PURPLE FLAT TOP by Jack Nisbet


In Pursuit of a Place
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 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
ISBN: 1-57061-058-4
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Sasquatch
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996