NASELLE - After 11 years of study and more than four years of writing, Rex Ziak's book "In Full View ..." will be available in local bookstores this week. Subtitled "A True and Accurate Account of Lewis and Clark's Arrival at the Pacific Ocean, and their Search for a Winter Camp along the Lower Columbia River," the book is an encyclopedic study of the 30 days members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent in the lower Columbia River region 200 years ago.
The title of Ziak's book refers to Clark's journal entry - "In full view of the ocean" - at present-day McGowan.
Ziak, a lifelong Naselle resident, is a photographer, Emmy-award-winning cinematographer and Lewis and Clark historian who has lectured for several years about the explorers' long trek to the Pacific Ocean.
He has spent years poring over the expedition journals, reading between the lines, trying to puzzle out what happened between the gaps in the narrative of the days the Corps of Discovery spent along the Columbia River. "It's like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle for each day," Ziak said. "I was putting the pieces together but some were missing - sometimes 40 pieces, sometimes 300. I tried to understand the whole picture and fill in what the journals don't say."
Besides the main text, "In Full View..." is laced with photographs of the region, many by Ziak himself, and includes detailed maps of the explorers' routes, tidal information and weather conditions for each day of the journey, represented with modern satellite photos of similar present-day weather patterns.
Ziak picked up his interest in history early. "When I was in high school, I never bought into novels," he said. "They were so phony and absurd. Then somewhere I picked up a book of an eyewitness account by an explorer, a writer writing something that wasn't intended to be read, a journal. It was real. There were grammatical mistakes but the accounts were in the same voices I heard growing up - gillnetters, crabbers, loggers, who came by the house.
"I thought, 'I can understand this. It makes perfect sense.' So I started to read the accounts of 19th-century explorations, Darwin, Burton, Catherwood. They wrote with patience and intelligence."
Lewis and Clark's journals fell into the same body of work, Ziak said. He remembered his late uncle "Kewpie" Ziak, a well-known Clatsop County activist and environmentalist who stopped timber giant Crown-Zellerbach from building a log dump at the Knappa docks years ago. "He said, 'You can't build there, that's my back yard,'" Ziak said. "He tried to bring it to a stop." During conversations with his uncle, Ziak found that the area was "the first place Lewis and Clark stepped in Clatsop County. It was at that point I read the Bernard DeVoto edition of the journals."
"In Full View" is dedicated to T. Rice Holmes, an obscure 19th-century teacher in England, who had a major influence on Ziak's interest in history. Holmes wrote about early Roman history and the life of Caesar. "Holmes was an independent scholar and he had a wealth of resources," Ziak said. "He looked at Caesar's words, line by line, word by word. He asked, 'Where did they attack the city? Where did they camp?' and his interpretations of the words went against what other historians had believed for years. It was a whole other dimension."
Ziak says that 11 years ago, when he found the group hadn't crossed over to the south shore of the river until Nov. 27, "I realized the two most famous people in U.S. history spent 18 days a few miles from where I lived most of my life."
He set out to find the spots where the expedition spent their time on the north shore of the Columbia. "I drove the river," he said. "There were no signs, no markers, just the chain-saw sculpture near the Chinook Tunnel. So I started to dig."
In reading Gary Moulton's edition of the expedition's journals, Ziak said accounts "contradicted each other. It didn't match. There is obvious confusion about what happened here."
Ziak made photocopies of the Moulton editions and set out along the river. "I cut firewood along the river and took my notebooks, trying to find where Lewis and Clark camped. I'd tie up a log and wait for the tide, poking around, looking for campsites. One took me four or five years to understand. At that point, I thought the history was well-known" As he investigated, he made notes and highlighted the journals.
Part of the puzzle was exactly where the group spent three miserable days trapped by a fierce sou'wester in a place Clark called a "dismal nitch." A line in the journal says "I couldn't determine the precise course of the wind." "Why not?," Ziak said. "How could he not know? The other journal entries tell the precise direction of the wind. He was very sensitive to it."
Ziak wondered and thought about it for four years.
Then one day he was in a creek bottom cutting wood. "Here's what happened," he said. "It was during a November windstorm. The wind was blowing from the southwest, but it also was blowing over the top of a hill and back around to the south. That's the way the winds blow here, in all directions. Aha! This could be it."
He began writing, sitting in his house on Friday nights and hearing cars whiz by after a game at Naselle High School. "I'd pause, think 'What's that?' Then I realized my fellow citizens had been laughing and cheering at a game and were going home. I went back to the journals. I was very focused. I had to cloister myself.
"I had to figure out why in the journals, Clark refers to catching "red charr." Moulton translates that to sockeye, and I asked myself why, when I was growing up, we didn't eat sockeye in the winter. I went to Bonneville Dam, I asked local fishermen and Washington Department of Fish and Game people. There are no sockeye in the winter so my best guess is that Clark was probably referring to a bull trout. There were a bunch of questions like this, where I got into the minutiae."
By early 2000, the book was almost ready for a publisher so Ziak showed it to Sasquatch Press in Seattle. "They were very interested," he said. "I went through it one more time to make it right. They called in April and again in May. By fall, I was going over it again, trying to hone it down to a finer story with a better flow." Sasquatch was still excited about the book but said it couldn't be published until August 2003.
"I didn't view this book with a sense of marketing it," he said. "I began with a sense of civic duty. I assure you, if I had been thinking in terms of my economic best interests, I could have made a lot of movies and had a lot more free time. I originally designed it and intended it for the local community. It will be nice if it receives wider recognition and distribution, but it wasn't my first intention."
Since "In Full View..." ends on Dec. 7, Norma Paulus, director of the Oregon Historical Society, has asked Ziak to speak Saturday, Dec. 7, at an invitation-only release of the book to the public, the day before the society's 36th annual Holiday Cheer and Authors' Party on Sunday between noon and 4 p.m. Ziak will be there too, along with 67 other authors who have published books within the last 18 months. The list includes Jean Auel, G.M. Ford, Gerry Frank, Ursula K. LeGuin, Chuck Palahniuk and Craig Lesley.
'In Full View...' around here
Locally, "In Full View..." will be available at Time Enough Books at the Port of Ilwaco, Fort Clatsop National Memorial, Sandpiper Books in Long Beach, Lucy's Books in Astoria and at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.
On Wednesday, Dec. 11, Ziak will read from his book at Naselle Timberland Library from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
On Thursday, Dec. 12, he will read at Ocean Park Timberland Library from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and at Ilwaco Timberland Library from 6 to 7 p.m.
Ziak will talk about the book and sign copies on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Fort Clatsop at 11 a.m.
On Saturday, Dec. 21, he'll be signing copies at Sandpiper Books from noon to 3 p.m.
More information will be available on the Internet soon at www.moffitthousepress.com.
The book sells for $35 plus tax and shipping and handling. People who buy three or more books will get free shipping.