For more than 20 years, Jack Nisbet has been digging into the Pacific Northwest.
The award-winning Spokane author, teacher and naturalist has written about explorer David Thompson and scientist David Douglas. He’s turned his sharp eyes to the Columbia River Basin and the Chewelah Valley. In his newest book, set for release Tuesday, Nisbet sets himself a grand task: to tell the “genesis stories” of the region.
In “Ancient Places” ($23.95, Sasquatch Books), Nisbet tells stories human and natural, stories that are at times personal and epic. He writes about the Great Missoula Floods and the study of carpenter ants, miners and businessmen, Indian chiefs and laborers.
He’ll celebrate the release of the book Tuesday night at Auntie’s Bookstore. In this Five Questions With email interview, we ask Nisbet about his inspiration and the lessons he learned.
Q. How did “Ancient Places” come about?
A. I have been wrestling with the places and characters in this book for years, sometimes decades, but was never quite satisfied with the way I treated them. A fresh round of research and listening to people talk revealed unexpected turns that helped to weave the elements into stories. Placing the pieces next to each other allowed me to explore different aspects of the Northwest landscape through time.
Q. After the David Douglas project, was it refreshing to be casting your net a little wider, as opposed to concentrating on the life and works of a single person?
A. Yes, it was fun to get swept downstream on an Ice Age Flood one day, then try to figure out how to form a terra cotta mold the next. But each segment of this book had to be built around a compelling character, so David Douglas and other familiar faces make brief appearances because they are indelible parts of our local landscape.
Q. What is your favorite discovery from your research on “Ancient Places”?
A. Surprise is supposed to run through each of these stories, continuous and unpredictable, and the discoveries never really stop. But I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around the fact that the Pleistocene flood material deposited on the bottom of Lake Pend Oreille is deeper than the water above it.
Q. What do you hope readers will take away from “Ancient Places”?
A. My hope is that each reader will find their own way to relate not only to the places where these stories are set, but also to ones that they discover themselves.
Q. What’s next?
A. Guess I have found over time that I don’t really have much control over what lures me in, but I am looking into a project that will lead a little more up into the mountains. I’m a slow writer, and probably won’t know for another year or so what shape it will take.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.