A naturalist’s memoir of living in an old barn in western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.
Meyer’s conservationist views are of the homespun variety. She and her lover, Patrick, purchase an abandoned 75-year-old dairy barn while participating in the reenactment of a pioneer wagon train. The barn is a perfect site for Patrick’s trade (horseshoeing), while the author is thrilled at the thought of writing a memoir about being thrilled with living in the barn, which is full of critters of all different sorts. Meyer and Patrick don’t necessarily want to exterminate the flies, mice, bats, and skunks with whom they share their abode. (When she sets off a pesticide bomb in the barn, killing thousands of flies, she does so against Patrick’s wishes and feels guilty about it.) Rather, the couple learns how to live with the beasts, becoming nouveau–mountain people, learning even to love the smell of skunk musk (which the author finds sexually arousing). Meyer’s reasoning will cause some, if not most, readers to roll their eyes, and her constant shunning of convenience in the interests of nature grows tiresome as the memoir progresses. She convinces herself that killing mice with traps is okay, for example, only because their overwhelming numbers stem from a steady supply of man-made food. She also engages in a personal boycott of products with already-harvested huckleberries because there is a huckleberry shortage and the black bears have little else to eat. Meyer’s heart is in the right place, of course. When a bear cub senselessly dies, we witness a tragedy; hunters have killed its parents and a game warden’s tranquilizers have killed it. But soon after, when Meyer breaks down and writes “I was crying then for myself, crying the pain of impotence in a fast-hurtling world,” her sophistry again rears its ugly head and our sympathy ebbs. Passages devoted to a fishing trip in which Hemingway is invoked also try the patience.
An annoying saga about a house full of pests.