Posted by: atowhee | June 3, 2017


One of Oregon’s beloved writers (along with Ursula LeGuin) has died.  Brian Doyle of Portland and Lake Oswego died late last month.  And for us birders he is surely one of the most enjoyable of novelists. Let me nominate this as one of the great paragraphs in fiction, veering between hard-edged realism and myth-rich animism:

“I am of the clan of crow, Moses explains to Kristi. They are still sitting on the porch, Kristi stroking his back and Moses humming with pleasure… I am no eagle, says Moses. God forbid such a thing.  The clan of raptor is a mean clan. Their minds are small.  Their horizons are meat.  They take pride in their violence.  They tear and shred each other with no regret or compunction.  Their hearts are limited.  They have no sense of time.  They have no perspective. They have no past and no future. They are never sad, having no past to mourn no future to fear, but they are never happy.  They glower and snarl.  They live for blood. What kind of life is that? They glory in power. What kind of life is that? They have no humor and their affection for their children is measured out in meat. What kind of life is that?  Whereas my tribe is motley and chaotic. My tribe is dense and tumultuous. We argue and tease and wrangle and goof and fly upside-down. We are brilliant and stupid. We are lonely and livid. We lie, we laugh. We are greedy and foolish. Sometimes we all sing together.  We tease dogs. We can be cruel but never for very long… We all fly hoe together at the end of the day. We have no kings.  We have no outlaws.  We have no ranking. We have no priests. We have no status. Age confers nothing in our clan. Size confers nothing. We have no warriors. We have no beauties. That’s just how it is.  We all look the same. Our stories go on all day long.  We remember everything. Our life can be maddening. It gets loud. We never agree on anything.  We bicker. We play jokes. We take chances….”

The above is from his novel, Mink River.

Click here for nice summary of some of his major works (he published over 2 dozen books of fiction and non-fiction.)

For one of the better obituaries, click here.


Another book I’ve just had the pleasure of reading is a decades-long sequence of letters between two of our finer poets who also wrestle with the way we use land and each strove to break the industrial agricultural grip: Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. The book is called “distant neighbors” which how the two men though of themselves, living in California and Kentucky but visiting back and forth and often appearing together at public events.

“Subsistence equals Sacrament.”   –Snyder
“I would like to be in the uncut Sierra forest again, if only for an hour.  I would love to site beside one of those clear, fast streams and look at a dipper.”   –Berry

“…on one level it can be argued that all creatures are equal in value…”   –Snyder
“We are bot a domesticated species, we are a wild species. Nobody has controlled our breeding program to produce certain desired characteristics.”    –Snyder
“…it is not necessary to have so many human beings, in fact it’s degrading.  For people.” –Snyder

I don’t see how anyone can responsibly determine and prescribe an optimum human population… A lot of monstrosity could be the result, and I unhesitatingly prefer extinction to monstrosity.”   –Berry
“All our food is souls.”   –Snyder quoting an Inuit
“I like things that are little and brown,
Beetles and sparrows and mice.
For to see them you must kneel down,
Andf a humbling science is nice.”   –Berry quoting Bob Weedon


  1. One can imagine Mink River and Doyle’s other books as at least a partial antidote to the sweeping autocracy -something to read before going out to aid the resistance.

    Here’s a Masha Gessen’s NYT Sunday essay:

    Anything but reassuring…

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