Preservation magazine editor-at-large Conaway (The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley, 2002, etc.) goes on a walkabout, looking for the America that doesn’t make the headlines.
Over in, say, Rock Springs, Wyo., time was when a person could find a patch of dirt and grow a few things to eat. When Conaway arrived, he found a “nightmare of development,” courtesy of the oil-industry-friendly Bush administration, which did away with the usual precautions “in the frenzied abandonment of environmental and community standards,” yielding a raped-and-pillaged landscape that even the worst strip miner could only have dreamed of a generation earlier. Up on the Strip, that remote part of the country where the Grand Canyon divides a chunk of Arizona from the rest of the state, Mormon ranchers struggle to keep a few cattle alive in country so parched that “dust got into ears and nose and formed little mud deltas at the corners of our eyes.” In Orange, Va., the better-off among the landed gentry gather on their farms, places where pickup trucks are unknown, to go chasing after foxes—but mostly to eat oysters and clams and tournedos of beef and drink and drink. Each of Conaway’s forays into odd corners of the country is an anthropological exercise of a kind, introducing readers to people who inhabit places that could use a little preserving—as, he insists, does the entire public domain, a commonweal that is rapidly disappearing in a country that “denies itself nothing, including squandered resources requiring the abandonment of whole cultures and the destruction of the very ground upon which America was built.”
A lively, literate and pained visit to American places too little seen, deserving a place alongside Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways.