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SKY'S WITNESS by C.L. Rawlins


A Year in the Wind River Range

by C.L. Rawlins

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8050-1597-3
Publisher: Henry Holt

Twelve long months in the Wyoming mountains, by a free-lance writer (Sierra Magazine, etc.) and poet. For the past several years, Rawlins has worked as a mountain hydrologist, taking rain, snow, and lake-water samples to measure pollution levels. The work isn't easy, especially in winter, when the cold turns deadly and his cabin becomes ``a frozen skull.'' But Rawlins relishes his remoteness: ``From here, I look into the world like someone gazing into a fire. I try to see our history as if I were a Wind River Shoshoni, dispossessed.'' In this realm of ``nerve and skin and bone,'' the intellect dissolves, words lose their power, and the silence of the trees takes hold. Rawlins catches the landscape in forceful, choppy prose (``Wind tears through sage. Frozen to each shaggy twig are chunks of snow that bob with each gust''), softened now and then by pages of scientific exposition on the atmosphere, water flow, acid rain, the greenhouse effect. He shivers in his tent, jokes and scraps with co-workers, sings rock 'n' roll to the skies, remembers his hassles with the draft board. Sometimes danger looms, as when trekking through a blizzard or confronting three drunk cowboys taking potshots with revolvers. More often, it's plain drudgery—taking heavy snow-core samples, swatting bugs, etc. Rawlins has strong, predictable opinions: He distrusts land developers and high-level administrators, looks askance at tourists, values Native American lore. Meanwhile, his text loses direction in this broad sweep of memories, gripes, nature images, scientific notes: Is this about the mountains? Pollution? Rawlins's hang-ups? Thoreau is mentioned often as a tutelary spirit, but Rawlins lacks the Concord sage's intellectual agility and style. What he has, in abundance, are descriptive savvy and a seasoned respect for the landscape he portrays. Fatty with extraneous material, but the lean goods are there, and worth digging out. (Line drawings.)