Originally posted in Eugene Weekly.

By Chandlor Henderson

Breitenbush Hot Springs, for the most part, has survived the recent Oregon fires, and a book about the area will hopefully help a small rural library survive the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Fern Ridge Library Foundation has hosted a literary event and fundraiser since 2012. This year, because of COVID-19 and social distancing, FRLF has to do it virtually, which is a challenge for many of the people they service, as many of them rely on the library for internet access. 

This year, to raise funds for the library, FRLF is selling $35 tickets that include Ruby McConnell’s newest book Ground Truth: A Geological Survey of a Life, a bottle of red or white wine from Sweet Cheeks (your choice), a Fern Ridge Library canvas tote bag and a raffle ticket for an Oregon Coast getaway. 

Eugene Weekly spoke briefly with McConnell about the library, the community and her newest book. She has been associated with the library and the community for several decades.“They rely on this heavily for funding, and since they can’t do it in person this year they have to do it virtually,” McConnell says. “A lot of the patrons use the library for a stable internet, so a lot of locals can’t participate because they don’t have a stable internet connection. So this year they are looking for a larger audience, and hoping to reach people in greater Eugene.”

Her newest book, Ground Truth, focuses heavily on Breitenbush Hot Springs and the forest that surrounds it. McConnell says, “People may not know the natural or cultural history of the regions, so I am telling stories about the environment and the land that resonates with people enough to take action. It’s especially significant for transplants, as it gives context to the region. It starts at the beginning of the Gen X era, and our current relationship with the land within what we can control, and cannot control.”

The Lionshead Fire recently swept through the area, and most of the places McConnell writes about in the book were victims of the flames. 

Thanks to a herculean effort by a few people who stayed behind and battled the blazes, the historic lodge, commercial kitchen, office buildings and critical infrastructure survived. 

Asked  what, if anything we as a society could do to curb the effects of wildfires, McConnell  says, “Fires of this kind took several hundred years to create the correct conditions for, and we don’t know how many years it will take to reverse the damage and change those conditions.”

McConnell continues, “It’s not just climate change that we are responsible for. We have all these social ills, and who knows how long it will take to bounce back from that. We are still engaged in a national debate about what steps citizens are willing to take on behalf of the well being and protection of other citizens. Until we can reconcile what we are willing to do in our personal lives for public health, social justice, and basic public safety, we won’t see much change at all.”

Asked if she had a personal message she wanted to tell to the public, she says, “I think it’s important for everyone to remember that this is a time of figuring out how to abide. And that simplicity can be a real comfort in troubled times. I think that can be applied across the board to super depressing fires, BLM [Black Lives Matter], and everything else. She adds,  “Find the places you can help, and how you can help, and stick to it.”

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