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Book Summary: The Good Rain by Timothy Egan

My Personal Summary

This book is part memoir, part travel diary, and part history book written by Timothy Egan about the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S.

Book Notes

  • “Lewis and Clark, the moonwalkers of the early nineteenth century” spent four months in the Pacific Northwest in 1805, recording only a dozen days without rain.
  • “Except for the coastal strip from Northern California on up, most of the American west is a desert, flat-bottomed and mountainous, kept alive by two arteries: the Colorado and the Columbia, both of them overworked.”
  • In the late 1700’s, several British naval vessels sailed along the coast of Oregon in search of the Northwest Passage – a river (the Columbia River, it turned out) – that dumped into the sea and allowed for waterway transportation from the inner United States to the Pacific Ocean.
  • At the mouth of the river, millionaire John Jacob Astor attempted to set up a trading post that could be used to profitably trade beaver and otter pelts, which were in high demand in Europe as fashionable hats. His fort, Astoria, ultimately proved to be unsuccessful and beaver pelts went out of fashion when silk hats were introduced at a fashion show in London in the 1820’s.
  • The Pacific Northwest is home to the only temperate rainforest in the continental U.S.
  • Olympic National Park, located on the west coast of Washington state, was named by English Captain John Meares, when, viewing the area from the Pacific Ocean, declared “if that not be the home wherein dwell the Gods, it is beautiful enough to be, and I therefore call it Mount Olympus.”
  • “President Teddy Roosevelt, alarmed by the dwindling coastal elk herds and the fast-approaching loggers, made much of the Peninsula a protected National Monument in 1909.” Today, the largest Roosevelt elk here in the world roams the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Olympic National Park is some to the biggest Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Hemlock tree in the world.
  • When the U.S. entered World War l, many battles were being fought in the air by planes made of spruce, a wood that is both light and sturdy. The best spruce in the world is grown in the Olympics, so the area was drained of trees at lightning pace.
  • Interesting: Victoria, Canada receives very little rain and is actually a rather sunny microclimate because all of the rain and wind is stopped by the Olympic mountains.
  • In 1778, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy was the first British subject to step foot in what would become British Columbia. He was the first non-Indian to realize a substantial profit from the resources of the Pacific Northwest in the form of beaver skins and sea otter furs.
  • Between 1785 and 1825, about 450 European ships arrived on the northwest pacific shores and many English merchants got rich while decimating the native population with diseases they had never encountered before. Upwards of 90% of the native population died from small pox and other diseases they had no immunity against.
  • Interesting: The Douglas Fir tree is named after a Scottish botanist named David Douglas who identified it in 1825 in the North Cascades and measured its average diameter at 17 feet – the largest known tree in North America at the time.
  • The Pacific coast was known for its brutal waves and lack of good harbors. By contrast, the Puget Sound was much calmer and offered a more natural place for ships to dock, which made Seattle a popular early trading post in the 1850’s.
  • Interesting: Seattle is at a higher latitude than half the population of Canada.
  • Interesting: Seattle gets less rainfall than nearly all cities in the Eastern half of the United States – it’s just extremely cloudy for nine months out of the year.
  • In 1980, Mount St. Helens in Washington erupted, wiping out nearly all trees and animals within 150 square miles. A total of 57 people were killed.
  • In 1902, Crater Lake became the nation’s seventh national park thanks to Teddy Roosevelt. It is the deepest lake in the U.S. and the only national park in Oregon.
  • In the 20th century, 136 dams were built to control the flow of the Columbia River and bring irrigation to water 25 million acres of farmland in the inland Northwest. The price was the loss of more than half the natural salmon spawning grounds, since no fish ladders were built on the dams to allow the salmon to travel upstream to their native spawning grounds.

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