On its initial publication, in 1991, this was pretty much the perfect volume for those of us living in Cascadia. I can't imagine a book of that time offering a better researched look at the Pacific Northwest, with historical perspective and genuine intimacy, than Timothy Egan's The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest.
And I wish I'd read it then, rather than 22 years later. I can imagine the power it would've had over me then, the different paths I might've taken, and even though I'm lying to myself in saying that, because honestly, all I've really done is consistently failed to avoid becoming This Guy, I can see in this book a version of the Pacific Northwest, cross-border, that I wish I would've thought then was possible.
There's a beautiful naivety to The Good Rain now, sparking in me a nostalgia for a path that was never possible, that I never would've taken in the early 1990s and that the United States has made impossible ever since. I am utterly unable to understand, today, the US-Canada border as merely notional, as an accidental subdivision of semi-utopian Cascadia.
Not with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin because he thought maybe he was possibly under threat from the kid, even though Zimmerman had trailed and confronted him rather than letting him just walk home unmolested.
Not after the Texas legislature today, in the course of passing the inevitably restrictive laws against abortion access, disproportionately affecting rural and poor Texans, had attendees searched for tampons and pads, but allowed to carry their guns into the gallery.
Are there bigger threats to global security than the US? Yeah. Of course. Duh.
Is there anything about the US that I find inspiring anymore? Also, yeah. Also, of course.
But when I do my damnedest to imagine a way forward, toward some version of the Star Trek future that we'll have to achieve ASAP if we're not to suffocate under climate change or dread disease or bee extinction or whatever, the US no longer provides any of that imaginative force.
Egan did a wonderful job, in The Good Rain, of portraying the struggles of early American explorers, the absurd bounty provided to humans by the nature of the Pacific Northwest's coast and rivers and temperate forest, and the persistent struggle of American Indians of resisting and seeking redress from the American government and its settlers. I came away from the book hungry for road trips, for hikes, and for exploring places close to home I've never heard of before. If I was an American today, especially one with connections to the Pacific Northwest, I might read this book to remind myself that as recently as 20 years ago, another way was open to me and to my nation. Maybe it'd make me feel better, and maybe it'd give me the impetus to defend my vision of my country.
But I'm not American. And really, The Good Rain mostly made me sad, because the American that Tim Egan portrays here is a million miles, perspective-wise, from the society responsible for George Zimmerman's acquittal and the Texas legislature's thuggish views on women's health, civil liberties, and violence.
And those are just the news items from today.
America, you got it wrong. If you want to do something toward making it right again, might I suggest starting with something like Tim Egan's The Good Rain?