Interviewed by Shannon Carriger
Read our review of The Same River.
Question: Greek philosopher Heraclitus suggested we never step into the same river twice, as the river, any river, is
always changing. How would you say your depiction of the Nesika river both defends and challenges this notion?
Lisa Reddick: The title The Same River is actually a counter to Heraclitus’s claim. Yes, the Nesika, the water in the river,
is continuous and gives the impression of constant change. However, as history unfolds along the banks
of the river, there is a constancy that is unchanging. Both Piah and Jess live out very different lives along
the Nesika, yet they both share the undeniably terrible loss of their younger sisters in the river.
The river as a character in the novel is important to the story. Caring about our natural world and what
is happening to it is a central issue of the novel. The parallel narratives explore common themes of loss
and threat. The river becomes a constant between the worlds. For Piah, the value of the Nesika river is
inherent in her culture, not something that has become threatened but can still cause harm. For Jess, the
Nesika has become like a trapped animal, anguishing and struggling. Jess longs to free the river, let it run
wild again like the river in Piah’s time.
I chose the name Nesika because it means “belongs to us” in the Chinook language. Using that name
also creates a constancy that’s important to the story. How we behave in the natural world depends on
that relationship. For Piah, the river “belongs” to her as a kind of family member. In Jess’s time, the river
“belongs” to the power company in a very different way. It’s really an analogy for how much we have
changed in our intimate and necessary relationship with the natural world.
Q: The strength of the Molalla women, in Piah’s sections, alongside Jess’s conviction suggests a
bent towards feminism. Would call the book a feminist text? Why or why not?
LR: Because these women are both facing a male dominate/invading force, I would definitely call this a
feminist text. As Jess faces down PowerCorp and Piah encounters visions of a light-skinned bearded
man, they both embody the feminine principle facing the male dominated patriarchy. For Piah, because
she lives in a very differently organized culture, there are ways that the roles of women in her tribe and
my description of them demonstrate the necessary power of the women of that time. I tried to not
romanticize either role, which would be a disservice to the story and render the characters unrealistic.
The complexity of what they both face and where they source their power from is definitely and
intentionally from a feminist perspective. It is also an attempt at helping us evolve the fundamental ideas
of feminism and realize that there are feminine qualities that are necessary and powerful in themselves
when not defined against the patriarchy.
Q: The love story between Jeff and Jess is so powerful in that it shows the ability of ideological differences to drive
people apart. It also seems to illustrate the escapist and the healing properties of intimate physical contact. Why
was including their physical intimacy so important to conveying their story?
LR: One of the first chapters takes place in the hot springs along the Nesika. Jess and Jeff meet up after a
long day wading in the shallows videoing spawning salmon. When they are naked in the warm water, the
physical passion reflects the power of the salmon’s drive to connect. It’s the real struggle for them,
their passion for connection, for two people who have experienced tragic loss finding each other on the
banks of a river they both love.
It’s also how the story explores the wildness of our human nature and the importance of physical
attraction and intimacy to that sense of wild connection. It’s immediate, instinctual, and very powerful
for both of them. The dripping forest, smell of the sulphur from the hot springs, the slick rocks…it was
a really fun scene to write. I took it out for a while, and one of my editors asked about what happened
in the hot springs since I refer to it later in the story. I showed her the chapter and she was like, “Oh my,
that has to go back in!”
Conflict is important because it can show us what we really value. How Jess and Jeff weigh the value of
their ideological differences and the choices they make based on their powerful attraction and their
commitment to their careers is an important part of the story. Their desire for each other doesn’t
change while the world around them slides sideways into a desperate dance of deception and survival.
The passion that Jeff and Jess share is a constant in the story, like the river.
LR: My friends and I often discuss feeling powerless against the negativity we see in the political arena over the
last few years. In your July 3rd blog entry, titled “The Ways We Engage,” you suggest that the ways “we can engage
and sustain our actions” can involve “a song, a painting, or a story that inspires [and] helps us breathe.” How is
The Same River your attempt at engagement?
