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Oregon and Idaho: Essays of the land and the people.

Byline: REVIEWS By Paul Denison The Register-Guard

Oregon Fever: An Anthology

of Northwest Writing 1965-1982

Edited by Charles Deemer

(Avellino Press, 222 pages, $19.95)

Northwest in this case means not the region, but the Sunday supplement published by the Oregonian. From 1965 to 1982, under the editorship of Joe Bianco, the Portland newspaper's Northwest magazine ran a wide range of brief essays by some pretty fair writers, including Don Berry, Ivan Doig, Barry Lopez, Rick Rubin, Ursula LeGuin and Larry Colton.

Charles Deemer, himself a Northwest contributor back then, opens this anthology with two early essays that caused quite a fuss: Berry's 1965 piece "Kultur in Apathyville," in which he called Portland "the last bastion of the oatmeal mind," and Rubin's "Westside, Westside, All Around the Town," a 1966 essay arguing that the real Portland lay west of the river; he disparaged the east side as "an enormous flatland of homes and manufacturing plants, parks and minor hills, garish shopping centers and tree-lined streets and roaring freeways," nothing more than a necessary hinterland.

Other highlights:

"The Thurman Street Thoreau" (1968), Larry Leonard's chat with 73-year-old Yugoslavian shoemaker George Cetenich;

"Let's Not Overreact," Leonard's still timely 1970 interview with an FBI agent, a U.S. attorney and a federal judge about "bombers" and "terrorists," meaning violent political radicals;

"Who Are These People?" (1969), Paul Pintarich's gently empathetic look at the plight of the elderly;

"The Last Slow Dance" (1969), Deemer's description of ``The Portland Urban Minor League Baseball Experience'';

Rubin's humorous "My Gubernator Platform" (1966), starting with "install enormous rolls of barbed wire all around the state" and post guards armed with "appropriate local weapons: brush hooks, cross-cut saws, gill nets and umbrellas."

Not everyone will feel the loss of Northwest magazine as keenly as Deemer and other writers may. But then again, after dipping into this interesting anthology, they might.

Forged in Fire:

Essays by Idaho Writers

Edited by Mary Clearman Blew

and Phil Druker

(University of Oklahoma Press,

261 pages, $16.95)

As one might expect, this collection does include several essays by wildland firefighters.

"The nature of fire, however, touches a much wider range of experience than firefighting alone," write Mary Clearman Blew and Phil Druker, who edited this anthology for the University of Idaho Press shortly before it closed down.

Being trapped by fire is obviously another aspect of the experience. In "Jumping From the Frying Pan," Holly Akenson writes about just that at a wilderness research station:

"The fifty-five head of Flying B horses and mules shared the field with us. Alarmed by the flames, they galloped around the field. We jumped up and spooked them away from our area so we wouldn't be trampled, then watered down our tarps and huddled under them.

"Suddenly fire engulfed the grassy hillsides all around us. A hot blast of wind from the south flattened us to the ground ... As the firestorm passed over us, the giant mushroom cloud of smoke blocked out the sun. It was afternoon but completely dark except for orange flames that glowed in all directions."

But "Fire is not only a threat; it is a condition for life," the editors add, pointing readers to such essays as Susan Glave's "Trash Burner," about a mother buying broken Presto-Logs at a discount to keep her family warm through a Boise winter, and to "Strawberry Blonde," Druker's rueful essay about fire and love.

In "The Ashes of August," Kim Barnes considers the prospect that one of her children might become a firefighter. "I shudder with the thought of my son or daughter choosing to try himself, herself, against such an adversary. I wonder if I would come to dread and despise the month I love so well, for I am strangely wedded to the tyrannical heat, the thunderstorms, even the fire - the absolutism, the undeniable presence of August in my life."

Barnes' essay, and others in this collection, touch on our fascination with the terrible power of fires, and of the lightning that so often starts them.

In "What I Know of Fire," Robert Coker Johnson, who was badly burned by a brush fire as a child but grew up to become a firefighter, writes about lightning:

"Sometimes the strikes are cold; that is, they don't start a fire but are beautifully destructive anyway. Another friend told me he had come upon the remains of a tree struck but unburned. Outward from the tree, spears of wood from the fractured trunk formed a perfect circle around the tree like a warning: I'd go back if I were you."
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 5, 2005
Next Article:A reading planned for essay contest winners.

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