A thoughtful memoir about growing up on a ranch in the mountains of Northern California, punctuated with philosophical musings on societal changes over the past seven decades.
Beck’s debut takes readers on a long journey over mountainous trails, through the vast acreage of his family’s cattle-rearing land—some of which they owned, some of which they leased. He writes about how his connection to that land, and to the wild and domesticated animals that populated it, became the defining influence in his life. In later years, he found himself in the more citified world of Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where he became a designer and teacher in the theater department, but he never really left the ranch, either physically or emotionally. The product of a father who taught him “to be a man” and a mother who sought to protect him from physical harm, Beck seems to have incorporated these opposing forces into a strenuous and soulful life. He shows his artistic side through reproductions of his rather charming watercolors, which he scatters throughout the book. His words, however, focus on the excitement, adventures and misadventures of running the ranch, which he mostly accomplished on horseback. He tells of how his passion for horses began long before he could mount and ride them: “From the time I had enough balance to even attempt to straddle a horse, live or imaginary, I would, by God! Grow up to be a horseman.” The narrative is sometimes unnecessarily encumbered by the names of trails, streams, rocks and hills, most of which readers will soon forget. But the essence of the countryside and the harsh details of ranching come across vividly and sensually. He doesn’t include significant biographical information about his wife, children or adult home life in these recollections; rather, this is the joyful, poignant story of one man’s changing relationship with land and beast.
An intriguing, if occasionally rambling, tale of a sometimes-solitary life.