An account of an unusual sojourn in the high desert of Oregon.
Dotted by little Mormon towns and vast cattle ranches, the Oregon outback might seem an unlikely place for a Hollywood hopeful. Yet, after doing hard time producing documentary films without making it big, Allen decided to follow a new love into the wild, taking up residence with him as caretakers of a rough-and-tumble ranch where “nearly everything mechanical or man-made . . . was either jerry-rigged or broken.” The author emerges in the course of her tale as a well-meaning but not particularly gifted tender of horses and hay fields—more of a Martha Stewart than a horse whisperer. Her memoir, though, is less about high-lonesome ranch life and its attendant hard work than about the hatreds and misunderstandings that seethe everywhere in the rural West between old-timers and counterculture newcomers. In the little town of Saints, Oregon, as she skillfully documents, those hatreds swirled around the vast complex called Rajneeshpuram, where followers of an Indian guru set themselves squarely at odds with locals who wore baseball caps emblazoned with slogans like “Official Wasco County Bigot.” This is an able work, tinged with humor (including a fart joke or two), but also possessed of a profound melancholy as the author considers the lives and deaths of misanthropic farmhands and Vietnam veterans, the sad disappearance of some rural ways and the welcome disappearance of others, and the loss of love. In her eyes, the high desert is a breathtakingly beautiful place, the people who live in it so unhurried that “a simple exchange of facts takes three times as long as it might in the city.” It is also a place of violence and sorrow, and (unlike other more celebratory books about the New West) not apt to inspire many readers to homestead in sagebrush country.
A welcome (if doleful) debut.