TOTEM SALMON by Freeman House


Life Lessons from Another Species
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Efforts to save a run of wild salmon in northern California, and by extension to formulate a bioregional ethic for living with the land, sympathetically told by participant House in his first book. Back in the 1970s, as House remembers it, the ranchland around the Mattole River started to experience an influx of counterculture youths, of whom he was one. The newcomers spent “a great deal of time trying to forge a new sort of relationship to the living processes of their home place,” and the Mattole salmon became a symbol for them, as it had been for the native residents, providing an intimate link to place. And the fish was in jeopardy, indeed the whole watershed equilibrium had been thrown out of whack by a variety of forces: logging and mining interests and the habitat degradation they wreaked; the neglect of state and federal agencies whose job is protecting the environment; and misguided acts to improve fish stocks. House describes in neat-handed detail the efforts to restore the salmon through collection, incubation, rearing, and release; he outlines the newcomers” jousting and cooperation with government officials and long-established neighbors; and their abiding curiosity about and respect for their natural milieu. It is an admirable endeavor, and House tells its story with care and delight, even though his writing can be loose and repetitive and strewn with near-misses (“The encounter is so perfectly complex, timeless, and reciprocal that it takes on an objective reality of its own”). He also has the occasional, irritating habit of telling readers how they experience nature (“When we glance at a stream in passing, we see it as it is in the moment”—maybe, maybe not). But no one can fault House’s urge to concoct a sane and healthy economic relationship with his home place, one deeply immersed in its natural processes and patterns, and which he explores with such empathy and conviction.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-8070-8548-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999


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