“Turning Homeward” by Adrienne Ross Scanlan
I’d like to commend to you a book that seems to be perfectly suited for this season. “Turning Homeward” is an essay collection combining memoir and natural history.
Adrienne Ross Scanlan is an East Coast transplant, a New Yorker who abandoned a place that had been steeped in melancholy for her, due to her father’s slow demise and difficult death from Parkinson’s disease, and her own career in upstate New York where she worked for a statewide coalition of battered women’s programs.
Scanlan wanted a change, and after conducting some cursory research, decided that Seattle was the place to create a new life for herself.
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Not everyone is bold enough to launch intentionally into the unknown, and the author does a good job of describing the incremental steps that need to be taken when moving far from one’s birthplace and inserting oneself into a new community, from renting a room and dealing with housemates to finding a job, making new friends, experiencing a different climate and learning a new landscape.
One thing that led Scanlan to begin thinking of the Puget Sound region as home was her volunteer work. Growing up in the Jewish tradition, she was influenced by the concept of tikkun olam, which promotes the importance of repairing the world from harm. That motivated her to volunteer for work parties that rid local streams of invasive plants and restored the banks with local species.
And this is how she learned about the Northwest’s salmon, and the story of their homecoming. She was profoundly moved by their fierce allegiance to home streams, even ones severely compromised by humans.
Most of the essays in “Turning Homeward” are titled with the names of creeks and waterways she has come to know in the Central Puget Sound region. These are places where she has slogged through the muck, communed with fish and other stream dwellers, and experienced epiphanies large and small – such as the idea that in this land of storied plenty and fecundity, humans have been the most invasive species and have had the most detrimental impact of all.
Scanlan describes her transformation – again, incrementally – from New Yorker to Northwesterner. Both in her younger years and now, she has been dedicated to “saving the world,” but Scanlan notes that her motivations have shifted. “I no longer want to determine my actions and define my life by what I oppose. I want to act and live here in this world with what I love.”
Thoughtful, complicated, occasionally redundant – this book exudes humility and hope.
“Every forest is its own resurrection,” Scanlan concludes. Sometimes the biggest challenge for people is to stay out of the way.
So in this season of homecoming, for people and fish, “Turning Homeward” helps us think about how we create home through a series of actions, one after the other. Time will be the ultimate judge as to whether those actions make our chosen place bleaker or more bountiful.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.