Thoreauvian seasons in the Rockies.
The cabin that nature-writer Petersen (Elkheart, 1998, etc.) built in the hills above Durango, Colorado, measures 596 square feet—tiny by expansionist American standards, but still four times larger than the famed cabin, the granddaddy of them all, that flanks Walden Pond. Their VW bus stuffed with LPs and back-to-the-land treatises, Petersen and his bride found their way to the place in the early ’80s, having fled crowded southern California and xenophobic Montana. Colorado was different: it was open to newcomers, and perhaps too open, for Petersen’s song of praise for the semiwilderness, “edge” life closes with a bitter lament about the overcrowding that has come about precisely because so many other baby boomers have decided that edge life is for them, too. Whatever the case, on the flank of Missionary Ridge the migrants of a quarter-century past found “the serenity, purity, and unpredictability of real mountains.” They also found a low-impact way of life that has sustained them for all that time: on the plus side, the blessed be-here-now freedom of not having jobs, car payments, children, and other quotidian concerns of the acquisitive American greedhead set; on the minus side, not having any money, a matter that comes to a head when Caroline is diagnosed with malignant cancer, “the karmic dues of industrial culture.” That crisis forces Petersen to question whether his “elective semipoverty and arrogant independence” is not a species of self-indulgence that runs the risk of condemning his wife to death—a righteous concern, given the healthcare system’s disdain for the poor, even those who, like Petersen, hunt for their supper, keep a low profile, and don’t ask anything of the state except the right to be left alone.
There’s enough blood sport here to offend the meat-is-murder set, enough Ed Abbeyesque grumbling to offend anyone who drives a Hummer or a Beemer, and enough good writing to please those who cherish their own sojourns on the edge.