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“Robin Cody populates his wonderful essays with compelling Northwest characters so vigorous and colorful they might have stepped from the pages of a Kesey novel. Here are gyppo loggers, roughstock rodeo riders, tramp miners, and hogline fishermen. Powerful rivers surge through these pages, too, honoring the people who fathom their depths from David Sohappy to Sam McKinney. Cody also champions those who need a voice—special education children, deaf basketball players, delinquent juveniles, (even baseball umpires). The author’s astute observations, keen eye for detail, and wry sense of humor make every essay memorable. This collection illustrates that the most unforgettable character proves to be Cody himself—empathetic, clear-eyed, humorous. This remarkable Northwest book is a rare gift—worth owning and sharing.”

—Craig Lesley, author of Burning Fence and Winterkill

 


'Collection of Writings Goes With the Flow'

Writer/editor Brian Doyle’s introduction sets a giddy tone. It’s like a burbling, chattering brook that feeds into the deeper currents of Robin Cody’s collected writings in “Another Way the River Has” — and the intro alone is practically worth the price of the book.

But Cody has a pretty sharp wit himself — along with a counterbalancing streak of melancholy, a passion for the natural world, and a really good ear for dialogue.

In addition to being the award-winning author of the novel “Ricochet River” and the Columbia River travelogue “Voyage of a Summer Sun,” this native son of Oregon has worked as a teacher, basketball ref, baseball ump, and school bus driver. He also is a river rat, having grown up on the banks of the Clackamas River and exploring by boat up and down the Columbia since then.

This collection of essays and profiles, published by Oregon State University Press, spans nearly 30 years and many of those experiences.

Some of the pieces, which originally appeared in The Oregonian, Portland Magazine, or the literary quarterly Left Bank, contain a whiff of Bunyan-esque bluster. These aren’t tall tales Cody’s telling, but the lumberjacks, environmentalists, fishermen and bronc busters he talks to and about all seem to be manlier, bluer-eyed, and more individualistic than more pedestrian reportage might convey.

When he wrote these pieces — and remember, many of them go back a couple of decades — it’s as if Cody knows that he’s capturing the words and thoughts of a vanishing breed. Of course, he writes about vanishing species, too, and the people who are trying to prevent that from happening.

Cody sees the heroic in the people he meets. He hears and records their voices as parts in a distinctive Northwest chorus.

There’s the late Sam McKinney — author, boat-builder and Columbia River advocate. There’s the uber-enthused Mike Houck, Portland’s resident bird nut and urban naturalist extraordinaire.

There’s gyppo logger Lydell Reed, as revered by his crew as he is taciturn, and — there’s a pun in here somewhere — that’s saying a lot.

There are the disabled kids on his school bus — particularly Miss Ivory Broom — who light up a couple of his essays with their indomitable charisma.

And there’s The Turtle, a shallow-drafted plywood boat that he and his pal McKinney built. The way Cody writes about it, this trusty vessel has a simple dignity whether Cody is nosing it past beaver dams, into sloughs, or occasionally aground.

It is a pleasure to poke along the Columbia with Cody, to muse about eagles, wood ducks and salmon, and the many ways of the river. But more than once, this reader was lulled into a reverie by these riparian meanderings only to discover she had been led along a carefully plotted pathway to a very crisp point of view.

Fair enough — Cody’s at the helm — this book is about whatever floats his boat. It’s good to go along for the ride.

—Barbara McMichael, Kitsap Sun, July 25, 2010

 

 


  'Of rivers, boats and baseball umpires'

Robin Cody inspired me to buy a kayak.

A confirmed landlubber, it didn't occur to me to become familiar with my local waterways until I read Cody's eclectic collection of essays, Another Way the River Has: Taut True Tales from the Northwest. Afterward -- still afloat on his bright stories of the mischievous Clackamas River, the frenetic Willamette, the swift blue Columbia -- how could I not get out onto the water?

