Books by Gary Ferguson

NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 22, 2019

"A mellow, meditative book for nature lovers and those who want to reconnect with the world around them."
Eight lessons about getting back in touch with nature and "befriending the powerful emotions that nature often ignites in us." Read full book review >
THE CARRY HOME by Gary Ferguson
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Nov. 11, 2014

"A sprawling, lovely, nourishing tonic for all those who dip into it."
A eulogy to the too-early passing of the author's mate and a chronicle of the "[f]ive treks to five unshackled landscapes" to scatter her ashes. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: June 1, 2004

"Still, Ferguson's slender narrative just doesn't add up to much, and is certainly not in a literature enriched by the likes of Wallace Stegner, Bernard De Voto, Ivan Doig, James Welch, and company."
Middling cultural history of the continent-shaping, and history-shaping, landform. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: April 1, 1999

This tale of teenagers struggling to remake their lives in the wilds of southern Utah manages to be both deeply lyrical and seriously sappy. Nature writer Ferguson (The Sylvan Path: A Journey Through America's Forests, 1997) spent several months as a kind of counselor-cum-observer with the Aspen Achievement Academy, a wilderness therapy program whose philosophy blends pioneer self-reliance with a generous helping of New Age blather. The students, plagued by everything from drugs to depression to attention-deficit and eating disorders, are grizzled veterans of countless failed therapeutic schemes. Now they are dumped in a particularly stark stretch of Mormon country, stripped, searched, and outfitted for a two-month, no-frills desert and mountain sojourn. Dividing his time between one group of girls and another of boys, Ferguson charts the participants' emotional and physical evolution, from their early days as "mice," timid beginners who have to count aloud each time they use the bathroom so their counselors can keep track of them, into seasoned adventurers who can fend for themselves and, hopefully, bring some of what they've learned in the wild back home with them. Along the way, Ferguson hangs out with the hipper-than-thou staff and recounts stories of suicide watches, escape attempts , and countless therapy sessions. When he depicts the rigors and the beauty of the landscape, Ferguson's prose approaches poetry, and his stories about kids who can't concentrate long enough to finish a sentence mastering the painstaking art of starting a fire from a bow drill speak volumes about what these programs do best. But the author's thumbnail character sketches read more like allegories of American ailments than the real stories of troubled young people, and his ecstatic embrace of all things mystical and Native American sometimes verges on parody. At its best, this book testifies to nature's ability to heal and inspire. At its worst, it's like being stuck on a long camping trip with Shirley MacLaine. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: March 1, 1997

Woodland interludes—quick and bright, dazzling amid the bosky gloom—from a former forest-service ranger (Spirits of the Wild: The World's Great Nature Tales, 1996). Ferguson grew up around trees: papaws and osage orange, tamarack, lodgepole, and maple. He climbed their trunks, perched for hours on their limbs, rapt in their leafy glory. But by his mid-30s, the woods had retreated from his life. Wanting to recapture their myth-giving power, he goes in search of ancient forests. His first stop is Maine, where he helps build a Penobscot wigwam out of paper birch, tramps through forests carpeted with club moss and twinflower, rubs shoulders with the inmates of a fancy back-of-beyond fishing camp, and communes with the ghosts of Robert Frost and Thomas Cole. Pointing south, he slips into the wooded precincts of Tennessee, all magnolia, tulip, and sweet gum, and makes the acquaintance of moonshiners and marijuana growers. Over in southern Indiana, his native turf, he immerses himself once again in the familiar oaks and maples, rues the plowing of hedgerows to make way for condominiums, then heads north to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where he listens to loggers recollecting the felling of the great northern coniferous forest. He explores the dark, sweet stands of evergreen in Minnesota, and watches wolves running through a spruce forest. He stops in tree-poor North Dakota, then goes home to Montana, its sparse beauty a far cry from the sight of autumn in New England or spring coming to the forests along the Blue Ridge mountains. Nonetheless, Ferguson is happy there. People as well as trees fill this record of his journey: guides and trappers, urban refugees, and some plain old locals, folks who carry with them a ``precious, enviable sense of place.'' Ferguson emerges a new man, pleased to know that sap still runs in his veins. Throughout, the writing is so powerful that it's hard not to share the author's delight to be back in the woods. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

A collection of uneven, though always provocative, creation myths from all corners of the globe, by science and nature writer Ferguson (Walking Down the Wind, not reviewed). Ferguson succinctly retells 60 creation stories, fashioned by ancients in times now long gone, that served to explain the mysterious ways of nature. As works of sheer invention, these exuberant, mythopoetic, often violent tales serve to show just how much remains beyond our sphere of knowledge. What do we really know about the northern lights? Discussions of sunspots and events in the ionosphere have little more credence, and a lot less poetry, than the Swedish story of the wingbeats of frozen swans. The tales are mostly wonderful, obliquely hinting at human foibles: Why tulips rock in the breeze (Celtic), why the red bilberry is evergreen (Mongolia), the forces behind the origins of the Milky Way (Vietnam), the sun (Australia), and rainbows (Philippines). A few are leaden, such as the unimaginative ``When the Sun Married the Moon'' (Togo), and the strangely self-satisfied boasting of ``The Beaches of Taranaki'' (New Zealand). Ferguson prefaces each of the stories with an all-too-brief introductory comment, enough to pique the reader's curiosity, but also frustrating: Why was the wren so important to the Irish, the frog to the Koreans? Why did a particular place give rise to a particular tale? Ferguson doesn't probe deeply enough. Nor does he attempt to give the stories a distinct cultural or regional flavor: Each and every tale is delivered in the same lyric timbre, a sort of Euro-fairy-tale style that frequently begins ``In days all but forgotten'' or ``A long time ago,'' whether the story came from Burma, Canada, or Sierra Leone. A raft of fabulous stories, but without context they lose much of their magic. (illustrations not seen) Read full book review >