Contributed By:

Emily Harris

Northwest Passages: Ellen Waterston

OPB | June 2, 2011 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10:11 p.m.

Ellen Waterston‘s essay, PauMau, gives you a glimpse into central Oregon ranching life. The PauMau Women’s Club is an event and an escape for women ranching the high desert. They live scattered through the Paulina and Maury mountain ranges, around where Crook and Deschutes counties join. They meet monthly.

Here Waterston describes the women:

PauMau women could likely walk dainty in high heels across any kind of terrain. Same as they can open and close the door with a simulatneous pull and swing, with the matter-of-fact agility of someone who has done lots of hard physical work, known hope, and weathered heartbreak, wielded a branding iron or vaccine gun, wave their husband through countless gates, cradled a colicky child, ridden the buck out of a mare, forgiven a drunk spouse, straddled an orphaned calf, its head propped between her knees, and insisted on warm milk from a nippled bottle, or endured the unstoppable affection of bummer lambs who have imprinted her as their mother, now always underfoot, bleating, tritting after her as she feeds pigs and chickens.

The essay is published in Waterston’s latest book, Where the Crooked River Rises. The collection illuminates cultural changes she sees happening in central Oregon.

It also alludes to difficult change she’s faced in her own life: a husband she lost first to meth, then to suicide; children who struggled with drug addictions of their own.

Waterston left ranching on the Crooked River and now lives in Bend. A few years ago, she wrote Then There Was No Mountain about trying to get her daughter off drugs. She started Bend’s literary festival, The Nature of Words in 2005, and runs writing workshops and retreats.

She grew up in New England but is deeply entwined in eastern Oregon:

I have a sense that in some strange manner we’re led to the landscape — the place that will teach us what we need to know.

What place has taught you what you need to know? What stories have you learned from Oregon’s high desert? What cultural change do you see in central Oregon?

Have you read any of Ellen Waterston’s work, or taken her writing courses? What do you take away?

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