Book Review:

Writing the Northwest: A Reporter Looks Back

  • Posted 9/21/2017
  • Essay 20305

By Hill Williams
Washington State University Press, 2017
Paperback, 176 pages
Photographs, index
ISBN 978-0-87422-345-3

A native son of Washington, whose grandparents were early homesteaders, reminisces about his life and his experiences as a news reporter around the Northwest, with most of the book about his home state. Hill Williams was born in 1926 stamped with newsprint, and grew up in the Columbia Basin town of Pasco, where his father owned a newspaper. He writes:

"I like to think of my father's entry to the newspaper business as the spark that started us on our long journeys in news, channeling our lives through an amazing period in history."

It is with compassion and humor that Williams tells of his early years growing up in Eastern Washington during the Depression -- selling the Saturday Evening Post for five cents; throwing rocks at jobless men riding in boxcars, reported with regret; running for the giveaway turkeys a few days before Thanksgiving.

Later, as a science reporter for The Seattle Times, Williams covered the fascinating geology and rich history of the state, and the energy of its people. His book is a leisurely read with vignettes of many of the interesting stories he reported during his career.

In his literary tours around the Northwest, he writes about geological changes in the land's formation; the awesome experience of standing in the crater of Mount St. Helens; and witnessing the end of Celilo Falls, the ancient fishing place for Indians on the Columbia River. During the Cold War he covered the test of an atomic bomb in Nevada. With fondness, Williams describes University of Washington professors who made significant advances in understanding the environment; "Ranger Bill," who tranquilized and captured the bears he found on ocean beach campgrounds; and Leonhard Seppala, who made a long dogsled run to deliver serum to Nome, Alaska, which had been stricken with an outbreak of diphtheria.

There are thrilling stories about the sea -- the Makah Indians' rescue of the steamer Intrepid; a Coast Guard boat rolling over 360 degrees, with three men aboard; and Williams's exciting venture aboard the first nuclear submarine.

Williams is often touched by what he witnesses, as in his haunting visit to the original towns of Hanford and White Bluffs that were vacated for the nuclear-production site during World War II. And he admits to shedding tears on company time upon learning of the death of one of his Mount St. Helens guides.

The last few pages deal with this Northwesterner's travel to the Far East to write of China after the death of Mao Zedung, and also of Taiwan and Japan in the late 1970s.

The inclusion of some of Williams's articles published in The Seattle Times enhances the text. This book is a love story about the state of Washington, a treasure for newcomers, and for old-timers perhaps an inspiration to explore both sides of the mountains.

By Mary Henry, September 21, 2017

Submitted: 9/21/2017

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