A eulogy to the too-early passing of the author’s mate and a chronicle of the “[f]ive treks to five unshackled landscapes” to scatter her ashes.
Ferguson (Rainier Writing Workshop/Pacific Lutheran Univ.; Opening Doors: Carole Noon and Her Dream to Save the Chimps, 2014, etc.) has had a fruitful career as a natural history writer, and he has always been fascinated by the outdoors: “Foremost on our minds in those years was the hope that the last of America’s big, unfettered landscapes might help us sustain the open-heartedness of youth,” he writes. Here, the author twines this talent for alert, panoptical movement through spaces and places with an encomium for his wife, Jane, who died in 2005 in a canoeing accident on the Kopka River in Ontario. The story wanders from the past to the present, from emotions to observations, the trigger of memory pulled by a Hudson Bay blanket, a loon call, a road atlas, prairie smoke and Apache bloom. Throughout, the author emphasizes and explores the couple’s love of, and devotion to, the natural world, taking a cue from Kenneth Rexroth to “see life steadily, see it whole,” experiencing that first shock of sage in a landscape where the wild light of the unvarnished outdoors pointed to something elemental and life-giving. Pearly sentences slide one to another as Ferguson travels “deeper into grief”—but he never fully gave in to despair, and that is to readers’ benefit. The author’s treks both scorched and gladdened him, as he traveled to places of enormous power, bringing into focus the anti-environmental ethos that governs a crippled economy, the “irritating...preciousness” of self-stamped environmentalists “with an embarrassing tendency to want to shut the door to development as soon as we moved in.”
A sprawling, lovely, nourishing tonic for all those who dip into it.