Mountaineer Turner’s (The Abstract Wild, 1996) portrait of a Teton guiding season is a measured luxuriance in the landscape, a love song to the natural history of a place, and a tad self-conscious and defensive tale.
It might be May when Turner’s story begins, but it is snowing and two feet of the stuff lies on either side of the road to his cabin away in the Teton backcountry. Turner has worked as a guide here for the fabled Exum Service for over two decades. He has distilled those years into this memoir, “a collusion of memory and desire” in which he escorts readers through the months, pointing out the wildlife, introducing his guiding companions, detailing climbs, roaming and roaming until he hits on something that strikes his fancy (dippers or sandhill cranes, native dyestuffs or old mineshafts) and allows him to hold forth for a time. While there can be a childlike joy in his voice when calling attention to something worth marveling at, there is also a sense that Turner is as relaxed as a jumped rhino, and wrapped “in a version of the heroic myth. Everyone at Exum has at some time in their lives lived out this myth, although it is increasingly difficult to do so when the myths are buried under layers of cynicism and irony.” He works hard at a hardboiled sensitivity (he won’t paint the sheetrock of his cabin, for example, but he’ll tack up a Wolf Kahn landscape ripped from a calendar) and wears his Zen on his sleeve: “Thus Po Chu-i could say, with subtle allusion, ‘Clear cries, several voices—cranes under the pines.’ ” Sometimes the trail is rough, but ultimately the views are spectacular.
Turner’s writing is muscular, never swaggering, and almost lyrical, summoning a Teton Range in its rightful, sublime austerity. His own sensibilities, though, are a bit overdone at times. (b&w photos, not seen)