River of Memory
The Everlasting Columbia
Winner of the 2007 Washington State Book Award for General Nonfiction
Finalist in the Western Writers of America 2007 Spur Award competition for the Best Western Nonfiction - Contemporary category
The Columbia River of today bears little resemblance to the river Native peoples and settlers knew in the early twentieth century. Between 1933 and 1984, an unparalleled fervor of engineering transformed much of the river into a series of large reservoirs contained by fourteen hydroelectric dams. While many mourned the loss of the freeflowing river, others embraced a newly tamed waterway that could control floods, irrigate desert lands, and supply electrical power for the growing region.
River of Memory honors a place and time now gone from view. It restores an unfettered Columbia through more than ninety historical photographs that capture the river as it once appeared. This extraordinary visual record is complemented with the words of early explorers, surveyors, and naturalists who wrote about specific places along the river and with new works by contemporary American and Canadian writers and poets.
Organized to carry the reader from the mouth of the Columbia where it enters the ocean to its source in eastern British Columbia, the narrative follows the natural history of the river through the archetypal journey of salmon returning to the river’s headwaters in Columbia Lake. Introducing each section are illustrations of salmon and other indigenous fish by artists Joseph Tomelleri and Dan McConnell.
River of Memory encourages readers to linger along the river’s shores and spend time reflecting on its dramatic mountain and plateau landscapes. It fosters connections between the river’s natural and human histories through the words of the distinguished writers represented throughout, including Jeannette Armstrong, Gloria Bird, Peter Christensen, Tim McNulty, Kathleen Dean Moore, Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, Theodore Roethke, Kim Stafford, William Stafford, Robert Sund, David Wagoner, Elizabeth Woody, and many more.
About the Author
"Historians will appreciate the author's ability to combine visual evidence with poetic interpretations to challenge our traditional interpretations of the Columbia; and nature lovers will find the book to be a treasure trove of forgotten landscapes and beautiful representations of rivers, forests, mountains, rocks, and fish."—BC Studies
"William Layman and his collaborators have done this region a wonderful, good deed in [this] book, and our leaning is thus graciously encouraged."—Columbia Magazine
"This is a stunning book. Here is history at its best, and a monument to the river that has touched every one of our lives."—HistoryLink
"A magnificent book about a magnificent river. Those old enough to have seen the river [before the dams] will no doubt experience a flood of memories when they see the book. For the rest of us, the book helps to fill in some of the empty spaces in our understanding of this place, but will fill us with longing for the river that lived here before. It's a reminder of what we lost when the big dams stilled the rushing water, changed swift current to still pools, slammed shut concrete doors on the salmon's birthright, and traded flood control, electricity and irrigation for a living, breathing river."—North Columbia Monthly
"Sensitive, intelligent, thoughtfully researched and powerfully evocative; I got a feeling for the history of the Columbia that touches on the monumental."—Bob Sandford, Chair, United Nations Water for Life Decade, Canada
"To understand rivers requires immersion, which is precisely what Bill Layman has done in his extraordinary project. River of Memory is experiential, ecological, and historical. There is simply nothing like this about any other river in the West."—William Lang, Portland State University
"This book is the most insightful and inspiring book on the Columbia I have ever seen. If you could only have one book about the Columbia River, this should, without a doubt, be it."—Brent Foster, Executive Director, Columbia Riverkeeper
Other Titles in History of the Americas