SEQUIM — Somewhere between a memoir and a collection of a journalist’s life work, one can find Tim Wheeler’s new book, “News from Rain Shadow Country.”
Released in June, Wheeler’s self-published book traces the family origins and finds threads of stories linking his own political views — he’s an unapologetic Marxist — to the stories of those he meets across the Olympic Peninsula, from fellow farmers, fishermen, loggers, mill workers and retail workers to a chapter on defense of tribal treaty and sovereignty rights for the Quileute and Makah peoples.
Wheeler, who says he estimates he’s written about 10,000 stories mostly for The Worker, Daily World and People’s Weekly World, says he whittled down the stories to reflect a bigger view than just his own experiences.
Many of the stories detail growing up on a dairy farm in Sequim and returning to the family farm after his wife, Joyce, retired from teaching on the East Coast.
“I wanted to avoid a straight memoir; the individual stories stand on their own,” Wheeler said. “I like that.”
Wheeler read excerpts from his book at the Clallam County Democratic Party headquarters in late June.
“It was a wonderful crowd,” Wheeler said. “[Readers like] the most upbeat, positive ones. Some are witty, amusing, humorous. I think people appreciate that.
“I’ve been on pins and needles [about publishing]; it’s like bearing your soul,” he said. “But it’s been wonderful.”
Some pieces are hardly upbeat, though. Wheeler recounts how Cold War officials blacklisted his father, Don, a fruit farmer, for his involvement with the Communist Party USA, effectively marooning Wheeler’s mother on the North Olympic Peninsula with five children and a farm to look after.
Others offer a more whimsical look at serendipitous meetings, such as Wheeler’s chance encounter with Barack Obama (the 44th president’s father) when he was a Kenyan exchange student and riding a tractor on the Dungeness Spit; from earning honors (a water coloring contest and student council position) at Sequim High to becoming family friends with folk legend Pete Seeger — and dozens of others.
While his political bent comes through in several pieces (such as “How a Small Town Council Routed the Union Busters,” regarding the Sequim City Council striking down two “right to work” propositions in 2014), other pieces describe positive stories those from any political background can enjoy, Wheeler says. An example, he says, is the North Olympic Land Trust’s work to save farmland on the Olympic Peninsula.
“It’s nonpartisan. It reaches from conservatism to the left. It’s people just trying to save beauty.”
The family moved to Sequim and started a dairy farm in 1948. Wheeler graduated from Sequim High School in 1958 and from Amherst College in 1964.
On newspaper staff
In 1966, he joined the staff of The Worker in New York City, a newspaper associated with the Communist Party USA. He was assigned as Washington bureau chief of The Daily World in 1968, covering the protest movements for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. He also covered the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals. He served for 11 years as editor of the People’s Weekly World.
Wheeler continues to write for the online People’s World and gets satisfaction from the work in particular because he gets to tell other people’s stories.
“One of the things about being a reporter is … it’s not just me,” he says. “It’s about the Rain Shadow. It’s about the people who live here. That’s what I was striving for.”
Find copies of “News from Rain Shadow Country” for sale at booklocker.com.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.