Straw bound: Silverton publisher releases new books

August 2021 Posted in Uncategorized

By Melissa Wagoner

Richard Orr

Lester Petrie

Mike Ashland has always been a writer. 

“I was a freelance reporter for the Marin Independent Journal and reporter for the Coastal Post in Bolinas,” Ashland recalled. “Some of my poetry and short stories showed up in quite a few national mags.”

Then in 1992, he fell in love with publishing.

“Using my experience and connections, I helped a number of people publish their books, editing, setting the type and format and printing using both US and overseas printers,” Ashland said of his early experiences helping writers self-publish, a hobby which continued when he and his wife, Judy, moved to Silverton.

“We live in a straw bale house in Silverton – one of three in the state,” Ashland said. “I started Straw Publishing to reflect our home and to help authors publish their books.”

A not-for-profit company, Straw Publishing has recently published the books of authors Lester Petrie –
a 95-year-old World War II vet and retired naturopath living in Salem,
and Richard Orr – a retired Baptist minister living in Silverton.

“I continue to watch [out for] local authors, friends or family, who have written what I think could make wonderful books,” Ashland said. “They often don’t believe they can be published. It’s really a kick to see someone hold a book they wrote that now actually exists!”

Universal Life Teachings

When Lester Petrie finally held his first published book, Universal Life Teachings, in April 2021 at the age of 95, he was proud of what he had accomplished. 

“I’m reading it through for the first time and I’m surprised at all the stuff in there,” Petrie admitted. “But it feels good. It feels fitting.”

That sense of surprise is perhaps owing to the numerous years it has taken Petrie to accumulate the 109 essays that comprise the book. 

“I’ve been taking notes and studying for about 70 years,” Petrie said. “Recently several people I’ve given essays to said, ‘Why don’t you put these into a book?’” 

A lifelong student of spirituality, Petrie grew up, the youngest of seven, near Winlock, Washington. 

Then World War II began and Petrie left high school early to join the Navy. Stationed first in New Guinea and later in the Philippines, the experience left him seeking a spiritual life.

Petrie continued his quest, studying Buddhism and practicing yoga – even training as an instructor. A lifelong student, he studied massage therapy, eventually becoming a naturopathic doctor. Even now, long-since retired, Petrie is still on the hunt for the answers to life’s abundant questions. 

“I’m still seeking,” he said. “I wish I had 200 more years but even then, it wouldn’t be enough. I’ll never be satisfied with what I know.”

Petrie’s book is his way of sharing what he’s learned thus far with others. 

“It’s for those who are still seeking and those who are trying to find themselves to justify why we’re here and what’s available to us,” he said of the book’s purpose. “It’s for those who want to understand life and the seekers who are searching.”

With each chapter written as a standalone essay, the book can be read in any order, all at once or a chapter at a time.

“It’s not a read, it’s a study,” Petrie explained. “Pick out one a day and give it thought throughout that day.”

Currently available for purchase on Amazon, Petrie doesn’t have any goals for the book beyond making sure it’s available to those who need it and hoping they find it when they do. And that includes his two daughters, whom he plans to send the first, hardback copies. 

“It’s an introduction to me,” he said.

Life Tending

Richard Orr didn’t set out to write a book either, instead he spent his long career as a Baptist minister helping college students navigate their tricky emergence into adulthood on campuses in Washington, Oregon and Kansas – but that wasn’t all he did. 

“I’m much more a teacher than I am a minister,” Orr said. “Because when you’re a campus minister, which I always was, students come to you with questions – sex, money, decision-making – they’re coming to school for the first time.”

He subsequently trained in counseling, as well as diversity and conflict resolution. 

“I quickly realized I needed extra training in counseling,” Orr recalled, estimating that in actuality counseling, rather than ministering, was 80 percent of the job.

Already in use by a book club and a training course, his new book Life Tending – Making Life Affirming Choices Out of Growing Self-Awareness can be especially helpful to those nearing a milestone.

“It’s for anyone who’s curious about who they are, where they’re going and who’s going with them,” Orr said.

Although the workbook can be used by individuals, Orr speculates that the benefits of group use are much greater. 

“A lot of people reach a point in their life and they plateau,” Orr said. “They think, this is the end. But I don’t think we should major in endings.”

Currently for purchase at, Orr hopes the workbook will help readers cultivate more happiness in life – hence the title.

“You’ve got to cultivate your being and your lifestyle,” Orr said.

Straw Publishing

A Silverton-based, not-for-profit publisher helping writers make their dreams a reality.

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