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Light on the Devils

Coming of Age on the Klamath

Louise Wagenknecht

Publication Year: 2011

When Louise Wagenknecht’s family arrived in the remote logging town of Happy Camp in 1962, a boundless optimism reigned. Whites and Indians worked together in the woods and the lumber mills of northern California’s Klamath country. Logging and lumber mills, it seemed, would hold communities together forever.

But that booming prosperity would come to an end. Looking back on her teenage years spent along the Klamath River, Louise Wagenknecht recounts a vanishing way of life. She explores the dynamics of family relationships and the contradictions of being female in a western logging town in the 1960s. And she paints an evocative portrait of the landscape and her relationship with it.

Light on the Devils is a readable and elegant memoir of place. It will appeal to general readers interested in the Pacific Northwest, personal memoir, history, and natural history.

Published by: Oregon State University Press


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pp. v


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pp. vii

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Where It Ended

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pp. 1-6

In a town called happy camp, beside a river that he had known all his life, a man drove into the deserted parking lot of an abandoned lumber mill, sat for a while in the cab of his pickup truck, and then blew his brains out. I had known him for thirty years, and he had worked in that mill from 1965 until the mill closed. ...

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pp. 7-17

In 1962, my stepfather quit his job as a forester for the Fruit Growers Supply Company and joined the U.S. Forest Service. Fruit Growers—a subsidiary of Sunkist, the giant fruit cooperative—owned Hilt, where we lived in a safe and orderly community of four hundred people, governed by the company, ruled by the mill whistles that rang out across the railroad tracks. ...

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pp. 18-26

On Monday morning my sister and I stood out beside the county road as Indian Creek roared in its chasm thirty feet below. Several other kids stood with us, and we exchanged nervous glances. A yellow school bus had stopped a few minutes earlier, and Elizabeth and I attempted to follow a short round girl with long black hair up the steps. ...

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pp. 27-34

Liz and i rarely talked about our mother’s first husband, a man we could remember seeing only twice. Our mother hated him and had always been afraid that he would try to take us away from her. Many years later, we figured out that since this was the last thing in the world our father’s second wife wanted, it would never have happened. ...

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pp. 35-40

In Ireland, in county Laois, old leases record that wood was once so plentiful that peasants were required to use it as fuel so that coal could be saved for industry. But by the eighteenth century, the forests were gone, and the poor had to be content with turf. In 1760, John Brannon, son of Patrick, ran off to America, where there was lots of wood. ...

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pp. 41-54

As a child, I preferred to spend time during family gatherings with the men. They talked about interesting things, like politics, and their travels. The conversation of the women tended to veer toward horror stories about childbirth and operations. One day, well lubricated by Grandfather’s martinis, one of my great uncles asked me what sort of husband I wanted. ...

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Into the Woods

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pp. 55-61

In the Klamath Mountains, winter storms began in the first week of November. For six months, with only minor breaks, wave after wave of storms crashed against the Pacific coast and rolled inland. At Eureka, on Humboldt Bay, annual precipitation was thirty-five inches; at Orleans, in the Klamath River canyon fifty miles inland, rainfall rose to eighty inches as the mountains raked moisture from the clouds. ...

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Pleistocene, Ho!

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pp. 62-73

When dad left the Oregon ranch in 1956, he stopped poaching deer. In an apartment in Yreka, under the scrutiny of close neighbors and a landlord, there was no opportunity. After he married Mother and became the sole support of a wife, two stepdaughters, and later a son, he had too much to lose. ...

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Deep Waters

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pp. 74-91

Johanna Mostovoy didn’t have to leave her husband, after all, to escape her creepy little apartment in Happy Camp. (That would come later.) What got her out was the uprooting of another family, when Trella Loquet’s husband was transferred by the highway department to southern California. Trella, an Attebery who had never lived away from the river, cried as she watched her furniture stuffed into the moving van. ...

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When It Changed

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pp. 92-100

Such a simple thing, water, yet it scoured away roads, destroyed houses and bridges, changed the courses of creeks and rivers, smashed our car, and killed people—not just anonymous people in newspaper reports, but people we knew. Now, when I walked downtown from the high school during lunch hour to have my hair cut by Mr. Lee the barber, Dr. Edmunds’ office next door was closed and dark. ...

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Light on the Devils

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pp. 101-112

In later years I looked back on our few months in the Attebery house with unalloyed pleasure: a sunny place, where flowers sprang up almost overnight, where Boots stalked birds and once nabbed a hummingbird in the snapdragons. I took it from him and held the black-eyed jewel on the palm of my hand until it zipped away. ...

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The River

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pp. 113-127

Grandmother grew up on the Mississippi river, where her father, a Danish immigrant, worked through the Iowa winters in his shirtsleeves, cutting great blocks of ice from the heart of the river. But when I first knew her, she had lived for over twenty years in the valley of Cottonwood Creek, a tributary of the upper Klamath River. ...

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On the Road in Middle Earth

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pp. 128-138

Liz and I rose at six o’clock, on our first school day in Seiad, and ate breakfast sitting on the raised hearth of the stone fireplace in our new house east of the town. By seven o’clock, we waited down at the highway with Eddie Alexander—a blond sophomore barely taller than Liz—and Mitch, a senior who sucked on a cigarette and hunched his shoulders inside his jacket. ...

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Liz and Mark

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pp. 139-146

At fourteen, Liz was slight and slender, her chest still flat, her hips narrow. Her blonde hair hung to her waist, held back from her high forehead with a headband that made her look even younger. She weighed about eighty-five pounds and was so pale that in some lights her face looked slightly green. ...

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The Girls of Springtime

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pp. 147-158

Mr. Backstrom was a slight dark-haired man with a bored expression who resembled Patty Duke’s television father. Before he came to Happy Camp in the fall of 1965 to teach high school mathematics, he had been a mechanical engineer for Lockheed. ...

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Choices and Secrets

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pp. 159-166

Between Mark’s suicide and Jamie’s pregnancy, Liz and I had a lot to digest in the summer of 1966. In early July, after two weeks of clamming, crabbing, and fishing on the Oregon coast, we fell back into our summer routines. I ran up Grider Creek Road in the mornings. We worked in the garden. ...

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Fire on the Mountain

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pp. 167-181

In the late 1950s, Dad became a bow hunter. Back then, reverting to such a primitive weapon was considered odd, and the compound bows now widely used were unknown. He used a straight bow with a fifty-five-pound pull that took a great deal of strength just to string. On summer evenings in Hilt, he walked down to the old baseball diamond and shot at box targets. ...

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pp. 182-187

The senior class that entered Happy Camp High School under the smoke of the Indian Ridge Fire was only a remnant of the largest freshman class ever. Back in September of 1963, sixty of us had filed into the gymnasium for the first time. We clattered up onto the wooden bleachers and sat clustered together like ducklings. ...

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pp. 188-205

In the 1960s, every national forest had creatures called junior foresters. Just out of college, these apprentices followed journeymen foresters around like puppies to learn everything they weren’t taught in forestry school: the Way of the Forest Service. In Dad’s new job at Seiad as timber management assistant, he supervised several of them. ...

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pp. 206-215

Graduation came and went, and I wondered why I had been so worried. I gave a valedictory speech that praised learning and managed to say, in effect, that many of my classmates had merely put in their time and didn’t deserve a diploma. I delivered it full of confidence, and even Dad praised the typed copy. ...


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pp. 216

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716508
E-ISBN-10: 0870716506
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716119
Print-ISBN-10: 0870716115

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011