The Same River is very much a demonstration of how beauty, art, and, in this case literature, can inspire us
to better understand and deepen our relationship to the issues we desperately care about. In that blog, I
talked about a class I taught called the Psychology of Climate Change. One way of helping to sustain my
students while they explored the science of climate change was to have them do what I called a wisdom
project during the quarter. They made all kinds of interesting works of art that both expressed and
captured elements of their experience that would have been left out if I hadn’t assigned a creative
project. It is also an attempt at one of the main assertions in ecopsychology, which focuses on how we
can better talk about environmental issues without using the typical blame and shame tactics of modern
environmentalism. My Ph.D. dissertation was about that and The Same River is my way of creating art
that also delivers a message. Readers care about my characters and they learn from them as they go
through the issues laid out in the story.
The sad truth is that I started this novel more than twelve years ago, and it is absolutely as relevant today
as they day I started my research. As more and more information floods our media and we learn how
absolute and destructive climate change will be, we need to call on the artists to help us better
understand how to be in our new world. You talk about feeling powerless over the negativity we see in
the political arena over the last few years, and I completely agree with you. The trick then is, where do
we find our power? How can we rediscover our wild and caring nature? In some ways I think the
#metoo movement is our speaking truth to power moment. However, the women speaking out are
often mauled in the process, which is soul killing and devastating. But, as a coalition of voices rises up,
truly powerful relationships begin to form and gain strength. What is true is that what power means to
us is evolving. We are moving from the individual warrior archetype to one of realizing that our
strength comes from connection.
Q: How does your background in ecopsychology drive your work? What specifically have you taken from the
academic world and used in your fiction?
LR: I discovered Theodore Roszak’s book The Voice of the Earth in the early 90’s when I was a graduate
student at Antioch University, Seattle. I was a poet, studying psychology and wanting to find a way to
relate those interests to my passion for protecting and loving the natural world. His work gave me the
framework I was looking for and has been the foundation for all my academic work since. I joined “Ted”
and many others for the first ecopsychology gathering at Esalen retreat center on the coast of California.
It was an amazing, immersive time getting to know him and the other conference attendees. We were
at the formative center for the beginning of ecopsychology, and we drummed, danced, talked, shared, and
explored all the possibilities that ecopsychology could become. There were Harvard psychologists,
Greenpeace activists, Deep Ecologists, political figures, and other well-know established professionals
and academics. It was wild to be part of it.
One of the main foundations of ecopsychology is based on the work of the philosopher Paul Shepherd.
His claim that we bear the wisdom and knowledge of our ancient ancestors and their capacity to live in
harmony with the land or “in the land” was a powerful influence on my thinking. In The Same River I
included Piah’s point of view to illustrate the importance of this way of life. Again, I tried not to
romanticize her life and was meticulous with my research about her tribe, who lived in the upper
reaches of the North Umpqua River in Oregon. Her story isn’t to show us the differences but to show
us how much we are the same. As the story unfolds and Jess and Piah begin to sense each other, the
timelessness of that moment really is a way of illustrating what Paul Shepherd and others were talking
about. The essence of this story is an ecopsychological story: how we can remember who we are and
embrace the power of knowing we belong to this place, to this land we call home.
Q: Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms came to mind as I read The Same River, particularly in the interplay of family and
history and the natural world. How do you see yourself fitting into the tradition of writers whose focus has been
on the communion between the human and the ecological world, specifically those who have used Native
American communities to relay that communion?
LR: Oh my gosh – when I read this question I got goosebumps! When I was doing my literature research
for my dissertation, I found Linda Hogan’s book Solar Storms. I had been using her fabulous book Power in
my classes at Antioch. I often assigned a novel in my classes as a way to get my students to engage the
material in a more creative way. As I read Solar Storms, I was so struck by how she constructed the
story in a non-linear, organic way. Her descriptions of the landscape and the interactions of her
characters with place are stunning. Her writing absolutely inspired me to let go and listen to my
characters and trust their depth of relationship with their place, their home, and the “other than linear”
way a story can unfold.
