Interview by Jessica McDonald with Wild in the Willamette editor Lorraine Anderson:
(JM) Lorraine sits across from me outdoors at the downtown Beanery. It’s the tail-end of the summer, and the air hints at the prospect of rain after the arid summer. With the Beanery only steps from the Greenbelt Land Trust office, we are accustomed to the mix of retired professors, philosophers, farmers, and grad students that frequent the coffee shop – that eclectic mix that represents Corvallis so well. At the outdoor metal table Lorraine (with an ever-present book by her side) and I reminisce over the last three years that have brought us to where we are with the Wild in the Willamette project.
“It seems like just yesterday when I first met you. For months our steering committee of five had been running our wheels at making contacts with writers in watersheds, assigning hikes, outlining funding proposals, and pitching the project to OSU Press. I think we pretty quickly realized that we were in over our heads as volunteers. In order for this book to be successful we knew we needed an editor to guide the ship, and from the first time we sat down with you in May, 2012, it felt like a burden was being lifted!”
(LA) “I remember Charles Goodrich contacting me, saying that a group was ‘dreaming of a book’, and would I be interested in being involved. I said ‘Heck yes!’”
(JM) “This is a pretty unique book. One, because of the steering committee involvement, and the other because of the nature of a trail guidebook mixed with prose. This must have been fairly different than most of your other projects.”
(LA) “It was a great joy working with a group who were creating something of value. It never ceases to amaze me what a small group of people with a vision can do.
When I first started on this project I reached out to MJ Cody in Portland, who had worked on Wild in the City. I learned from MJ that one of the hardest puzzles to solve with the book was figuring out how to delineate the workload and how long something like this would take. How do I budget my time when there are dozens of sites, authors, maps, artwork? With all of these disparate voices, I really wanted the book to have one overarching voice, created through the editorial process.
One of the benefits of the steering committee was that thought had already been put into a template for different site descriptions. Trish Daniels (steering committee) really made the initial work easier, because she had created a template of the Pudding Creek watershed sites before I ever came on board with the project. It’s so helpful to have a rough template to refine, rather than starting from scratch, and Trish was a pioneer in creating those first steps of the actual book. Luckily, we also had Wild in the City as a starting point to consider.”
(JM) “It seemed like every meeting we had over the next few years you reported on a new trail that you had hiked as research for the book. That must have been an interesting side-project, actually getting on-the-ground and walking these routes.”
(LA) “When I started this project I pretty much knew that the next three years or so were really going to take me into the outdoors. I’ve been a hiker all of my life, so it was a natural thing to spend time doing, but this book has really enabled me to visit places I otherwise might never have known about.
One of the first things I did was on-the-ground research, which helped us to settle on what sites we were going to include, before then reaching out to writers and volunteers to help us write up each location. What a blast that ground-truthing was! Over three years I’ve gone to nearly every site in the book (Abby took on the task of checking out those outings I didn’t have time to do), and it’s really opened my eyes to the diversity of the mid-Willamette. The breadth of places within a two-hour radius of Corvallis is truly impressive.
Also, because we took a watershed approach to the book, I learned so much about the differences between the Coast and the Cascade sides of the valley. They really are so very different, and it provided me with an education in place that I might never have known otherwise. Another profound aspect of this book was discovering how much salmon is a constant thread running throughout . . . how we have made our rivers nearly inhospitable to salmon over the last two hundred years, and also how that is being righted through restoration now.”
(JM) “Well, I’ve got to ask … any favorite, or for that matter least favorite hikes that you’ve discovered?” I watch as Lorraine smiles coyly.
(LA) “My favorite hiking trail in the book? I almost don’t want to give it away! What I will say is that I’m a swimming-hole connoisseur, and through this book I’ve found my new favorite swimming spot. Now … readers of this blog will just have to read the book to figure out the site I’m talking about!
Some of my most memorable hikes include Shelter Creek Falls – memorable for its 17 miles of gravel logging roads, creating a daunting drive. This book also provides some of the first guidebook direction to Crabtree Valley, an almost mythic place and so worth the long drive to see the 800-year-old trees.
One of the sites that didn’t make the book was Tumble Creek. A volunteer wrote a great description of it, but when I went out to find the trailhead, I said “Nope!” I recall driving a logging road barely hanging onto the side of a cliff in my Dodge Neon. When I reached a washout that had been patched with gravel, I declined to go any further.
(JM) “As I read through the book, I am amazed at how many people were involved. From the people who wrote up hike descriptions, to professional writers, artists, a cartographer, funders – it is truly impressive how many voices went into this book.”
(LA) “The volunteer writers were absolutely amazing. This book has created a network of people who care deeply about this place. Another incredible thing is that the vast majority came through, and on time! It’s actually one of the things I would change in the future – I’d have staggered due dates for writers on a project like this. While it was fantastic that writers met the deadline, it was a bit overwhelming to get a deluge of writing on one day!
This project was also a fun excuse to contact some of the professional writers that I didn’t already have relationships with. People like Laura McMasters or Henry Hughes – this provided a great opportunity to meet them. We are really fortunate to have so many writers within the Willamette Valley, and Wild in the Willamette brings so many of them together into one place for everyone to enjoy. The quality of writing in this book is really impressive.
And let’s not forget Monica Drost, map maker extraordinaire! We were so fortunate to work with Monica on the maps. Talk about coincidences … as the story goes, Monica first learned of the book project while in yoga class from overhearing two steering committee members talking. She then answered a call for writers to help write up a paddle trip. Unlike most of the other writers, when Monica handed in her write-up, she also submitted a map. “Aha!” I thought. I emailed asking her if she ‘knew anyone at OSU who could draw maps’ and explaining our need to contract out the maps for the book. Well, I had my fingers crossed that she would say ‘I know someone … me!’, and that’s exactly what happened.”
(JM) When we first sat down for coffee and I started to talk about the book’s initial impetus, Lorraine had stopped me, saying ‘What I really want to say is that, after three years, I’ve come to a realization about what this book is all about. Let’s start from the beginning, but it’s an important insight, and one that I feel has really come to light over time.’ Well, after an hour of lattes and conversation, I was ready for the big reveal.
“So, Lorraine – what is Wild in the Willamette about?”
(LA) Wild in the Willamette is a snapshot of how one particular people relate to one particular place at one particular time.
This book is like a living artifact. Right now, in this age, this guidebook is how people relate to place. We can read about a place like the South Santiam or Jackson-Frazier Wetlands, and on weekends we can get into cars and go see these beautiful places. Maybe in the future people will have a stronger or weaker bond to the land. I tend to think it will be weaker, as future generations become more and more wired to live indoors. In 100 years we might just look at a large screen showing a waterfall, instead of feeling the need to see it firsthand. But for now, we are a people who seek out these places. At this point in time, this is our consciousness.
I also think of the book as weaving together the creative responses of a bunch of people who inhabit this one place. Wild in the Willamette is a deep map of our place on earth.
(JM) “That makes perfect sense. This book is weaving together people by this one place, and it is also weaving together all of these places that make of the mid-Valley – from mountain tops to hidden nooks and crannies of Valleys and quiet rivers. I look forward to the reader picking up Wild in the Willamette and taking one small trip to see a new trail. It might be three miles or 30 from their front door, but each and every step into nature brings a greater appreciation for this place we call home.”
And with that, Lorraine and I stand, empty our coffee cups, and venture off to plant winter gardens and pick the last of the pears and apples before the wind and rain get the better of them. We will meet soon, for launch parties and readings of Wild in the Willamette – those well-earned celebrations for a beloved book years in the making.
Lorraine Anderson is a freelance writer and editor with a special interest in connecting people with nature, has lived in the Willamette Valley since 2005. She edited Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose and Poetry about Nature and Earth and Eros: A Celebration in Words and Photographs; co-edited Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature and Culture and At Home on This Earth: Two Centuries of U.S. Women’s Nature Writing; and co-authored Cooking with Sunshine.
Jessica McDonald is development director for Greenbelt Land Trust, and has been a member of the Wild in the Willamette steering committee since its inception. More info: www.greenbeltlandtrust.org