As much as we take the Columbia River for granted in these parts, it's still not hard to forget that long-ago moment of glimpsing it for the very first time. For some of us, it was from the back seat of the family car on some interminable summer vacation; for others it was as a recent transplant to the Northwest. The sudden surprise of seeing that cold, fast blue water, its sheer girth in the middle of rocky scablands and sagebrush desert is an unforgettable sight.
William Layman first saw the river in 1975 and was so awed by its size, beauty and power that the Columbia has become one of his part-time obsessions. Although he works as a counselor and theater director in Wenatchee, he has also spent many hours researching the pre-dam history of the Columbia River, particularly the section that runs up the middle of Washington State. In Native River, his new book published by WSU Press, he shares the fruits of his considerable research, which include historical accounts, modern-day ruminations and period photographs that give a sense of how much mightier the mighty Columbia was before being reined in by the Priest Falls, Wanapum, Rock Island, Rocky Reach, Wells, Chief Joseph and, of course, Grand Coulee, dams.
Layman offers the reader the opportunity to experience the Columbia through far older eyes: He includes accounts by Father DeSmet (who sadly recalls how the river claimed the lives of his traveling companions at Whirlpool Rapids), David Thompson, Lt. C.E.S. Wood and the oral histories of the region's Native American tribes. He also covers the natural history of the Columbia from Priest Falls, in the south-central portion of the state, all the way to the Canadian Border and discusses how truly wild and awesome the river must have appeared to folks seeing it for the time. Layman has two scheduled book talks in the Inland Northwest -- one at Auntie's on Oct. 10 and one at the MAC on Oct. 11 -- and we're glad to see the addition of a new book about a little-discussed section of the Columbia to the pantheon of Columbia River titles.