
Will our species make room for the continuation of orcas and their evolutionary path? Neiwert’s sensitive and thorough study is a helpful step towards yes.

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