Saturday, October 19, 2002

Freeman House

FREEMAN HOUSE, an environmental organizer and co-founder of two watershed restoration groups, has written a remarkable memoir about human-animal interdependence.

Part lyrical natural history, part social and philosophical manifesto, Totem Salmon: Life Lessons From Another Species, tells the story of a determined band who've worked for over two decades to save one of the last purely native species of salmon in California. The book, called the Zen of salmon restoration, traces the evolution of a Mattole River valley community in Northern California.

Refusing to accept the extinction of their river's wild salmon, a handful of locals (including House) formed the Mattole Watershed Salmon Support Group. Working cooperatively, they began restoring the silt-choked Mattole themselves, building weirs and fish traps to divert salmon as they struggled upstream, and using these captives to propagate and release wild stock in much greater numbers than would be possible in risky riverbed spawning. It was lonely, exhausting work, but the group persisted through mistakes and hard lessons and brought back not only the river's king salmon but also its coho run.

"This wonderful book chronicles the way reverence for wild salmon stitched together a Northcoast California community of loggers, ranchers, hippies, environmentalists and bureaucrats. Its salmon-lore is encyclopedic and the story of the community's growing cohesion has filled me with an abiding joy." Peter Coyote, author of Sleeping Where I Fall.

Freeman House was born in pre-Disneyland Anaheim. He gained his education in economics through his experience as a commercial fisherman and tugboat owner-operator; and in art and social dynamics while running with the counterculture theatrical/political Diggers in sixties San Francisco.

He also attended classes at Oregon State University and the University of California, Berkeley. Freeman House is co-founder of the Mattole Watershed Salmon Support Group and the Mattole Restoration Council. Total Salmon: Life Lessons From Another Species won "Best Non-Fiction Award" from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association when the book was first issued in 1999. This year, Freeman House was named the 2002 recipient of the Harold Vurster Memorial Award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters for the quality of prose in this book.

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