A collection of essays about finding and maintaining one’s place on our changing planet.
In her latest, Houston (English/Univ. of California, Davis; Contents May Have Shifted, 2012, etc.) writes with the same unvarnished, truth-loaded sentences that made her short story collection Cowboys Are My Weakness (1992) a contemporary classic. Her nonfiction persona, like many of her fictional narrators, is tough and full of gumption. “Did I ask myself whether putting 5 percent down on a 120-acre ranch I had no idea how to take care of and no foreseeable way to pay for might have been taking the idea of retethering to the earth to a radical extreme? I did not,” she writes, continuing, “if buying the ranch was a gross overreaction to either my mother’s death or my book’s [Cowboys] unexpected turn, it was a secret I kept from myself.” Of course, the author made it work, and the ranch served as a connecting point between seasonal teaching and her many travels. The author’s affinity for the place is clearly powerful—and infectious for readers. “Ranch Archive,” which mostly recounts the history of the ranch itself, is the least engaging piece, but the rest are excellent, as the author enthuses readers through her prose and attitude alike. Writing in the face of climate change, she refuses to shrink. “I am celebrating because this magnificent rock we live on demands celebration,” she writes. “I am celebrating because how in the face of this earth could I not?” By the end of the book, she has been through it all—fires, blizzards, murdered animals, and more—and we understand when she writes, “when you give yourself wholly to a piece of ground, its goodness enters your bloodstream like an infusion. You will never be alone in the same way again, and never quite dislocated. Your heart will grow down into and back out of that ground like a tree.”
A profound and inspiring love letter to one piece of Earth—and to the rest of it, as well.