Mabee debuts with a touching memoir about a 21-year marriage that began with a most unusual purchase—a mountain in Albemarle County, Virginia.
In 1988, at the age of 40, Mabee, a Washington, D.C.–based lobbyist for nonprofit public-health organizations, married a man named Timothy Bell. It was his second marriage and her first. For the next two decades, they worked together to build Tim’s business, a health care communications company, and shared a passion for the flora and fauna of their beloved retreat, Naked Mountain, which had a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The property, which spanned more than 283 acres, had no buildings on it; before they were able to build their house, they spent weekends there in a camper, parked in a clearing. Meanwhile, Mabee gradually began cataloging and detailing the incredible variety of native plants and avian life that called Naked Mountain home. In 2006, she and her husband signed a conservation easement contract that made their property “the forty-ninth natural area preserve in the state of Virginia,” protecting it in perpetuity. When Mabee was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, it inspired her to begin writing the story of “how two…nature-ignorant suburban Washington professionals bought a mountain in central Virginia.” But just as she had her final treatment for her cancer, which went into remission, Tim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The latter portion of the book deals with her grief over losing him and her determination to move forward in a new relationship. Mabee’s smooth, skillful prose is vivid throughout, whether she’s describing the physical beauty of Naked Mountain (“Gradually rising soft blue peaks, complexly layered and rounded by millions of years of erosion, roll like massive ocean waves”), or the multiple, grueling surgeries that she endured on the way to recovery, which are not for the queasy. The volume is also filled with a wealth of intriguing ecological information (such as the fact that monarch butterflies, which stopped at the mountain on their annual migration, were being poisoned by pesticides) and geological history of the area. The author occasionally wanders too far into the botanical weeds in these sections, but overall, the narrative remains intensely personal and compelling.
An honest depiction of a courageous, difficult journey.