DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Best of humanity in action in two local books

READING A GOOD book is like bodysurfing: You dive in, paddle — and the wave lifts and sweeps you forward. Time? Space? Limits? Gone.

Summer’s the time to give in, to plunge headlong into a novel, a biography, a memoir.

I’ve got two for you. Both authors live in Sequim; both are world citizens.

“News from Rain Shadow Country” is a brand-new collection of articles and essays by Tim Wheeler, a reporter who’s seen the worst and best of what we humans dish out.

“Somewhere for My Soul to Go: A Place, A Cause, A Legacy” is Judith Pasco’s memoir of transforming passion into action.

Wheeler’s “News” makes the sweep from the 1940s to the present day; from the time his family, “Cold War refugees,” as he puts it, left Washington, D.C., to start anew as dairy farmers. Wheeler’s dad, Don, a Rhodes scholar who went on to work for the U.S. Treasury Department and Office of Strategic Services, was blacklisted for his involvement with the Communist Party USA.

Tim Wheeler spent his youth working on the family farm and attending Sequim’s public schools. He credits art teacher Dorcas Taylor for teaching him to paint and Neva Wheeler (no relation) for saving his life in a blizzard.

The Sequim boy grew up to be a journalist, writing for the People’s World and covering the labor movement, battles for civil rights for all people of color and all who belong to the working class. In “News,” he tells of hearing Paul Robeson sing in 1953, when he was a teen, and of covering a giant rally in Seattle for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.

These pages are full of struggle — and full of joy. As a farm boy and as a reporter, Wheeler connected with people, learning about their lives and developing a deep empathy.

He reported on all manner of North Olympic Peninsula issues: the Makah Tribe’s fight for its whaling rights; the North Olympic Land Trust’s efforts to conserve farmland; the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s struggle to preserve the Tse-whit-Zen village.

The book, Wheeler said, is his way of saying thank you to the world.

Now that it’s published — available at Port Book and News in Port Angeles and via BookLocker.com — Wheeler and his wife of 54 years, Joyce, are gallivanting around the county and the country. Libraries, friends and colleagues on the East Coast and in the Midwest have invited him to visit and read.

“I am really happy to have this project in the autumn of my life,” said Wheeler, 77.

Yet he knows “News” contains controversial content. The Wheelers are the leftiest of lefty liberals, after all.

But when he’s sent emails and posted about “News” on Facebook, the response has been positive; for a reading he gave in Port Angeles the other week, he was awash in responses: “I’ll be there. I really want to hear this.”

In “Somewhere for My Soul to Go,” Pasco tells the story of the Mujeres de Maiz Opportunity Foundation (MujeresdeMaizOF.org), the nonprofit she and a group of local women formed in 2006. Naming it after the Mujeres de Maiz en Resistencia cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico, they sought to raise enough money for one scholarship to keep one girl in school.

While it hasn’t been easy, Mujeres de Maiz has expanded to many more scholarships, eye exams and glasses for those needing them, five children’s programs in as many communities — a thriving partnership with the women and their families.

Pasco will return to the villages of Zinacantán and Huixtán later this month to spend a couple of weeks working with the women who run the cooperative.

When she started Mujeres, Pasco was a full-time Spanish teacher at Sequim High School. She’s “retired” now, but not at rest. Self-publishing was more complex than she imagined, but she wanted readers to not only know how Mujeres happened, but also that starting a foundation is not the realm of superwomen.

Those doing such work are “just people,” she said.

Anyone can take a project to fruition, provided you hold on to that desire that gripped you in the beginning.

“It’s a matter of applying yourself,” she said, “and of having a passion for what you’re doing.”

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Angeles.

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