|Timothy Egan, Summer Fishtrap Gathering|
Photo credit: Sam Traylor, Whitman Intern
Earlier that day at Fishtrap, I had flipped through the book's index, looking for references to the Panhandle of Oklahoma, where my daughter and son-in-law live. The women Egan wrote about had been young girls when the nation's "worst hard time" hit. Now, old women bent with age, lines of disaster were etched in their resilient faces. "The earth pushed back," Egan told us, "against the hubris of our nation."
Once Egan begins to understand the arc of a story - the human journey - he begins to research, going into the archives, diving deep into historical documents. When researching The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, the heart of the story rose up when Egan read this line in one of Roosevelt's journals, written after Roosevelt lost his wife in childbirth, and later that day, lost his mother. "The light went out of my life," Roosevelt wrote. "This tragic day changed the course of his life," Egan told us, "and of our nation." Roosevelt entrusts his sister with the care of the infant, and goes West to become a cowboy. "The West," continued Egan "gave him back his life."
Wallowa Valley," he swung his arm wide, "and you understand the Nez Perce and Chief Joseph."
In a July 17 op-ed for The New York Times, "Heritage and Healing," Egan wrote about his appearance at Fishtrap. "I recently went back to the isolated, alpine hideaway of Joseph, Ore., a little town I’d spent some time in 17 years ago, and was pleased to find a laboratory of hope for small town America... it is a stunning place — set in a cradle of grass and forests in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon."
And for all of us at Fishtrap, a remarkable week, giving back to many of us the life we call writing. Yes, we will remember this place...
Note: Learn more about FISHTRAP: Writing and the West, and the annual Summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers.