West by Northwest Online Journal

Welcome to West By, an occasional, online journal with a commitment to good regional writing

and with special emphasis on sustainability, arts and ecology. We are based in Spencer Creek Valley, southwest

of Eugene, Oregon. Join us as we celebrate twelve years online.  Write us at “publisher at”.

Our Mission

To give voice to “ordinary” people .

To build local and worldwide community

through the tools of Internet technology.

To be open to the work of the spirit,

To remember our past and rethink our future.

To celebrate our here and now.

Obituary of an American Original: Writer and Organizer Bill Nygren Dies

Bill at the Ranch

He-mailed a few trusted friends; his co-writer, his bowling buddy–a friend since first grade, and his godson … confidential… going into the hospital… lengthy stay… must do this alone… They kept their word and didn’t say a thing until everyone who knew and loved Bill was very worried. The one who was writing a book with him, Matt Nelson, was the first to let the cat out of the bag. . . . → Read More

Spring Wears the Clothes of Winter and a Smile

It’s becoming a tradition in the Pacific Northwest. Prize-winning Portland playwright and poet William S. Gregory sends his solar season’s tribute to the cycles of the sun. Enjoy. -Editor . . . → Read More

Reading Off the Charts Book Reviews: Mink River

Oregon Coast at Nightfall by Patrick Hudson

Mink River, destined to become the quintessential, post-modern novel of Western Oregon life, embraces magical realism as the only brush possible to paint all the colors seen. Even though it takes place at the Coast rather than the Valley, City or High Desert, and is very embedded in the strata of the Pacific Marine ecosystem, its themes of timeless stories that live through generations and the changes that time works, is an everywhere theme, an anyplace kind of experience. Maybe that is one of the factors that makes Mink River so universal in spite of specific terms of unique place. . . . → Read More

Ascending Manna

Slug breaks fast

Writer and naturalist poet Kathryn Ryan celebrates the seasons, the rubrical rhythm of life, seen and unseen, at the Equinox of Spring in true Celtic manner. Three poems are offered for your consideration, “Native Land,” “Moments,” and “Ascending Manna.” -Editor . . . → Read More

Forbidden Love and the U.S. Interior Dept.

Spencer Creek Middle Branch

Late the other night or really early the other morning, a cold, damp pre-dawn, stars appearing between tattered clouds, we heard a pair of owls calling. We hear them most in spring and fall. Most likely a mated pair, they called out to each other as they cruised through tunnels of air space between the trees hanging over Spencer Creek. One was farther up, one farther down. They stayed in almost constant communication for hours. Their voices fluctuated with distance and tones. But they sounded like the spotted owls of years past, or their cousins, the barred or maybe the new hybrids, the unwanted mixed offspring. Their calls are very similar. So are their genes. Only the humans seem to have a problem with the barred or hybrids. . . . → Read More

Obituary for a Collie

Jade Beauty, a doomed rescue

Many of you know this editor as one of those crazy dog-rescue people. A bitter-sweet anniversary is coming. I had to put down a dog I loved for severe behavior problems beyond our ability to cope. I could not just pass on the problem. I only hope her time here gave her joy and comfort after years of neglect. For a while it seemed that the anti-depressants were doing the trick but that last week or so made it clear she had adjusted through them and her basic personality problems came back. Say a little prayer for her and for us. . . . → Read More


The ice and snow that has persisted all week here in the hills is thawing at last. The air is still. The profound quiet tells me that the easterly air flow has weakened. When the wind is in the east, we hear the hum of the distant freeway and the pleasanter sounds of train whistles. Perhaps it will rain in a day or two. I’ll miss the pretty patterns of thin ice stretched across puddles, the ice sculptures and tiny castles rising out of the mud, and the glistening frosty mushrooms which I know will dissolve into black slime once they thaw. But rain will be welcome. Even though the soil is saturated and the creeks and rivers are running full, our land wants more. West of the Cascades the Pacific Northwest is a water world. . . . → Read More

Reading Off the Charts Book Reviews: Lavinia Lives

By Ursula K. Le Guin
Published in 2008 by Harcourt, Inc.

I can’t imagine writing a book like Lavinia but I am so grateful Ursula K. Le Guin did. It is a wonderful story, deeply felt and poetically told that not only recreates an alternate world but one that was once our world, literally and culturally. She queries the intersections of myth, legend and literature and uses the inquiry as part of the structure of the novel itself. Perhaps best known for her imaginative and challenging novels of future times and far-away places, she transports us to a past that we can rightly claim as our own, tenuous as the characters may have been, and transforms them into flesh and blood. Lavinia lives. Lavinia, the king of Latium‘s daughter, in pre-Roman Italy, narrates her life story with its key events foretold by the oracle and by the classical Roman poet, Publicus Vergilius Maro, or Virgil as we know him, centuries later (70-19 BCE).

Until this book by Le Guin, again centuries later, Virgil’s is the only mention of Lavinia in literature or in his epic of the survivors of the Trojan Wars, The Aeneid. which chronicles the tragic and redemptive life of the hero Aeneas. One of the legends of Rome was that Aeneas and Lavinia’s descendants . . . → Read More

An Accidental Rescue Dog: The Tale of Skippy

This is a true story about a dog I knew through my wonderful and weird old neighbourhood in San Francisco, many years ago in the mid-seventies. Young and hopeful, I lived in an old area dubbed “Dogpatch” by the locals and “Irish Hill” by the local historians, near the then-still working waterfront. Bethlehem Steel had a ship building yard with large cranes and the Mission Point “park” was a sturdy public pier next to the Mission Rock Beer Bait and Boats shop. We had the lovely lower flat an pre-quake Italianate Victorian a block and a half west of the water that was, with a few other domestic buildings, mixed in with many warehouses, machine shops, the SF railyard and scattered little factories, fleet yards, and a corner garage at Third and Tennessee, Fred and Jim’s.

A perfect site for an artist, I thought when I first saw the place. (I was trying hard to develop into a professional artist back then.) Now it is absorbed by the name “China Basin District,” once just referring to the channel area of the SF Bay a little north that berthed some small Bay fishing boats, a few houseboats and an antiquated small, old steel bridge that raised its deck for the boats to go through, located on the back route to downtown . . . → Read More

An Oregon Poet Goes to the Dog

Two poems salute the canines in our lives who teach us to celebrate each moment.

Nanook stands in for Alexi

Samoyed Homecoming

A day of showers mixed with sun,
the shrubs all trimmed, the mowing done,
the parents leave for Beaverton
to pick up their Samoyed son

Alexi’s coming home! . . . → Read More

An American Original: Louis Bromfield

Louis Bromfield and Roswell Garst, Malabar Farm, 1954, courtesy of {link:}The Ohio Historical Society{/link}, the Joe Munroe Archives

In 1786 homesick Thomas Jefferson, in Paris, wrote a letter glorifying his Virginia farm: “And our own dear Monticello…with what majesty do we ride above the storm!” Political tempests would come and go. The one thing that tormented him unto death in 1826, however, was the ever-rising river of debt issuing from “dear Monticello.”

In 1932 homesick novelist Louis Bromfield, close by Paris, wrote a note, singing of his youth on an Ohio farm. “It was a good way of life” he recalled, having “in it two fundamental things which were once and may be again intensely American…integrity and idealism. Jefferson has been dead more than a hundred years but (these) things are immortal.” Seven years later, he moved back to Ohio and built America’s most famous farm, vowing to create “a world of my own or die trying.” As it turned out, he did help usher in a new world of sustainable farming. But his farm’s rising river of debt lead to his early death.

While it’s unfair to compare even an imposing . . . → Read More

DNA and Nuclear Desecration

As we gaze nervously at our beloved West Coast that was battered a few weeks ago as the tsunami hit (relatively mild on this side of the Pacific) we remember the nuclear power plants perched above the rocks at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon over the mirror image of subduction plates that has so altered poor Japan. In the Northwest we have the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (clean-up seems to have no end) and the Richmond Plant. As we pray for the people of Japan, we also pray for ourselves that we will never have to face such a crisis. But it is more than possible. It may be a matter of time. -Editor

Our attention is riveted by the daily worsening of the Fukushima crisis, but there’s a different way of looking at nuclear disasters. It involves seeing all nuclear industries as an ongoing disaster. If accumulating radionuclides on the planet is unacceptably risky then operating nuclear power plants, that inevitably create radionuclides, is disastrous.

The individual releases of man-made radionuclides are each tragic and far more destructive than we are being told, and their number and scale are not really being placed in the public consciousness. Each individual release does not stand alone but is part of the ongoing . . . → Read More

Cedars, and Patches

Two sweet, short offerings to our loyal readers for St. Valentines Day:

Old Cedar, New Cedar

We have a big cedar stump in our dooryard from a tree that went down in a storm several years ago. It is 6 feet high and more than two feet across at the top. A baby cedar which is now several feet higher than the stump has sprung up from the root on the north side .

Yesterday the sun shining there enticed Patches to climb up to sun himself. Sasha joined him for a bit, but became aware of the big patch of snowdrops at her feet where many honey bees eagerly sucked up nectar from the flowers. She was uneasy so close to so many bees and reluctant to get down even closer. Eventually she managed to work herself down, using the new cedar on the north side for handholds and steps, and came to relate her worries to Mom and me.

I rejoice in the patch of snowdrops flaunting their presence in late January, a sign that spring is on its way.. I remember the blueberries and grapevine to be pruned. February will offer days when outside work such as pruning will be comfortably mild. How delightful it is to anticipate these yearly chores awaiting my attention in my 90th . . . → Read More

A Four Season Cycle: Dance, Dwell, Dark and Rain

In celebration of National Poetry Month, April 2011, West By is honored to present Portland playwright and poet, William S. Gregory’s Four Seasons Cycle. Also featuring the photography of fabric and metal artist, Brooke Stone.

Indian Plum in Spring, Spencer Creek Valley
by Brooke Stone

Spring Equinox 2011

Rain– during news of distant disasters
Rain– while revolutions collapse desert kingdoms

Rain– in the morning when foolish Senators make us turn the clocks
Rain– at night when the cold streets mirror the lights

Rain– every day of the week and on weekends
Rain– breaking and setting records

Rain– on the bones of winter, left root bare on the soil
Rain– on the early buds and trees

And now they say it’s spring.

And today–

William S. Gregory . . . → Read More

Nuke Power Madness

Like every other president since the 1940s, Barack Obama has promoted nuclear power. Now, with reactors melting down in Japan, the official stance is more disconnected from reality than ever.

Political elites are still clinging to the oxymoron of “safe nuclear power.” It’s up to us — people around the world — to peacefully and insistently shut those plants down.

There is no more techno-advanced country in the world than Japan. Nuclear power is not safe there, and it is not safe anywhere.

As the New York Times reported on Monday, “most of the nuclear plants in the United States share some or all of the risk factors that played a role at Fukushima Daiichi: locations on tsunami-prone coastlines or near earthquake faults, aging plants and backup electrical systems that rely on diesel generators and batteries that could fail in extreme circumstances.”

Nuclear power — from uranium mining to fuel fabrication to reactor operations to nuclear waste that will remain deadly for hundreds of thousands of years — is, in fact, a moral crime against future generations.

But syrupy rhetoric has always marinated the nuclear age. From the outset — even as radioactive ashes were still hot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — top officials in Washington touted atomic energy as redemptive. The split atom, we were to believe, could be . . . → Read More

Toward Restoring the Special Trust: the BLM v. the Public

Dear “Friends and Countrymen,”

After many years as an “eco-warrior” in Lane County, I moved to Portland to retire and write my book. Of course I haven’t done either so far, as environmental issues keep calling me. (I guess it is a calling.)

Currently, my organization Save Our ecoSystems inc (SOS), and several other groups and individuals throughout Oregon, have appealed a huge and very dangerous plan by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or Bureau for Bad Land Management, if you like.

Back in the 80’s, SOS and several other organizations won injunctions against BLM spray programs. One went all the way to the Supreme Court, followed by an order from the Departments of the Interior and of Agriculture to cease and desist spraying the public forests–period. There had been widespread revelation by the people, and by scientists, that were making headlines–the herbicides were putting both animals and people at risk for birth defects, contaminating waters, animals, fish and breast milk, plus a long list of threats to wildlife and all living beings. I, for example, became a diabetic for life, like so many of the Vietnam Veterans. It was heartbreaking to watch our young farm animals die, despite the best of care, and to see baby goats born with birth defects. They were spraying Agent Orange in forest . . . → Read More