Where He Called From: Raymond Carver’s Landscape

I am not sure what’s in the water of these little towns on the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle but genius sure gets cultivated. The small town of Aberdeen on the south end of the peninsula was where Kurt Cobain was born and raised. His band Nirvana turned the music industry upside down. Raymond Carver’s life in Port Angeles , on the north end of the peninsula, provided the fodder for his short stories which revolutionized the genre. Granted the lives of both these men were packed with pain and suffering but one cannot discount the landscape as an influence.

Bill Booth of the Washington Post recently visited Port Angeles. He came to Carver Country to get a taste of the place where the greatest short story writer of our generation lived, worked and died. His piece Walking the Edge appeared Sunday in the Fall Travel Issue of the paper’s magazine.

Just like Booth, Carver “was the writer we all read” in college too. He seemed to be that one writer that no matter where you came from, city-country-rich-poor, you could relate to his characters in some way. You could always count on him to say what he wanted to say without saying much.

Booth visits Carver’s grave, the marina where he docked his boat and grabs a bite at the corner diner with his widow writer Tess Gallagher. It all feels familiar, a comfortable dream, like we have been there without ever being certain that we were there.

As with any visit to a special place, Booth asks around to see who might be familiar with its specialness. Unfortunately, as Booth finds out, time has removed much of the Carver from Carver Country. As Alan Turner, owner of the local bookstore Port Book and News says “I’d guess that 99 percent of the people who live here have no idea who Raymond Carver is. He says a few dozen people a year come into his store asking about Carver. None are from here. “They’re all from overseas.”

Artist Thomas Hirshhorn loved Raymond Carver too. To honor Carver he wanted to “to make a ‘monument’ to him in. A makeshift monument, in a place where he did not live, where he did not die, but where he could have lived and died.”

The result was his powerful piece an Alter to Raymond Carver

The alter lasted less than three weeks. The contents withering with the passing of time.

“The disappearance of the altar is as important as its presence. The memory of what is important doesn’t need a monument.” Hirschhorn says.

The tragedy is in forgetting.

A great photo gallery The Landscapes of Raymond Carver accompanies the Washington Post piece.

Photo gallery of Hirschhorn’s Altar to Raymond Carver

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