Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
Not a lot of guys are born to do something.
For generations, Rich Gundersen’s family has chopped a livelihood out of the redwood forest along California’s rugged coast near Damnation Grove, a swath of ancient redwoods on which Rich’s employer, Sanderson Timber Co., plans to make a killing. In 1977, with most of the forest cleared or protected, a grove like Damnation – and beyond it 24-7 Ridge, named for the diameter of its largest redwood, a tree Rich was born to harvest – is a logger’s dream.
It’s dangerous work. Rich has already lived decades longer than his father, killed on the job. Rich wants better for his son, so when the opportunity arises to buy 24-7 Ridge – costing all the savings they’ve squirreled away for their growing family – he grabs it, unbeknownst to his wife, Colleen. Because the reality is their family isn’t growing; Colleen has lost several pregnancies. And she isn’t alone. As a midwife, Colleen has seen it with her own eyes.
For decades, the herbicides the logging company uses were considered harmless. But Colleen is no longer so sure. What if these miscarriages aren’t isolated strokes of bad luck? As mudslides take out clear-cut hillsides and salmon vanish from creeks, her search for answers threatens to unravel not just Rich’s plans for the 24-7, but their marriage too, dividing a town that lives and dies on timber. (Synopsis courtesy of www.ashdavidson.net)
I’m still learning about gardening. It is creeping up on me; to be honest somewhat like the weeds which would be allowed to run rampant over the garden if I was left to my own devices.
Last night I was reading Damnation Spring in the garden. In an adjacent field there is a Scot’s Pine. These trees, endangered, indigenous, slow growing has stood for at least 400 years. It predates the forest of larch which overlooks us and was used for logging, it predates our little house – by about three centuries – and it predates the rowan trees and cherries we have planted and nurtured in our own garden by about 390 years.
And none of those Scot’s would come within logging distance of the 24:7 redwood described in Ash Davidson’s beautiful novel, Damnation Spring.
Selected by Vogue as one of their ‘Best Books to Read this Summer’, Davidson’s debut arrives in the UK with some serious traction behind it.
It does not disappoint. American novels do not lack for characters chasing their destiny through hard to pin down goals. The story of Rich Gundersen’s history with the mightiest redwood in the forest; the dawning realisation that, perhaps, all is not right with the land that is all his family has ever known is startling. Moving, concerning, relevant to an age beset by climate concerns and told through the simple elegiac prose of a writer who has crafted her work to best effect.
These are simple people but not in a patronising way. They have the same multi-layered concerns of us all and, in Colleen there is a good hearted and brave woman determined to save her family, preserve her marriage and solve the issue of her multiple miscarriages. Indeed, at some stages, Damnation Spring reads like Erin Brockovich meets Deliverance via Moby Dick and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.
Ash Davidson was born in Arcata, California. She attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been supported by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and MacDowell. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Davidson’s debut novel, Damnation Spring, is published by Scribner in the U.S. and Tinder Press in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, and is forthcoming from Actes Sud in France. (Biography adapted from www.ashdavidson.net)