I grew up in the mountains of central Idaho, near the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return. My parents could probably be classified as being part of the back to the land movement. Soon after my older sister was born, they moved from a suburb of Denver to Idaho and bought a piece of land from a rancher who had a taste for shiny new pickups. While my father was building our house, with my mother’s help of course, we lived first in tents and later in small cabins hauled onto the property from a neighborhood in town called Suder Slums. Originally the cabins were used as employee housing for workers at the mill but the mill was scaling down, soon to close, so they sold off the cabins for cheap just to clear the land.
Our neighbor was a logger named Jerry, and for a time he ran one of the biggest outfits in Idaho. He’d lived there his whole life, still does, and as far as I know, he only left Idaho for any extended period of time while he was a soldier in Vietnam. I remember he had a bumper sticker on his pickup that said: Wilderness, Land of No Use. It was a play on the Forest Service signs that read: Wilderness, Land of No Abuse. Every Sunday morning Jerry would bring over the paper and have coffee, or a beer if Saturday night had been particularly rough.
When I first starting working on The Bully of Order, I often thought of Jerry and those cabins from the Suder Slums because in them I saw the history of modern, western state logging in microcosm. From the small mill on the lake, to Jerry’s being one of the biggest outfits around, to selling off all his equipment and taking a job with the county because (he says) the Forest Service bureaucracy finally wore him out; to the condos and vacation homes that were built on the land where Suder Slums and the mill used to be. Grays Harbor isn’t so different, the trees were bigger and the mills were bigger, everything about it was bigger; but in the land around the Harbor you can see the story of post-industrial America, same as you can see it in the failed steel mills of Pennsylvania, in all of our struggling cities and ghost towns. The Harbor defines us, tells us who we were and, for better or worse, what we are capable of: miracles and misery, sometimes both at once.
Brian Hart was born in central Idaho in 1976. In 2005 he won the Keene Prize for Literature, one of the largest student literary prizes in the country. He received an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers in 2008, and is the author of the novel Then Came the Evening (Bloomsbury, 2009). His latest novel, The Bully of Order, is available now. He holds the Dobie Paisano Fellowship for the Fall of 2014. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and daughter.