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Reviewing ‘Skunk Cabbage and Chittum Bark: Sons of the Wynooche’

Tucked into the southern portion of the Olympic Mountains is one of the state’s best-kept secrets, the mostly pristine Wynooche Valley. This expansive glen features trophy fishing, challenging hunting, mushroom picking, mountain hiking, rock climbing or just absorbing nature’s beauty.

Many books have included a chapter or two about this area, but who best to tell the story of the Wynooche’s paradise than two men, who were raised in the valley? Bob Dick and Darrel White, boyhood chums and 1964 Montesano High School graduates, have done that in a recently published paperback, “Skunk Cabbage and Chittum Bark: Sons of the Wynooche.”

The “boys” are now retired after divergent careers. Bob became a forester in Alaska and then back in Montesano. He and his wife, Jan, live on Lake Nahwatzel near Shelton. Darrel fashioned a career as a teacher and wrestling coach in Alaska, later at Zillah in Eastern Washington and at Clover Park. He is a member of the Washington Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame. He and his wife, Linda, live in Brownsville, Ore., but are planning to move to Montesano soon.

The book’s title comes from the odiferous, yellowish, swamp plant and the bark from the trees (also called cascara) that are resplendent in the valley. Peeling and selling chittum bark also brought in extra income and put more food on the table. It was highly sought for its laxative benefits.

Using a rather unique “stereoscopic style,” as White calls it, the two men share stories of their childhood in the 1950s and ’60s, their triumphs, tribulations, bumps, bruises, laughter and lessons learned, most of them with humorous outcomes.

In one of the book’s more hilarious episodes, Bob describes the rites of passage for most youngsters: skinny dipping. In this incident, Bob and his buddies John and Dave Shefler, decided to do the deed in the Wynooche, only to discover when they returned to collect their clothes, a young woman and her two children had decided to picnic where they had deposited their clothing. You can craft your own ending to this tale.

Darrel shares the “frightening” story of his first kiss and later what happened when he and Linda Finley met one day on the Sol Duc. Two days later, he proclaimed to his mother “I’m going to marry her.” He did and they have celebrated 44 years of marriage.

Bob shares his life with his love of boats and his first hydro, “Speed Demon,” and the lessons learned at Lake Nahwatzel, where his grandparents had a cabin, and where Bob lives today.

This is far more than a story of two boys and their families. Each writer has a zest for humor and the ability to share that style with virtually every incident chronicled in the book.

Anyone living in the valley will recognize names of farmers, doctors, school chums, teachers and neighbors. But their stories are told so eloquently that even those who aren’t familiar with the area, will get to know their personalities as the boys relate their experiences. Their respective families taught the boys to appreciate the Wynooche, and most of all — to respect it.

Resilience is a term that comes to life often for these two kids. They write of bouncing back from incidents that could have taken their life at a relatively young age. Both escaped those clutches on several occasions on the Wynooche, the oft-treacherous river and its gravel bars at their doorstep. They each also escaped serious injuries on vehicles, such as bicycles, Vespas or motorcycles.

While they were raised in separate areas — Bob the lower valley, Darrel several miles farther up — the two boys could not have been more diverse. As they note in the book’s prologue, Darrel was “popular in school, a good student, a star football player and wrestler, who was socially involved up to his eyebrows. Bob was retiring, intelligent and amicable, but a poor student and not inclined toward organized athletics.”

The reader gets to know each boy’s circle of friends, their families and siblings. Bob’s circle was different from Darrel’s, although on the opening of hunting season, they were always together.

After high school, the young men went separate ways and didn’t connect again until they ended up as co-chairmen for their 40th reunion in 2004. They corresponded by email after that as Darrel and Linda were in South Korea on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Darrel had started a blog on which Bob had written.

“I was really impressed with his writing ability and particularly with the word craft that allowed him to express his wonderful sense of humor and intelligence in his writing,” White shared. “I think that was when the seeds of our collaboration were first sown.”

Bob said he had wanted to write a book about growing up in the valley, but not until he retired. That happened in 2011. Throughout the previous years, the two, in their own way, wrote of their experiences, which they share in this co-authored book.

White aptly sums up the feeling of the authors.

“Working together to tell our story in ‘Skunk Cabbage and Chittum Bark’ cemented the friendship and connection that Bob and I have felt since we were kids. It was a great experience and I could not have shared it with a finer man, author or friend. If our book speaks to the hearts and memories of those who read it, then it will have been a success. I hope that it will also help Bob and I be remembered as grateful to be “Sons of the Wynooche.”

The book, published by Bookstand Publishing, is available at Duffy’s Restaurant in Aberdeen, the Beehive restaurant in Montesano and through Amazon.com.

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