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Visible Bones: Journeys Across Time in the Columbia River Country Paperback

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Visible Bones: Journeys Across Time in the Columbia River Country + Sources of the River, 2nd Edition: Tracking David Thompson Across North America + The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Sasquatch Books (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570615241
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570615245
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,074,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whether wading through the waters of the Columbia River or walking through the woods, biologist and history teacher Nisbet finds the remains of the Pacific Northwest's past and goes to great lengths to explain how these remnants got there. Nisbet (Sources of the River; Purple Flat Top; etc.), whose blood races when he touches ancient things, finds a trilobite fossil and is flushed with warmth, despite being knee-deep in icy water. He begins with historical accounts of trilobites and salamanders, and quickly moves up the evolutionary ladder to mammoths and even humans. He catalogues numerous historical encounters with California condors, including an amusing one in which naturalist John Kirk Townsend winged a condor along the Willamette River in 1835. Shedding his clothes and gun, Townsend crossed the river and, completely naked. battled the condor, which had a 10-foot wingspan, until he managed to knock the bird unconscious by hitting it with a well-thrown stone. The author also reports humankind's less victorious encounters with nature, including the terrible toll that smallpox and other diseases took on the Native American tribes of the Northwest. Although Nisbet's histories can veer into litanies (he cites more than 20 condor encounters), his passion and attention to detail will make this an informative read for nature lovers and historians of the Pacific Northwest. B&w drawings, map not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Nisbet makes the landscape come alive on many levels, historical, biological and cultural. The writing is high quality and engaging. It is clear he cares for and knows the place he writes about." —The Seattle Times "…[Nisbet's] passion and attention

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Barney Considine on October 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
People who have read my reviews of other books by Jack Nisbet know that I consider him a very fine writer. "Visible Bones" is both archeological history and a nature book. It is subtitled "Journeys Across Time in the Columbia River Country" and is a series of essays on a variety of topics. The book is a combination of nature, history, people and reflection. Nisbet has a great deal of respect for Native Americans and that shows through in most of the stories.

The book starts with fossils and salamanders. It ends with Jaco Finley who was a confederate of David Thompson, an early explorer in Canada and the United States. In between we hear stories of a rock in the Columbia River that has been ground into gravel and the natural history of a mountain that ended up in the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Always, the stories lead to people. Nisbet tells of how smallpox ravaged the native tribes and he describes a trip to gather roots with a Salish woman.

Each new story brings a different facet of life in the Columbia River Basin. Each one is gentle but leads the reader into a new avenue of thought. I read the book aloud to my wife while we drove through Washington and Oregon. It flows naturally and smooth like the water where the Musquash swims.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This impressive survey of the Columbia River country concerns the journey of a fossil trilobite, the disappearance of condors, and other altered landscapes of the America Northwest. Author Jack Nisbet's intention in Visible Bones is to show how varied relics of the past have been altered over time: geology and changes blend with human records of change, taken from ship logs, field journals and news accounts, to make for a strong portrait of a dynamic, changing landscape.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Valerie Adolph on November 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The sub-title of this book, "Journeys across Time in the Columbia River Country" gives you some idea of the scope of it. The writer, in twelve gentle essays, explores aspects of the natural and human history of the region. Combining the vast sweep of time with the wide range of ecology of such a large region is a huge undertaking. I'm in awe of a mind that can conceptualize such a topic, never mind bring it to fruition in book form. Of course 248 pages can't do the topic justice, but ten times or one hundred times the number of pages wouldn't do it justice either. The writer can only choose minute representative aspects of the whole and offer more information and a fresh lens through which to view it.
To take the dimension of history first. The writer starts out with a personal tale of hunting for trilobites in a creek swollen with snow melt. Trilobites are the tiny fossilized creatures whose massed bodies helped to create the land in this western corner of the U.S. But this is not a Geology 101 text. It places the 250 million year old fossil in the human scale of things - part of human history, part of the writer's experience. And that is the magic of this book - it takes a vast store of history, geology, nature and human nature and blends it into an understanding of how the Columbia River country used to be and how it came to be the way it is now.
The writer presents the natural history also. He shares with us the "water dog" (actually a salamander), the sheep moth and buzzards. We see muskrats through the eyes of native hunters and we discover Indian tobacco. We watch as the river changes with the coming of fur traders, dam builders and the presence of nuclear material.
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