- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: Beacon Press (May 12, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807085499
- ISBN-13: 978-0807085493
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,160,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Totem Salmon : Life Lessons from Another Species
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Freeman House lives in an out-of-the-way place. Tucked away where Highway 101 diverts inland from the Northern California coastline to avoid the 4,000-foot peaks of the King Range is a damp, verdant landscape of rolling hills, towering forests, and isolated pockets of humanity. The Mattole River drains much of the area, greeting the Pacific at the Lost Coast. For thousands of years, the river formed the connective tissue of human settlement--first for the native tribes, and later for Euro-American pioneers. Each year, salmon swam up the river to their natal spawning beds, marking the passage of time and providing sustenance for the people along the banks. Then, in the early 1970s, the salmon stopped returning. House found himself banding with other like-minded citizens in an effort to bring the once-prolific runs back. Their organization fought for curbs on logging in the watershed and more restrictions for the way timber can be harvested (buffer zones along streams, for example). They planted vegetation on the banks to provide shade and added structure to the river for protection.
Totem Salmon is House's memoir of river stewardship. It's also a blueprint for grassroots environmental action. And finally, it is a well-crafted and lyrical piece of writing that treats a regional problem with personal perspective and candor. --Langdon Cook
From Publishers Weekly
Although this is his first book, House displays a talent for lyrical writing combined with an ability to present information clearly. In the early 1980s, House became involved with several residents who were concerned with preserving the King Salmon, a fish native to the Mattole River, which runs through the westernmost watershed in California. He explains how the salmon have just one chance at reproduction. The female salmon swims upstream and builds her nest for depositing eggs, which are then fertilized after the male releases his sperm. This natural process has been thwarted over decades by an unregulated logging industry, whose companies built roads that contributed to the landslides that destroyed the equilibrium of the watershed, pouring rock, soil and debris into the river. House, a former commercial fisherman, and other activists began by building weirs that trapped the salmon. After House realized that their dedicated group could not, singlehandedly, save the salmon or the river, he built a coalition of residents committed to restoring the damaged river and its banks. House details how longtime community residents and more recent arrivals learned to compromise around a common goal. His inspired and well-written account of environmental activism is a terrific introduction to an ethic he calls "bioregionalism."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The book is just fantastic. I"m still reading. I was arrested way up in the Mattole years ago in non-violent protest with several others since this book was written. We were charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. Many challenged the snow conditions without adequate cover and with police taking their clothing. They hiked up miles to protest the sacrifice of old growth in the Mattole. It was a few years after book came out--during the aftermath of the terrible Hurwitz' exploitation years. The Headwaters Deal saved old growth in the neighboring Elk River headwaters but the Mattole was to be logged instead. Hurwitz owned Pacific Lumber since his unfriendly takeover of the company). A real "taker", he logged rare old growth here like fire. The logging regulations were systematically broken. The company under Hurwitz was pushing the limits. The fines were a slap on the hand (after the fact). Citizens had to find out about the plans (painstaking & difficult) and bring harmful, illegal timber harvest plans into question wherever they could find them. The government could not. It would have to rubberstamp them for lack of funds to investigate them ALL (so many at once). A lot has happened with the Mattole since Totem Salmon was written. To see film of the protests high in this remote area of the Mattole please go to "mangoprotest" channel on the site, "you...." where there are citizen generated unpublished films. Its an amazing film, filmed by one of the protestors over months of protest in the harsh conditions high above the Mattole River, then edited.
I'm suffering from eyestrain & need UV protection screen for my (wide screen) pc. Reading with motrim. Ouch! My excuse why I haven't finished reading book. This book rates as a real classic among books written by naturalists. It is much more moving & riviting than the Loren Eisley books, which are more academic (Eisley, a professor of anthropology). Not biased, its clearly more earth-connected and less philosophical. I live nearby-- in Arcata near the Mattole--an hour's drive south, SE to where you turn off from HW 101 and leave civilization. You drive through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and up and over the ridge to look out to the Mattole watershed (and ocean beyond). I live close to the Mad River, which has a fish hatchery. This river is a neighbor to the Mattole, like the Elk of Headwaters fame. The Mad River supplies water to the largest area of habitation by humans in this area. It must have been a great river but the water is pumped out in large amounts. There are at least 2 dams on it, just not sure as it is highly exploited, and not much talked about. This book is so moving. It is mostly new to me. Freeman should write a sequel, letting us know how its going. I particularly love the parts about the salmon. I read some to myself while in church this morning, since it is a source of spirituality, at least for me.
