Eighteen essays explore the virtues of nature and self-reliance in Michigan, with effects ranging from profound to mundane. Minock, whose writing has appeared in Sierra, Country Journal, and elsewhere, seems largely defined by the conflict he feels over divergent roles. When he designs and builds his own house (on a plan ``militantly committed to the simple, frugal life''), he envisions a Waldenesque idyll but is quickly overwhelmed by grinding labor and bureaucratic red tape. Landing a teaching job, he gratefully retreats to the life of the mind, feeling ``like a nail that had been picked up and pounded straight''--until he returns to his half-built house to face his dying father, who's helping with the construction. Once settled in his new home, Minock is torn between his customary role as protector and observer of nature and his new role as landowner-gardener in the country. He writes thoughtfully of his guilty battle with squirrels in the attic and deer in the tomato patch, and of his neighbors' suburban aesthetic, which clashes with his own low-impact approach to rural living and makes him wonder why such people move to the country in the first place. An offbeat naturalist, he takes nature where he finds it, ruminating pleasantly on a tree frog in his kitchen, a still-warm owl dead on the road, the thistle he tolerates in his garden. Several pieces are less like essays than journal entries detailing the wondrous and ho-hum in Minock's daily round: gardening, bird-watching, reading and writing. Adept at self-exploration, Minock is less successful at looking outward, and his shorter essays, especially, have a rather hermetic feel. But even these slight sketches have their charms, illumined as they are by Minock's poetic language and the occasional startling insight. Modest by design, like the house and life it chronicles, but constructed with great integrity and affection.