Visible Bones: Journeys Across Time in the Columbia River Country

Overview

How can you know a place? Historian and naturalist Jack Nisbet—author of Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America—looks to the relics of a region to connect the present moment to the distant past. In the vast Western territory defined by the Columbia River, Nisbet tracks the stories and meaning of relics such as a trilobite fossil that points to a tropical prehistoric ecology; the nearly extinct California condor, once the largest thing in the skies, described with amazement by ...

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Visible Bones: Journeys Across Time in the Columbia River Country

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Overview

How can you know a place? Historian and naturalist Jack Nisbet—author of Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America—looks to the relics of a region to connect the present moment to the distant past. In the vast Western territory defined by the Columbia River, Nisbet tracks the stories and meaning of relics such as a trilobite fossil that points to a tropical prehistoric ecology; the nearly extinct California condor, once the largest thing in the skies, described with amazement by Meriwether Lewis; the indelible stain of the smallpox pandemic that overcame the native peoples of the West; a rare and socially potent strain of indigenous wild tobacco that reveals the presence of vestigial Indian practices; and the remains of one Jaco Finlay, a mixed-blood trapper and scout who seems to have been everywhere in the region two hundred years ago. All of these relics are the visible bones that show how past is present in the Columbia River Country. Together the stories these bones tell lays out a wholly original, hybrid history that connects nature with human endeavor, geography with the passage of time—all contribute to the biography of a place. The arrow of time travels in one direction, and this is usually how history is told: beginning to end. But Jack Nisbet is up to something else: journeys across time through a place, knitting past to present and back again to assemble a portrait of the land that marked the culmination of Lewis & Clark’s expedition, that saw the sad end of the Indian Wars with the flight of Chief Joseph, that has offered up fossil proof of mammoth species long extinct. In this western territory, the storied past is much in evidence.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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
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. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781570615245
  • Publisher: Sasquatch Books
  • Publication date: 5/10/2007
  • Pages: 246
  • Sales rank: 815,896
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 8.43 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Nisbet is also the author of Sources of the River, Purple Flat Top, and The Mapmakers Eye. He lives in Spokane, WA.

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  • Posted November 25, 2008

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    Brought tears to my eyes

    My grandmother, Alice Ignace, was captured by the author so true and correct. I cried when I first read it. The description of the mountains and my grandmother walking through the grass brought back so many memories missed so dearly since she is no longer with us. I hope everyone who reads this books enjoys it as much as I have.

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