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G E O R G E V E N N Eastern Oregon State College Keepingthe Swarm: ANorthwestExploration ofPlace i. For nearly thirty five years, I have been writing about a particular place in western Washington—Alder—named for the red alder forest in the vicinity, a deciduous forest which regenerated thick and green after a crown fire had burned the conifers down to fly ash. The region was homesteaded by my German-Jewish and Scots-English relatives in the 1890s, and my Wisconsin grandparents found a refuge in Alder in the 1930s. Like many small northwest places, Alder is still invisible and would have remained so but for three events: the Nisqually River drainage had vast forests of old growth cedar, hemlock, and fir, so logging and railroads came early; Mt. Rainier National Park was offi­ cially established in 1899, so the demands of tourists paved a highway from Tacoma through Alder to Paradise in the mid-1920s; the City of Tacoma dammed the Nisqually River in the early 1940s, and flooded the Alder townsite so well that the engineers called the reservoira lake and found people who believed them. My firstAlder sketch was read aloud to the sophomore class by my high school English teacher. I had described one of my uncles—a crippled bachelor—who lived there. He was friend to everyone. In college, two of my three published stories were about fictional Alder characters—a fatherless family, and a solitaryold woodcutter. In gradu­ ate school, I published a story about a boy who left Alder during the construction of a dam, returned from Vietnam, blew up the dam, and unintentionally killed himself in the process. Several of the other sto­ ries in my M. F. A. thesis were set there. In 1988, I drafted a 600-page novel about a place called Vine Maple Valley. Several years ago, I sent an Alder Christmas story to my extended family. For years, I’ve written 60 Western American Literature poems about the place, collected photos, diaries, letters, clippings, and oral accounts from relatives there. Just last year, I found my uncle’s World War II diary—-just as it was about to become rummage. Uncle Leonard Falck was a logger who stayed home, believed that Hitler was The Beast of Revelation, that the end of the world was coming any day. Days of rain and fundamentalist theology can do this to you. So, what follows continues my finding and keeping of this Alder swarm—selected Alder poems from Off The Main Road (1978) and Marking the Magic Circle (1987). To give some of their northwest con­ text, I’ve attempted to add stories and statements which might illumi­ nate these pieces that rise from one ofthe places that has compelled my attention for thirtyfiveyears. “All artis local—somewhere,”saysWilliam Stafford. II. My grandmother, Hazel Munger Mayo, always told her story first—the storyofleaving Wisconsin and coming to the Northwest. Both her parents had died while she was young. She had lived with her brother and graduated from high school. Her brother had sent her to Wayland Academy—a finishing school in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin—to acquire some sophistication. She worked as a bookkeeper in an Eau Claire lumber yard, and met my grandfather while singing in the Baptist Church choir. They married and had two daughters. A fewyears after their children were born, cattle dust from their Wisconsin dairy had given her asthma so severe that she could hardly breathe. “When I came in from the milking, I could hear her breathing all over the house,”my grandfather would add. “You better go west or she will die,” the doctor told them. So, in the summer of 1927, the Mayos sold everything in Eau Claire, bought a new Model A, and drove overland with two young daughters carsick in the rumble seat and living on crackers and orangejuice. They rolled down Snoqualmie Pass into the wet, green forest on Puget Sound where dustless summers, mild heat, and Pacific humidity saved her life. Like the Israelites about whom she read so often, Hazel Mayo had escaped aplace ofsuffering and death, hadjourneyed, had found a new place of hope, health, new...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 59-89
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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