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Barbara Scot on Sauvie Island's "Helpful Metaphors"

July 2, 2014

Award-winning author Barbara J. Scot's new memoir, The Nude Beach Notebook, is steeped in the landscape, history, and culture of Sauvie Island. Lovers of Sauvie Island, and lovers of exquisite prose, can hear Scot read from and sign copies of The Nude Beach Notebook in Portland next Tuesday, July 8th, 7 PM, at Broadway Books and Saturday, July 12th, 7 PM, at St. Johns Booksellers.

But first, Scot joins us on the blog to reflect on the origins of her place-based narrative.

***

A few years ago, Tom Booth, one of my editors at OSU Press, suggested that it might be time for another book about Sauvie Island. Did that pique my interest at all? I did, after all, live on the island, or rather, lived moored to the island in our houseboat that floated on the Multnomah Channel of the Willamette River. And my emails to him concerning the book we were working on then often included details of the island’s natural history I had observed that day; the wing-beats of low-flying cranes in the autumn, a sea-lion surfacing with a salmon outside my window in the spring. 

I’d give it some thought, I said, and I spent one winter reading and taking notes from old island histories and on-line editions of explorer’s journals, but in all honesty, I was thinking of other things. I had one last family mystery that wanted solving now that I was nearing my biblical allotment of three-score years and ten. Where was my brother, lost thirty years to alcoholism? Why had this brother, to whom I had been so close as a child, wasted his life? Or had he? The physical part of the search was the easiest; more difficult tasks were to define what family meant, the extent of family responsibilities, and what constituted a meaningful life.

The Nude Beach on the Columbia River side of the island where I walked my dogs at first light each morning started the process, the mists rising in spiral columns like dancing ghosts. I walked the island, past oak trees with 600 growth rings, through aisles of Oregon Ash. I noted the arrival of purple martins in the spring, the day when the osprey came back. 

But it was the ghosts of the past culture of Sauvie Island that offered the most helpful metaphors for my own understanding: fog canoes, an onomatopoetic language with the sound of wind, a brother who carried his sister’s body on his back.

I emailed Tom Booth. “I think I’ve written a book about the island,” I said. “It isn’t exactly what I set out to do but it seems to be about the importance of place in understanding one’s own life. And my place is Sauvie Island.”

“I’ll take a look,” he said.                                                          —Barbara J. Scot

In addition to The Nude Beach Notebook and Child of Steens Mountain (with Eileen McVicker) Barbara J. Scot is the author of The Violet Shyness of their Eyes: Notes from Nepal, a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Book Award winner; Prairie Reunion, a New York Times Notable Book; and The Stations of Still Creek. She taught public school for twenty-six years and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal.

To hear more from Barbara Scot, check out her author interview in The Oregonian. You can order a copy of The Nude Beach Notebook online here.

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