Book review: Guidebook to Puget Sound by Byron Fish

Guidebook to Puget SoundNot unlike the last book I read and reviewed, this book was both a ridiculous bargain and a charming read. En route to Village Books in Bellingham (my annual pilgrimage) we stopped at my favorite junk store, Bonnar’s Trading Post, on Chuckanut Drive in Bow. Bonnar sold me a very interesting chapbook/zine sort of thing produced by an organization called the Ecotope Group bursting with technical information, charts, graphs, and building specifications for Pacific Northwestern greenhouses (for 75 cents!) and the book I am reviewing (for 25 cents).

Guidebook to Puget Sound (subtitle: The Water World That the Indians Called Whulge) is a travel guide for daytrippers looking for marine view drives. It breaks up the undulating, crenelated shoreline (which runs anywhere from 1,700-2,200 miles, according to chapter 1) of the inland sea into 8 parts.

Given that this book was written in 1973 not all the information is correct. The SR-16 bridge, for instance, is once again a toll bridge.  At the time the book was written, the bridge that replaced the infamous Galloping Gertie had paid itself off a few years prior.  At this time, though, tolls have been reinstated because a twin bridge has been added to the Tacoma Narrows. Not that I expect anyone to tote this little book around in the digital age with expectations of it being 100% accurate. Even modern-day ebook versions of Lonely Planet guides come with with disclaimers about accuracy.

What is going to keep this book on my shelf (and in my hot little hand when the Volvo and I head toward the big salt water) is A) the tone and B) the local color.

The tone is pleasantly sarcastic. The author, a local boy himself, clearly loves the region, but at the same time remains somewhat less than sentimental about history. Note the scornful use of quotation marks in the opening passage of the foreword:

In the mythology of Europeans there was a belief (later inherited by Americans) that the first tourist of their race who visited any land or waters hitherto unknown to them had “discovered” it, and he was thereby privileged to “name” it in his own language.

Or this reflection on one of my least-favorite former Seattle landmarks:

The downtown waterfront is marred by a two-level viaduct, which, with hindsight, many residents wish had not happened.

Areas that were sleepy and quiet in 1973 may now be bustling and once free parks may now charge fees, but the underlying topography of the Puget Sound shores hasn’t changed. Mr. Fish’s advice on which roads have a pleasant view of the Sound and which hills are nice for a picnic, his still spot-on. With this book I also have the intentional history lessons (the names and dates of settlers and founders and native peoples) and the unintentional history lessons (what the price of camping sites and hot dogs and ferry fares was in 1973, for instance).

And I did learn things I did not know – such as that Chief Sealth is buried in the churchyard of an Episcopal church in Port Gamble, and that “King Clams” are really chopped-up geoducks, and that this area once was home to not one (as I thought) but two anarchist communes.

— Amanda


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