It might help to include one negative thing, though. I bought it from an Amazon used dealer. It's cover was very bad with an ugly rip and rumpling on the right edge of the front cover. However, it was very fixable! Used index cards to reinforce the outer edge from behind after cutting out all the rumpled part. Now I will use an index card to reinforce any paperback cover that is becomming bent. It is a much more ergonomic experience to read with the 2 cards taped on the outer edge and across the bottom (taped to the back of the front cover).
"My straining senses slow down the sound so that each of its parts can be heard separately. A hiss, barely perceptible, as the fish muscles itself right out of its living medium; silence like a dozen monks pausing too long between the strophes of a chant as the creature arcs through the dangerous air; a crash as of a basketball going through a plate glass window as he or she returns to the velvet embrace of the water; and then a thousand tiny bells struck once only as the shards of water fall and the surface of the stream regains its viscous integrity."
"I flick on my headlamp and the whole backwater pool seems to leap toward me. The silver streak that crosses the enclosure in an instant is a flash of lightning within my skull, one which heals the wound that has separated me from this moment -- from any moment. The encounter is so perfectly complex, timeless, and reciprocal that it takes on an objective reality of its own. I am able to walk around it as if it were a block of carved stone. If my feelings could be reduced to a chemical formula, the experience would be a clear solution made up of equal parts of dumb wonder and clean exhilaration, colored through with a sense of abiding dread. I could write a book about it."
And here it is.
The Mattole River, where this story takes place, flows from the northwestern tip of California's Mendocino County, first a dozen miles northeast and then about sixty miles northwest through remote rural Humboldt County to its mouth at Petrolia. What keeps the river from reaching the Pacific Ocean any sooner is the King Range rising precipitously from the "Lost Coast", a stretch of beach frequented only by hikers and the occasional small plane.
Getting to the Mattole from the freeway is at least an hour's drive on winding country roads. This area, like much of Humboldt County, was logged in the fifties and sixties, and in the late sixties and seventies a substantial portion of it was sold to urban refugees, "reinhabitants". Over the next three decades, quite a few of them committed to the task of restoring the watershed to health. Two of these were David Simpson and Freeman House who together conceived and founded the Mattole Watershed Salmon Support Group. "Totem Salmon" tells the story of this work.
Salmon are an indicator species. Their health, as a population, closely tracks the health of the watershed to which they return. If you want to know how well a river valley is doing in the Pacific Northwest, look at the salmon runs, if there are any left. The principal enemy of the salmon is silt, produced by erosion usually from badly built roads and culverts, and from logging. Salmon need clean gravel in the streambed for eggs to survive and hatch. Well forested valleys with little erosion provide the best stream habitat for hatching and rearing salmon.
In 1950, before logging, it is recalled by the older Mattole valley residents, that, when they were running, "you could walk across the river on the backs of the salmon". In 1980, before restoration work began, the runs were down to perhaps 200 fish. More, those fish were the last wild salmon run in the state.
Looking back after reading the book, one could see the first phrase, "I am alone...", as a key to the work. Rooted in an explicit sense of self, spiraling out through sensory subtleties of immediate nature, to the larger cultural complexities, Mr. House melds what are usually seen as distinct worlds into a coherent portrait of a personal and multi-species reality. Like the salmon traversing the several worlds of ocean, river, air and creek, the personal, philosophical, cultural, historical, administrative, ecological, and cosmic threads are finely woven into a narrative yielding a shimmering presence of spirit and nature.
The book is a deeply enjoyable memoir of a long personal relationship with salmon. Along the way we see the history of the Euro-American relationship with this species, and that of the Native-American people who were here managing these watersheds long before. We learn of the state and federal administrative context of salmon management and the history of our, first, ignorance, and then, study of the anadromous species and their rivers. In clear and moving images, and with affection and humor, we see the people on the Mattole River who have joined hands for eighteen years to rescue this last wild run of salmon from extinction. Lastly we see the hopeful results and the tenuous circumstances of their work.
We might expect it to be a text for salmon restoration, and while the specifics are there they are widely scattered throughout the book. More attention is given to the wider question of how we got here, and how we can get through this to a more wholesome, rooted, and appreciative life in our particular place. If it is a text -- and Mr. House would say it is not -- it is a meta-instructional one, showing a way to become a people who will do the right thing for the watershed and thus for the salmon. The personal explorations in the book demonstrate by example the message beneath the text: by immersing ourselves in the reality of our local valley we can rescue both the health of our watersheds and our sense of ourselves. In the end, we see that they are the same journey; the salmon reflect to us our understanding of self and place.
The epilogue quotes Paul Schell, Mayor of Seattle, "Ironically, as we work to save the salmon, it may turn out that the salmon save us."