These outstanding autobiographical essays explore solitude, traumatic events, and a deep commitment to place.
Auvinen (Film/Univ. of Colorado Boulder), former Colorado artist-in-residence and two-time Academy of American Poets award recipient, charts a decade of life “ordered by weather and wildlife” on the Front Range of the Rockies. She prized her independence, funding her writing with three part-time jobs and finding companionship in her husky mix, Elvis. But when her cabin burned down, destroying all her work in progress, she had to accept help and discovered that her small town was a true community. After the fire’s climactic prologue, the book gracefully fills in events either side: her early years and how she rebuilt her life. Growing up, Auvinen felt oppressed by Catholic doctrine and her Air Force father’s slaps. She gives excellent pithy descriptions of her family dynamics: “In my family, women were parsley on the plate—accessories”; “Men did things, women watched.” When her parents’ marriage ended, she and her mother and sister banded together; she even took her mother’s maiden name in a power play that alienated male relatives. In the post-fire years, her mother’s health problems were a major concern, as was Elvis’ decline into old age. Anyone who has ever cherished and lost a pet will agree with her that this kind of love “is no small thing.” The turning seasons (“March was thick with anticipation—the pendulum between winter and spring”) and rhythms of small-town life form a meditative backdrop. Nature—whether gardening, camping, or close encounters with bears and a fox—speaks of wonder and solace. Toward the close, Auvinen writes of diving into a relationship with artist Greg Marquez, the book’s illustrator, and a place enjoyed in solitude became one freely shared. The author has served a long apprenticeship—sensing life’s patterns, becoming embedded in a human community, learning to give and receive love—and the result is a beautiful story of resilience perfect for readers of Terry Tempest Williams.
A fine example of the hybrid nature-memoir.