Meloy, who died in 2004, reveals how wild animals, encountered in wild settings, impart beauty and meaning to our lives.
The late laureate of the Colorado Plateau, Meloy (The Anthropology of Turquoise, 2002, etc.) here embarks on a quest to commune with desert bighorn sheep in the many habitats that support them. But this is no more about sheep alone than Peter Matthiessen’s is about snow leopards or Herman Melville’s about whales, for Meloy is hot on the trail of what it is that happens when humans lose their connections with nature, and she offers gentle instructions for reconnecting: “The Canada geese will adjust for you the changing length of daylight as winter deepens. They begin and end days along the river, and that is all you need to know about time.” Sometimes her quest takes her close to her home in southeastern Utah, where those desert rivers flow; at other times she ventures farther afield, to California and Arizona, to see how bighorn fare in nearby climes. Unusually for American naturalists, she also wanders down to Baja California, visiting places like the Cuesta del Infiernillo, a desert canyon switchbacked by a highway with “vehicle carcasses stacked at the foot of the cliffs like dead Japanese beetles”—perfect sheep country, in other words. When she is not observing that the human brain weighs less than a pot roast or that boojum trees resemble upside-down electrocuted carrots, Meloy pays exquisitely close attention to the contours of the desert and the behaviors of the animals that inhabit it, marveling at the myriad ways those creatures have found to survive. Underlying her prose is a current of cheer and optimism; the world may be a screwy place, she hints, but we can learn to treat it better.
A lovely parting gift.