I think that in western culture we can look more deeply into our indigenous traditions to better
understand the nature of our disconnect form the natural world. I chose to write about Piah’s people
because they were native to the river and this land. The role that literature has in entertaining, inspiring,
teaching, and preserving history is more important now than ever. Leslie Marmon Silko’s book
Ceremony was another important influence in my writing. The novel as ceremony is important to me. I
wanted The Same River to inspire an almost ceremonial experience as well as an environmental story. I
trust that readers who have experienced loss, who have loved and lost a wild place, will read my novel
and come away touched or transformed in some way. Like Ceremony, letting go into the story offers a
container for readers to find healing and solace in the lives of my characters.
Q: The depiction of PowerCorp and its unrelenting and unapologetic assault on the landscape in the name of
money is timely and fascinating. What real-world companies did you pattern PowerCorp after, and/or what
policies and practices are you referencing in your rendering of PowerCorp?
LR: Haha – funny you should ask! Yes – PowerCorp is very definitely based on the power company
PacificCorp. When I started my research for the novel, I Googled North Umpqua River (that’s how we
all start research projects, now, don’t we!) and up came this whole section on how Soda Springs Dam
was up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As I read through the reports, I
knew that I had been handed the plot for my novel. It was so good I couldn’t have made it up any
better! So my research took me down to Roseburg, Oregon, to the North Umpqua river where I grew
up, and I interviewed all the players in the game. There were fishermen, lawyers for EarthJustice, nonprofit organizations like Audubon and Trout Unlimited. And, of course, workers for PacificCorp!
I spent a few days with one of the biologists who worked for PacificCorp. He was great and would take
me anywhere I wanted as long as I wore my hardhat. Yes, the character of Jeff is based on him. I
spent time in the power stations at Soda Springs Dam and taking underwater videos of spawning salmon.
He was forthcoming about his doubts that the Soda Springs Dam would ever be removed and that any
mitigations other than that would be successful.
The meeting that takes place at the beginning of my book actually happened. All the players gathered to
sign off on the removal of the dam, and PacificCorp pulled a fast one and walked out. The actual dam is
still there with a new 1.1 million dollar fish ladder. I never did follow-up with the employee of
PacificCorp. He’s still there, the dam is still there, and the salmon and steelhead populations of the
North Umpqua River continue to plummet.
Q: How are the echoes of grief in the novel, particularly the way Barbara, Jess, and Piah are haunted by their lost
family members, a commentary on the nature of grief itself?
LR: The heart of this book is about loss. When we experience loss in such a tramatic way, there are choices
we make about how we grieve that loss. In Piah’s culture her grief is very physical, expressive, and
unbounded. Jess experiences grief a bit more below the surface. Her grieving over the loss of her sister
goes underground in the face of the tremendous grief of her parents. That’s why it keeps coming back
asking for resolve. She is so drawn to the river, to the salmon, and her underlying motivation is out of
grief, maybe guilt over the death of her sister.
The book starts with a chapter based on my own experience of going back into my sister’s room after
she drowned in the North Umpqua River in 1974. In that chapter I was able to give Jess some powerful
transformative insights that I wasn’t as aware of when I was 14. My sense is that this scene is more of a
reflection of my many years of living with my story and processing my own experience through my
research for the novel.
Barbara’s story is really an attempt at conveying the archetype of someone who will not completely
recover from her experiences. She lives a lot in the past and is not able to move beyond or process her
grief. Her grief is who she is, and she bears it like an ongoing song repeating through her life. I would
say of all my characters she is the most unchanged by the story. She bears her grief and lives her life
cautiously and carefully.
In Joanna Macy’s book The Work That Reconnects, she talks about the importance of processing our grief
as a way of releasing the energy we put into holding back our grief. It takes a lot of energy, and when,
through ceremony, ritual, or other means, we can break down our denial or repression, the energy that
has gone into holding back our feelings and expressions of grief is released and can be channeled in more
powerful, beautiful ways. That is why I mentioned that I hope my novel can be read as a kind of
ceremony. As readers recognize themselves in my characters, they can process their grief, reconnect
with the beauty and authentic joy in their lives and find a way into a more meaningful relationship with
On a larger scale, my aim is to offer a model for how we manage our feelings around climate change and
the inevitability of loss and trauma we are and will be facing. I had family that lost everything in the
recent Paradise, California, fire. I know many thousands of people can say that today. It’s terrifying,
devastating, and rocks our worldview in ways we can barely understand. It’s also a harbinger of things to
come, which is also terrifying. I will be addressing this more in my next novel, but there are really good
insights from The Same River that can help us now.
