A sort-of-Mormon tree-hugger wrestles to fit in with her less enlightened neighbors at the end of the world.
Or close to it: Once you leave the civilization of Blanding and Monticello, Utah, and head west up the hill to Cedar Mesa, you’re in the land of juniper trees, Anasazi ruins and ghosts. There Irvine, a champion rock climber and wilderness advocate, having married a like-minded attorney, makes her home early on in the pages of this memoir. There she learns how to negotiate daily life among Mormon cowboys who are inclined to aim their pickups at anyone on a bicycle, assuming—correctly—that only an outsider would choose such transport. Wrestling with demons, chief among them unresolved troubles with her now-deceased but always absent father, Irvine knows how to talk the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. She is inclined to note, for instance, that DNA evidence proves that the Indians and the Hebrews are genetically quite distinct, the Book of Mormon notwithstanding, while advocating grazing controls in overgrazed country whose rancher inhabitants insist that they’re the only real conservationists. There are some well-handled episodes here, as when Irvine wistfully wishes that one of those ranchers would invite her out to his spread for a civilized conversation and a burger: “The rancher will see that I’m not so bad, that perhaps we agree on more than he realized. He’ll promise to talk to other cowboys, tell them the tree-huggers that have come to town aren’t so different after all.” (No such luck.) But there are also some overwrought, and self-important stretches, and too many instances of treading into emotional territory owned by Terry Tempest Williams and Jana Richman, whose Riding in the Shadow of the Saints: A Woman’s Story of Motorcycling the Mormon Trail (2005) better handles the father-daughter conflict in the Mormon context.
Promising moments, but Utah wilderness lovers will want to stick to Edward Abbey and Ellen Meloy.