Where the Crooked River Rises: A High Desert Home By Ellen Waterston

Where the Crooked River Rises: A High Desert Home

By Ellen Waterston

Publisher: Oregon State University Press (October, 2010)
Paperback: 144 pages
Price: $18.95
ISBN-13: 978-0870715921

Reviewed by Carol Frischmann

If you are curious about either a Great Basin life, a woman’s life, or both, Ellen Waterston’s Where the Crooked River Rises: A High Desert Home, (Oregon State University Press) will have you crunching dust-devil grit between your teeth and shivering with the effort of winching calves from heifers in the cold and dark.

Surviving thirty years as a rancher in “Oregon’s Outback,” Ms. Waterston’s essays celebrate her accomplishments, name her as a “part of the actual and metaphorical biota of the high desert,” and allow readers to share her transformation from Eastern girl, to young woman on “The Old Hackleman Place,” to worshiper in “The Church of the High Desert.”

Readers meet people living by “homespun desert wisdom,” and disappearing from our state as fast as the “Oregon Road and Recreation Atlas” is revised.

At first, I was uncomfortable with the chapters’ unevenness—some remote, some personal, some like newspaper clippings, saved to recall some event that seemed important at the time. With the last chapter, Waterston provided a closing that answered the question, “why not smooth the ruts?”

By driving past “self-created roadside shrines gaudily decorated with plastic flowers . . . blind to the new story that I was living into, deaf to the rich landscape of others’ stories that would inform mine . . . [a woman asks], ‘Does anyone want to see where I was found?’”

Where the Crooked River Rises is where Waterston was found; each essay revealing one part of her story, as surely as wear marks on a saddle describe horse and rider.

Graduated from Duke University with a degree in Science Education, Carol Frischmann is the pet columnist for KGW.com, an NBC affiliate television station, and for her own website. In April 2007, TFH Publications releases her book, Conures, a part of the Animal Planet Pet Care series.