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Encounters With Rural America Along the Oregon Desert Trail

by Ellen Waterston

Pub Date: June 16th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-295-74750-7
Publisher: Univ. of Washington

Equal parts travelogue, guidebook, history, and nature writing on the Oregon wilderness.

The Oregon Desert Trail runs 750 miles, mostly on public lands, from the Oregon Badlands Wilderness in the central part of the state to the Owyhee Canyonlands not far from Idaho. Waterston, author of Where the Crooked River Rises and four poetry collections as well as a longtime resident of the forgotten side of Oregon, bases this book on her experience hiking the trail. But don’t mistake it for a Wild knockoff. Instead of inviting readers along for the metaphorical and literal ups and downs of the hike, Waterston uses the trail’s geography to explore the social, political, ecological, and economic concerns of the day as they present themselves to the thoughtful explorer—the 2016 occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, to name only the most prominent. As important as it is to connect these dots from ideas to places, the author’s real gift is her ability to show readers how to know and love a place. It is a sensibility borne of historical awareness—knowing a place’s stories and the peoples past and present—that is unavailable to anyone fully satisfied by just noting the beauty of the scenery. This is very much a guidebook for would-be hikers of the ODT, one that tells them not only where to walk and where to get water, but also how to respect and care for the landscape. It is by this method that we might, as Waterston implores, “Imagine the ODT as a slight wave of the hand that ultimately propels the preservation and protection of wild places.”

Whether or not you make it to this part of the country, Waterston will make you take a closer look at the place you call home.