A middle-aged novelist and creative-writing teacher spends a month in the wilderness keeping an eye on baby fish for the National Forest Service and reliving his earlier experiences in the wild.
When Fromm (If Not for This, 2014, etc.) heard that he was a candidate to monitor the development of grayling eggs in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana in May and June of 2004, he thought it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce his sons, then 9 and 6, to the wilderness he loves so much. The Forest Service, not surprisingly, vetoed this suggestion, so he ended up on his own, his only human contact brief radio calls to his supervisors a couple of times per week. Fromm had plenty of nonhuman company, however, as he made his daily 10-mile round trip on foot, often through the nearly freezing rain, to check on the progress of the fish. A herd of elk grazed in the field outside his cabin, coyotes howled in the mountains, and he caught more than one glimpse of grizzly and black bears as he made his way down the path. To make sure that they knew he was there, he loudly sang the songs that he used to put his boys to sleep, including “The Noble Duke of York” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” The author alternates lovingly observed scenes from the month in the mountains with equally vivid chapters about the time he spent in his early 20s as a river ranger. While physical danger plays a part in the story, with bear attacks always a possibility, the author keeps the emphasis on internal conflict as he tries to reconcile his longing to be with his boys with the love of solitude and nature he hasn’t been able to indulge so thoroughly for years.
Fromm’s finely tuned reflections on this small but fully inhabited piece of the backwoods make this an adventure worth savoring.