Cody is an Oregon native who previously penned the Oregon Book Award winner Voyage of a Summer Sun. He's part of that crew of Northwestern nature writers who articulate what it means to reside at the confluence of loggers and tree-huggers, hunters and hippies, Portland urbanites and Clatskanie farmers. In languorous, meandering prose, he glides from a history of the area's humanity to ecstatic discourse on the spider that has taken up residence in his wooden boat, The Turtle.

"I like to place my magnifying glass against the inside of the window," he writes, "and watch the spider's little anus squirt stickum. When it gets too personal, I put the glass down and remember to breathe evenly. Of all possible ways of capturing and socking away food, who would have thought of this?"

And who would have thought to pair lyrical accounts of river-rambles with a profile of professional cowboys at the Pendleton Rodeo, or a piece about baseball umpires, or meditations on at-risk youth astonished by their first glimpse of a great blue heron from behind school bus windows?

The writer Sam McKinney, who presented Cody with The Turtle, observes in the title essay, "What we see of a river is not ours to choose." What we see of Cody's decades of experience as a teacher and writer, umpire and school bus driver, is also not ours to choose. Just as those boating a river may round a bend to find that it's shifted tone and landscape, so, too, these pieces move abruptly from evocative descriptions of birds and beaver to an unabashedly funny profile of a 6-year-old girl with spina bifida in a breathtaking piece titled "Miss Ivory Broom."

What do disabled children and umpires and rodeo cowboys have to do with Cody's passion for the waters of the Northwest? Nothing, and everything. The river has a way, in this supple essay collection, of inspiring us to consider unexpected possibilities and new ways of looking at our terrain.

—Melissa Hart, High Country News, August 2, 2010

 

 

 


'Robin Cody's mastery of regional writing unfolds with each essay in "Another Way the River Has"'

The thing about regional writing that makes it so hard to create is it must evoke a place readers familiar with the area believe they know intimately, even exclusively, while simultaneously drawing something new and remarkable out of it.

It takes an instinctive feel for a landscape, a keen knowledge of the life-forms that inhabit it and an almost comprehensive knowledge of local history, lore and culture. Maybe it does not require being born to the land, but it sure seems to help.

Ken Kesey pulled it off in the most masterful way in "Sometimes a Great Notion," where anyone who has ever driven down a coastal river in Oregon knew the place the Stamper family inhabited but never in the way Kesey discovered it. H.L. Davis did it in "Honey in the Horn," where his first paragraph alone is worth rereading a hundred times just to feel the magnificence of the place.

When regional writing falls short, it is usually because the writer is simply a reporter, as opposed to envisioning the land in some new and magical way.

In Robin Cody's new book of collected essays "Another Way the River Has: Taut True Tales From the Northwest," he reaches that lofty point of high-quality regional writing most often when he takes to the Willamette and Columbia rivers in his boat "The Turtle":

"As I lay in the cabin, waiting for sleep, the moon broke clear and silver and bright," Cody writes. " Light from the long gone sun -- in a sensational bank shot -- reflections off reflections -- bounced from the moon, ricocheted off the river, and rippled the white ceilings of 'The Turtle.'"

In fact, the best writing of the book comes from Cody's time on his boat as it plies the waterways of the Northwest, bringing to the reader the kind of experience Aldo Leopold evoked in the legendary nature writing of "A Sand County Almanac." Here Cody stops on the mud flats along the lower Columbia River:

"Wisps of vapor danced across the river, and the songbirds were just a-going it. I walked back to the net-minding platform, newly attuned to an orgy of life and death at the threshold. Life at the border between water and land is richer than elsewhere. All along the wet mud bar were tiny air holes for little breathers taking on tinier fuel. Here in the back-and-forth wash of salt and fresh water, noiseless mouths and claws and filters were at work on the business of life. An aroma of rich rot filled the still air as the sun broke above the ridge to the east, powering up the whole haunting and wondrous system."

A native of Oregon, this is Cody's third book and his first in 13 years. Of the 24 stories, nine are new, nine previously appeared in The Oregonian between 1983-2001 and several more appeared in Portland Magazine and other publications.

