PORT TOWNSEND — Once in a while, the perfect book comes into your hands.
For Melody Sky Eisler it happened, just in time, with “Piano Tide,” a novel about a small flock of quirky people in the fictional town of Good River Harbor, Alaska. It’s a tale of the natural world and of human plunder, while Eisler believes it also offers hope for this lush part of the planet.
Heroine Nora Montgomery “has figuratively and perhaps literally burned her bridges in the lower 48 states, and moves to Good River Harbor with her big dog Chum and a piano,” said Eisler, director of the Port Townsend Library.
Nora aims to disappear into this remote place pressed up against the mountains.
Her piano is her anchor. But one of the town fathers, Axel Hagerman, has made a killing there by selling off the cedar, the spruce, the halibut and the herring. When he sets out to export the water from the salmon stream, Nora is one of the ones who step up.
The clash, when it comes, is a spectacular act of resistance that changes everything.
Eisler and her staff have delightedly chosen “Piano Tide” and its author, naturalist-philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, for the 2019 Community Read.
The city of Port Townsend proclaimed March “Reading Month,” and the Port Townsend Library, 1220 Lawrence St., has set out multiple free copies of “Piano Tide” for reading and passing on; all the way through the month, free events are open to everyone.
There are two concerts. A movie will screen at the Uptown Theatre. And three discussions of “Piano Tide” are set for this coming Monday, March 11 and March 13 in various locations.
“Book clubs and book discussions make room for everyone,” said Eisler, adding that you don’t need to be a Port Townsend resident to join in.
“The more the merrier,” she said. People from across Jefferson and Clallam counties are welcome.
“You can participate in the discussion as much or as little as you want, and it is OK to come just to listen,” to what others felt as they read the book.
“Without giving away any spoilers,” she said, “the characters learn how to move forward and keep going in the midst of discord.
“To me that is hopeful. The book ends with a way forward. I know from my talks with Kathleen Dean Moore she wanted to have hope in her work, to inspire people to care and protect the natural world.”
Eisler is curious, too, about how readers will interpret “Piano Tide.”
Everybody finds something different in those pages.
In an interview, Moore introduced a few of the people in Good River Harbor: “Great-hearted but hapless red-bearded Tick. Ferociously solitary Kenny. Davy, the teenage kid, so shy he sends notes to his girl in a clam shell.”
They’re not too sociable, but they can fish in a gale, blow out a dam and summon the courage to talk to that girl.
And Nora. She plays her piano, musing that beauty in music is “as dependent on discord as on harmony, finding its energy in waves of tension and release, regret and grace.”
On March 27, Moore herself, alongside concert pianist Rachelle McCabe, will give a spoken-word and music performance titled “A Call to Life.”
In the last of the 12 Community Read events, Moore will give a two-hour workshop for writers March 29.
Their work, she believes, is “to bear witness in every way we know how, on every sidewalk and every page, to the glories of this world and the sins against it.
“We will welcome writers, aspiring writers, discouraged writers, bewildered readers, and everyone interested in marshaling the power of words to shift history. No pressure,” she quipped.
This month of activities will warm people up for the Global Repair Conference set for May 3-5 at Fort Worden State Park (see friends ofthetrees.net).
The timing of the conference, Eisler said, is another reason “Piano Tide” is the right book in the right place.
At the same time, she and Moore hope to see people to pulled along — and pulled together — by a good story.
“Really connecting with people in your community is what matters,” said Eisler, “and that is why I love the Community Read.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.