Q: At one point, there is a reference to Jess having taken an Environmental Lit class. What should educators do
to educate and to inspire students to work for the environment?
LR: As I mentioned earlier, one of the most important assertions from ecopsychology is that there are ways
we can express our concern and inspire others to action that are not necessarily based on the blame
and shame models of modern environmentalism. This is especially when students are just learning about
what is happening and finding what they are learning completely overwhelming. I often would assign a
novel in my classes to help my students remember the importance of using their imagination and
experience the power of story to better understand our relationship with the natural world. And I
think that is true about the classics of nature writing. When Aldo Leopold talks about the “fierce green
fire” in a wolf’s eyes, we all know what he means. Art can help us both learn and connect to an
experience inspired by our own imaginations in ways more traditional texts cannot.
I belong to a professional organization called The Association for the Study of Literature and the
Environment. There is a large and deliberate activist component to a lot of the “nature writing” coming
out today. Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent example of how fiction can be used as a way of inspiring,
teaching, and moving people to action. Her book Prodigal Summer was very important to me while I was
writing The Same River. In fact, it was during a workshop with her in 1999 that I first considered
fictionalizing my story of living along the North Umpqua River and experiencing the death of my sister.
We actually workshopped my story that day, and I could feel a kind of wind blowing through my
personal story and opening up the potential to transform my work and bring my story to another level
that is both personal and archetypal. I often get questions about fact and fiction. My treatise came from
her that day. Barbara Kingsolver told us that fact in fiction has to be even more true than non-fiction.
So, my facts in my novel are carefully researched and crafted to inspire confidence in my story and the
lessons from the river.
Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to get involved in activism but feel impulsive and
potentially violent responses, ala Earth in Mind, are the only ways to have their message seen and heard?
LR: The Earth in Mind kids are based both on my personal experience as a young activist and what I imagine young activists must be feeling these days. As the issues facing us loom larger and larger, there is
either a radical desire to blow things up or a retreat into apathy and denial. I actually can’t really imagine
what it must be like for young activists, especially those working on climate change issues. When I was
young, I wanted to save the whales! Back then, things were manageable, with outcomes that were
possible and backed by values that were inherently good. Now we find ourselves facing the
unimaginable on a scale that we have no way of referencing and outcomes that seem impossible. I love
these kids and their wide-open, hopeful, adrenaline-fueled ideas. They are both tough and vulnerable at
the same time. I’m sure when my character Martin was younger he was like them, so having him as a
kind of pissed-off mentor works for them. Also, the invincibility and righteousness of youth helps
illustrate the radical nature of this kind of activism. Sure, it’s wild and risky, but in some ways it is familiar
to a lot of us and helps to remind us of our own wild and sometimes risky desires.
There are a lot of ways young people are engaging issues these days that are both radical and safe. I
used a book in my classes called Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken. In that book, he describes the NGOs of
the world as the immune system of the planet. I loved teaching this book and really giving my students
something to build their confidence. It’s a great way of stepping outside of our national political
system and identity into a more global, comprehensive sense of identity as activists. These days with the
saturation of information on social media, the pull on our attention has reached epic proportions. At the
same time, it is giving us all access to images, stories, and actions that are happening beyond our national
borders. My sense is that as that evolves, the importance and ineptness of our national political system
will become more evident and less of a hindrance to good global policies and NGOs committed to
mitigating devastating loss. I do think that young people will be drawn to that, and we can all rest in the
possibilities of the strengthening of that “immune system.”
Q: Jess references the doublespeak of the state, “woody biomass” as code for the forest, as a way of misleading
the public. Martin then goes on to claim, “This is a time when people are too scared, too easily swayed to see
only what they are shown and not to question it.” How do you see this truth playing out in the world today? Is
this relegated just to ecological issues, or did you want to make a larger political statement, i.e. conservative vs.
liberalism, with this claim?