Authors often release their collected works in the hope they bring some new light to the writing. These collections can contain both diamonds and rust, with dated storied reading just like what they are -- old stories. Some of the pieces Cody provides from the early 1980s call for resolution, or at least an update to what happened after. "Cutting It Close" ran in The Oregonian in 1983, and anyone who has ever spent time on a logging site or worked the woods knows the truth of the characters in this piece. The writing and characterization are taut, but the story is so old, and the world so changed, I was left wondering what happened to the men from Reed Logging.

The chilling "Killed in the Woods" uses a phrase anyone who has lived in rural Oregon has heard at one time or another, and it burns with anguish to read it and remember the loss.

The reprinted story "Miss Ivory Broom" is Cody at the height of his truest power: the ability to observe and empathize.

One of the delights in "Another Way the River Has" is that you are getting to know the author as he unfolds in each piece. Who would not take to a guy who comes off the river like a beaver with a curious streak, who can revel in the joys of a small-town baseball game, the sociology of a coffee shop or the charm of special education students that most of us never even see?

Ultimately "Another Way the River Has" is about us, who we are as a people, how we treat the land and each other. Anyone who recognizes the place we live contained in the pages of this book is bound also to find a new delight in the way Cody sees the same landscape. Reading Cody, when he is at his best, is a homecoming to a place millions of us share.

 

—Peter Sleeth, The Oregonian, April 10, 2010

 


 

'Northwest storyteller Robin Cody to visit'

Like many Oregonians, both native and transplanted, Portland author Robin Cody loves this place we call home.

With his latest book, Cody, a perpetual explorer himself, set out to write about the evolution of species on the lower Columbia since Lewis and Clark’s historic voyage in 1802-1804.

He wanted to write especially about how the plants that we see today along the river are different because of our management, changing habitat and invasive species.

“It turned into a bigger book than I imagined and I gave up on it,” Cody said.

Still, he salvaged his favorite parts of the project and lashed them together with a wide range of his finest essays and articles over the years, with stories from as far back as the early ’80s and as recent as last fall.

The result is called “Another Way the River Has: Taut True Stories from the Northwest,” and was published by OSU Press this spring.

In the book, Cody shares his studies of fishermen, lumberjacks, rodeo cowboys, researchers and others over the years. He also tells his own stories of growing up in Estacada along the Clackamas and of his boat, The Turtle, and the adventures he’s had in it along the Willamette and Columbia. Even his experiences as a school bus driver find their way into the flow of the book.

“I’m always interested in workers like that,” Cody said. “I grew up with the children of loggers and I have a high appreciation for what loggers do; how they love the woods.”

Cody’s local connections have allowed him to ride along in the cabs of log trucks and hang out with rough-and-ready crews, visit Native American fish camps and confer with Coast Guard rescuers.

“If I were a stranger from New York, they might have been more hesitant to let me in,” Cody said.

Cody does a fine job of giving a sense of the geography, habitat and history that surround his stories, drawing upon his background as a novelist to distill stories about huge issues into certain characters and places.

“That’s what a novelist does, is try to get a lot of things into a short space. Especially how the places we inhabit form how we think about the world,” Cody said.

Cody is also the author of “Ricochet River” and “Voyage of a Summer Sun,” both of which appear on the Oregon State Library’s 2009 list “150 Oregon Books for the Oregon Sesquicentennial.”

“Voyage of a Summer Sun” about his 82-day solo canoe trip down the Columbia River received a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award and an Oregon Book Award.

Cody and his wife both taught at the American School in Paris in the ’70s. He said that having lived in Paris — so far away — helped him appreciate where he grew up. He was later a dean of admissions at Reed College in Portland. He has also been a baseball umpire for many years and recently held a job as a school bus driver in the Portland area. Right now, he is working on a writing project for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Through it all he has worked as a freelance writer.

“Lucky is the operative word,” Cody said. “Lots of people have the talent and a few people have the breakthrough.”

Cody will give a reading from his new book at 7 p.m. Friday, May 7, at The Arts Center, 700 S.W. Madison Ave. The free event is co-sponsored by The Arts Center, OSU Press and Grass Roots Books & Music.

—Nancy Raskauskas, The Entertainer/Corvallis Gazette-Times, May 6, 2010

 


 

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