River House begins in the jungles of Peru as the author, Sarahlee Lawrence, prepares for a perilous white water run down the Tambopata River. In fact, the first few pages of her memoir are filled with descriptions of her 14-foot cataraft plunging down through the swollen rapids of this wild, tempestuous river. But don’t let that fool you . . .this book is actually a story about coming home. And home for the author is a small town called Terrebonne in the high desert of Oregon.
Sarahlee Lawrence was born and raised on her parent’s 80-acre ranch outside of Terrebonne. Like so many small town kids, once she graduated from high school, she couldn’t wait to get out and experience life.
By the age of 21, she had rafted some of the most dangerous rivers in the world as a guide and river advocate. But rafting down the Tambopata, she suddenly felt an inexplicable and overwhelming desire to return to the wide open spaces and arid landscape of her childhood. She wanted to go home, to find and build her own place in the world.
That “place” turned out to be a log home, crafted by hand, on her parent’s ranch. With the help of her father, she spent one entire winter–often in freezing temperatures–laying a foundation, stripping and notching logs, raising a roof, and bull-dozing a driveway. Check out these photos of the construction work on her website.
But her relationship with her father during this father-daughter project was testy, often adversarial. As she worked hard to stake her own claim in the high desert, she could feel her father pulling away from both the land and his life on the family ranch. A land-locked Californian, he wanted nothing more than to return to the ocean and surf the waves . . . a life he had loved and left years before.
River House is a powerfully written memoir about home, family, and the desire to find one’s own place in the world. But it’s also a tribute to the land and shines a spotlight on a region of the Pacific NW–Central Oregon’s High Desert–that most people don’t know much about. All in all, it’s a remarkable read!
Sarahlee Lawrence still lives on the family ranch, where she owns and operates an organic vegetable farm called Rainshadow Organics.
**Special Note: For news, reviews, and profiles of other Pacific NW authors, please check out my column on the Portland Examiner.