Like the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris, and the Hudson in New York, a river gives a city character. As Seattle writer Martin Wolk has noted, a recent biography of our local river does the same for Spokane. An illustrated anthology of 28 writings, The Spokane River tells stories about the 111-mile-long waterway and its inhabitants. Those varied stories stretch from the Ice Age to the present day.
The book is the brainchild of EWU English professor Paul Lindholdt, who will appear at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11, at the Northwest Passages Book Club. Several of the book’s contributors will appear on stage with him, including poet Tod Marshall, EWU tribal planning professor Margo Hill, reporter Becky Kramer, and Robert Bartlett, an avid fly fisherman who teaches sociology at EWU.
Other EWU contributors to the book include Jerry Galm, Stan Gough, Camille McNeely, Carmen Nezat, Al Scholz, Bill Stimson, Nance Van Winckel, Bill Youngs, Sarah Walker, and Lindholdt himself. The book takes an interdisciplinary approach. It includes indigenous legends of the river’s past, a humorous essay by Jess Walter, and expert accounts of cultural and natural history. All proceeds from the book have been dedicated to the Spokane Riverkeeper, which protects and advocates for the river and its tributaries, in particular Hangman Creek.
Tod Marshall, the state’s former poet laureate, opens the first section of personal essays. His dense but playful meditation on nudity urges readers to enjoy the river’s waters in the buff. Other chapters narrate fishing, canoeing, swimming, and rafting the river, which stretches from Lake Coeur d’Alene to its confluence with the Columbia River.
The second section focuses on human history. Two members of the Spokane Tribe of Indians offer intimate recollections and research. Journalist Beatrice Lackaff tells the story of a counterculture camp that sprung up during Expo ’74 at the river’s confluence with Hangman Creek. The present site of People’s Park, it is the same spot where indigenous people had been gathering for 8,000 years.
The book’s third section is devoted to environmental issues. Those essays explore the impacts of climate change and pollution. They offer prescriptions for managing the river’s transition from an industrial waterway to a corridor for human recreation and wildlife habitat.
Responses to the book have been encouraging, Lindholdt says. Sales at outlets including Costco stores have been brisk since the book was published in April by the University of Washington Press. “Several readers tell me the book has raised their consciousness about the nearby river that they had taken for granted,” he wrote in an email.
“The love for the river that I’ve witnessed has translated into greater awareness and care for it,” he noted. “The very presence of the Riverkeeper program is part of the evidence for that, as are state and federal regulations that make the river better habitat. There is still a lot of work to do, and this book suggests future courses of action.”