PURPLE FLAT TOP: In Pursuit of a Place by Jack Nisbet

PURPLE FLAT TOP: In Pursuit of a Place

Email this review


A lyrical account, in the tradition of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, of a sojourn in the backwoods Northwest. The title may sound like a punk haircut, but it refers to a place that natural history writer Nisbet (Sources of the River, not reviewed) has made his own over the last few years: a little corner of semidesert in northeastern Washington, which Nisbet first saw when he came to help a friend build a house. ""This seemed like a perfect place,"" he writes. ""The chance to live outside, pounding nails in a place full of strange plants and animals, was exactly what I wanted to do. . . . The fact that neither of us had more than a passing acquaintance with a mason's trowel only spurred us on."" The consummate outsider, Nisbet tries mightily in the course of his narrative to ingratiate himself with the Chewelah Valley's close-knit human community. He succeeds, offering affectionate portraits of the hardscrabble farmers who live in the wheat country near Spokane, and such other distinctive figures as Darrell Somerset, a master of Western song (""Zane Grey crossed with Tony Bennett""), and Carolina Beck, a woman sure that the end of the world is nigh. Along the way, he also offers portraits of area wildlife, including a highly entertaining sighting of a mysterious albino raven who ranges the peaks of Purple Flat Top mountain ""with a flurry of swirling turns and boinky sounds."" A highlight is Nisbet's look into the prospect of reintroducing the timber wolf into the wild country surrounding the Chewelah Valley, a discussion that takes in the views of urban environmentalists and country people alike. In any event, one would be hard pressed not to like a book with a chapter that begins, ""That was the winter our neighbor Lynn finally decided to do something about his hemorrhoids."" A fine, gracefully written combination of bird-watching, people-watching, and regional history.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1996
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Sasquatch