A respectfully cross-cultural, profoundly appreciative love letter to the southern Appalachians—the Cherokee Mountains—from Camuto (A Fly Fisherman's Blue Ridge, 1990). Camuto delves into the landscape to get a glimpse of the past and transcend a present in which ``the possibilities of genuine enchantment continually recede.'' For him, that means deep immersion in the Cherokee way of seeing their homeland (though he's smart enough to realize he'll never truly be able to look with Cherokee eyes). He writes not just of his response to the evergreen woods, but of how he understands the Cherokee to have related to them; not only his take on sacred places, but how they figured in the Cherokee cosmology. Camuto is deeply smitten by this ancient, crumpled terrain. He walks long and hard along aboriginal paths in search of wild encounters; tenders intimate, vivid, timeless descriptions of his days afield; leavens the proceedings with historical narratives, natural histories, ethnologies. He limns the good—the Cherokee language and customs, the reintroduction of the red wolf, the improvisational jazz to be found in a veery's song; and the bad—the savagery and sadism of the European conquest, cultural dismemberment, environmental degradation, pauperization of the land's spirit, the loss of native plants and animals, native ideas and images. Camuto's prose can be tortured (describing a pileated woodpecker's ``scalloped flight, a kind of iambic in the air'') and flagging (``De Soto moved on unmoved''). But for the most part it strides quietly and in awe. He beholds a remnant of old growth (``a diorama a bear would have imagined''), reflects on how the red wolf deepens the woods, relishes the pleasures of a campfire. Camuto is humble enough, nimble enough, to sojourn successfully in these mythopoeic climes, conjuring a place portrait of swarming, satisfying complexity.
Read full book review >