Friend Friday

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of hosting Ana Maria Spagna here to celebrate a new book. When she is not wearing her writing hat, Ana Maria serves as the Assistant Director of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program (more info here). It’s a program I was honored to be part of in its founding; if you aren’t ready to commit to an MFA program, consider taking part in one of the residencies. In August, guest faculty included Gary Schmidt and Matt de la Peña! Enough with the commercial. Please welcome Ana Maria, as she shares echoes of some very special voices.

AMS and Beverly Ogle

Ana Maria Spagna and Beverly Ogle


A few years ago, I took a road trip with my mom to Death Valley, and along the way we passed a road sign that read in bright red letters: “Death Valley National Park: Homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone.”

“What do you think that means?” I asked. I was baffled. I’d visited a lot of national parks and worked in a couple, and I’d never seen a sign like it.

“Just what it says,” Mom said.

Turns out she was right. The Timbisha Shoshone, this tiny California Indian tribe with fewer than 300 members, had reclaimed their homeland from the United States government smack dab in the middle of a very popular national park. What an unlikely story, I thought.

For months afterwards, I turned the word over in my mind. Reclaimed. Reclaim. It’s a funny word. It can mean “to take back” or “to make right” or “to make useful.” The more I thought about it the more I wondered: were there stories where people achieved all three things at once?

I hopped in my old Buick and set off to find out.

The journey – actually several trips over three years – took me zigzagging over the mountains of the American West and introduced me to many amazing people, especially three wise and savvy women, elders you might say, who stayed at their quests for decades: Pauline Esteves, who led the Timbisha Shoshone to reclaim that land in Death Valley, Beverly Ogle of the Mountain Maidu, who helped reclaim Humbug Valley, her family’s ancestral home in the Northern Sierra from Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and Phyllis Clausen who worked for thirty five years (thirty five years!) to remove the salmon-blocking Condit Dam from the White Salmon River. I visited them in their homes and recorded our conversations. I did it to assure accuracy, but the benefit was much sweeter.

When I got home to my own cabin in the woods, their voices brought them back to me. I loved hearing Pauline’s fierce musical staccato, Beverly’s meandering storyteller drawl, Phyllis’ raspy precision. I loved the background noise, too: the coo of a mourning dove outside Pauline’s trailer in Furnace Creek, the screen door slamming at Beverly’s farmhouse as grandkids came and went. Most of all, I loved hearing their frequent laughter: at themselves, at the knuckleheads they encountered along the way, at the plain absurdity, and delight, of it all. These women are charismatic, tenacious, wicked smart, and exceedingly humble. Their inspiring stories make up the heart of my new book, Reclaimers. I’m honored to get to share them with readers.


Reclaimers Cover

Ana Maria Spagna is the author of Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus, winner of the River Teeth literary nonfiction prize, two essay collections — Potluck and Now Go Home — and most recently, the handy guidebook 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (as We Know It). She lives in Stehekin, Washington with her wife, Laurie, and Joon, the wonder cat.