AUTHOR | ASH DAVIDSON
Damnation Spring is Ash Davidson’s debut novel. She lived in Klamath, California, as a child. The family relied on drinking water from a creek. They became concerned that herbicide contamination might be affecting the water and stopped drinking from the tap and have continued to do so to this day. This fact, and Carol Strum’s 1983 book, “A Bitter Fog,” which is a true account of a grassroots struggle to protect communities from herbicide spraying into the air, led her to write Damnation Spring. Even so, she also understands the challenges of those working in industries like logging, fracking and coal mining. She is quoted, “Uprooting from a place or career one has been in for years is overwhelming. A coal miner in West Virginia can’t just pick up and work in a solar farm in the west. We often blame those in extractive industries as if they are responsible for the suffering. But we all consume products of their labor. And we want to provide and protect the ones we love. The “climate” doesn’t care what side we are on. The crisis is fueled by the choices we make.”
Ash Davidson attended the Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Her work has been supported by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and MacDowell. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Redwood trees that can grow to over 350 feet have been around since the dinosaurs. A single specimen can live over 2000 years. For millions of years, these sturdy trees that provide prized wood have grown in a fog belt along the Pacific Coast. But the existence of the trees changed in the 1800’s when commercial loggers harvested the trees to sell the sought-after wood around the world. This area is where Ash Davidson sets her debut novel, “Damnation Spring.” The year is 1977, and a tightknit community of loggers, whose families have lived and depended upon timber for generations, are being threatened and their friendships destroyed.
Rich, his wife, Colleen, and their young son, Chub, are at the center of the controversy. Rich is a 4th generation “tree-topper.” His dangerous job requires him to scale the trees that are hundreds of feet tall. He has remained in the job despite his father being crushed to death by a sawed-off branch. Colleen is an amateur midwife. Her grief is strong, too. Her father drowned in a skiff while poaching mussels, and she has suffered several miscarriages. They want to protect their future, so their son may have a better and less dangerous life. Unbeknownst to Colleen, Rich has secretly spent their savings on a swath of the ancient redwoods that both his father and grandfather had dreamed of owning.
The controversial use of herbicides, important tools in the logging industry, has complicated their dream. It is believed that the toxins being sprayed by helicopters are poisoning the ground water, and Colleen suspects consumption of that water is causing miscarriages, Cancer, nosebleeds and growths on animal bodies. The environmentalists and anti-loggers are determined to shut down that use, which is key to the loggers’ livelihood. As their profession slowly vanishes, tensions between the two sides are threatening the strong bonds of Rich and Colleen’s family as well as the community of, “Damnation Spring."
A young scientist, Daniel Bywater, who is originally from the area, comes to town touting information that further affirms Colleen’s suspicions. Despite his claims, and the ailments experienced, the community is suspicious of him, and his actions further alienate them. He insists he has come to heal people, but his presence reopens wounds from his past.
Davidson is adept at capturing the beauty and majesty of the redwoods while educating the reader as to the intricacies and challenges of the logging industry. Despite challenges and setbacks, the characters display a resilience modeled by the redwoods who mean so much to their lives.