LR: Considering I wrote this line more than 12 years ago, it strikes me as both sad and spooky how relevant
it is today. I have to say that as I was working through my most recent revision, I was struck time and
time again with “now more than ever” when it comes to relevance and the points I was making.
Ironically, what we are seeing today with the devastation by wildfires in California does track back to the
fact that fire suppression practices have allowed a “woody biomass” to accumulate in western forests.
That, combined with record setting droughts and temperatures have led us to this point in history when
the forests become terrifyingly dangerous and hard to manage. What we are experiencing is a kind of
tipping point of denial and blame, layering of what is best practice for the forests onto what we can’t know
about human intervention. That said, the Indigenous people used fire as a tool with controlled burning
that helped balance the buildup of underbrush. They used fire to make it easier to harvest seeds from
the summer and make access to acorn-gathering simpler. What we have now are forests burning
themselves and the fuel buildup combined with dryness is creating a danger that we can only imagine. It
will not be made safer by “raking.”
The recent wildfires in California and the response by the current administration should terrify all of us.
To make such a heartless, uninformed, disconnected, mean statement at a time when people, animals, and
an entire town are being wiped out should cause us all to run into the street tearing our hair out. But it
doesn’t…. The key in the quote that you use from Martin is that people can’t see because they are too
scared. I believe as the level of fear increases, it’s directly proportional to the level of audacious lies
people will believe. It’s like lying to a dying person about the fatality of their disease. It seems that we
as a society and nation are sailing on a boat that has completely lost its rudder, and there is no one at the
helm who knows what to do. We are all shouting above the roar of the storm; what we need is for the
storm to die down and for the wisest among us to rebuild our rudder. That’s me being nice and trying
to speak in analogies that make some sense. How I really feel is unfit for this interview.
One thing that comes up for me when I see a duality like conservative and liberal is the need for a
deeper discussion about categories and how we view the world around us. In ecopsychology we try to
identify when our separation from the natural world occurred. One assertion is that the split occurred
when Descartes made his famous “I think therefore I am” statement. The bifurcation of us/them is
running rampant through our thought systems today. It’s one of the ways we separate ourselves from
the “other” and our lives from natural living systems. I am interested in ways we can heal that
separation, reimagine our lives as intricate parts of nature, not a dominating separate, superior force.
This is probably way more than you meant by your question – but you ask really good questions!
Q: The release of Rich’s papers into the river felt like Jess was trying to let go of something for the sake of
something bigger she did not yet understand. What do you think modern readers should release in the hopes of a
LR: This scene is central to my story. I’m so glad you asked about it! When Jess puts the papers in the river,
she is surrendering. She is not surrendering to PowerCorp, she is surrendering the fight, the us against
them mentality that has driven her to this point. They go low, she goes to another place all together.
She puts her weapons down. She doesn’t give up–she does release and trust something larger than
herself. At this point in the story, Jess has been through a lot, and the connection she feels to Piah has
expanded her sense of purpose. We were often criticized in the early days of ecopsychology of wanting
to “go back” to more “primitive” times. What?? Again, I hope that this story inspires people to step
out of their construct of linear, forward-looking time and take a breath, realizing that there is wisdom all
around, under our feet, in our hearts, our courage, and our thoughts. We are wise, and, as Diane
Dominowski says, “a stormworthy lineage.”
I do get asked about hope, and I don’t have a good answer. It’s like where I would create that answer is
the same place where I can be scared and pulled off course. I always aspired to write a book worthy of
this ending. It’s always been so good. Not necessarily hopeful but timeless and inspiring, and it sets up a
powerful step to the sequel. These characters have a lot to say, and my commitment to them is to craft
stories that they will be able to convey to us what they think is most useful. We have a vast human
history and have survived many ages. We also have evolved skills and have brilliantly adapted to the
challenges we as a species have faced. The trick is to not forget that and to remember that we are not
Lisa M. Reddick has lived in, loved, and written about the Pacific Northwest for most of her life. After completing her PhD in ecopsychology, she went on to design and facilitate an MA program for Antioch University, Seattle. She currently lives in Edmonds, Washington, with her husband and two fabulous Australian shepherds.