An intimate autobiography recounts a life in the American West interspersed with reflections on nature and the importance of place.
Speckled with poetic asides about the spiritual significance of natural beauty, this sweeping memoir covers the expanse of a full life. Shepards’ previous work (Ecotone, 1994) dealt with similar issues, weaving into her personal narrative academic considerations on ecology and feminism. This latest effort focuses on the ballast that home territory provides against the effects of wandering, especially for an immigrant family whose identity is bound up in geographic dislocation. The narrative covers a range of experiences from the author’s Depression-era upbringing to a crippling psychological crisis that led to an intellectual reawakening (and a husband). Shepard shines when capturing how seasons bookmark moments of significance in her life or simply describing the unvarnished majesty of a natural landscape: “Yellow light on mountain and meadow at sunset turn to heart-wrenching magentas and tangerines followed by lavender and purple hued twilights ending with blue-black skies. I hold these ephemeral moments close to my heart, knowing they will last only a moment, their beauty inversely proportional to their duration.” Sometimes the glut of personal detail is overwhelming, and the reader might find the narrative arc as meandering as her travels. The good news is that the author offers intermissions here and there, often inserting provocative philosophical digressions. At one point, she interrupts the story to thoughtfully reflect on the meaning of silence. Occasionally, the prose trips over a clunky turn of phrase, but it’s typically taut and even elegant. And while she laces her remembrances with a politically charged argument for environmental conservation, her advocacy is never shrill or strident. Black-and-white photos of landscapes and family members appear throughout the text.
A kind of extended poem and love letter to the splendor of the Wyoming wilderness.