March Column – Cowlitz Historical Quarterly

The following column by Jim LeMonds will be published in the March issue of the Cowlitz Historical Quarterly.

I recently finished editing a book manuscript for my friend Irene Martin. Irene is an accomplished writer whose publishing credits include Legacy and Testament: The Story of the Columbia River Gillnetters; Lewis and Clark in the Land of the Wahkiakums; and Beach of Heaven: A History of Wahkiakum County.

Her new book focuses on changes in the Columbia River estuary – that life-giving place at the mouth of the river where fresh and saltwater comingle. She examines changes in floods, salmon runs and salmon sizes, sandbars, and the fishing culture.

Irene is a meticulous researcher. Her work is always precise and well-documented. But she doesn’t shy away from taking into account a wide variety of sources – some of which don’t appear in the scientific record – when putting a book together.

In the introduction, she sets this direction for herself and the book:

I have taken on the role of translator in this book, trying to discover, interpret and sometimes challenge the findings of science by the use of other non-technical languages. These languages are personal experience, observation, history and memory, not just my own but those of others who have lived or passed through the lower river.

Perhaps the most stunning illustration of this is a statement by the National Marine Fisheries Board that insists that June hogs – the giant salmon that journeyed from the Pacific Ocean to spawning grounds on the upper reaches of the Columbia River – never existed. Irene counters this science with anecdotal records that prove otherwise.

Irene’s words reminded me that the story of the past should never be the sole domain of a single agency, focus group, commission, religion, or news organization. We are all responsible for contributing to and providing validation for the historical archive, through story-telling – both oral and written – that incorporates our memories and the memories handed down by parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Perhaps most importantly, we are also responsible for examining a range of sources in our search for accuracy, for considering their biases and our own, and for acknowledging that truth can be far more complicated than belief.

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