The best of these 15 essays by Garrison (English/Central Washington State Univ.), written mostly in the present tense and dealing often with experiences in Mexico or the American Northwest, offer the rewards of superb short fiction--a juxtaposition of emotional and personal significance with strongly evoked settings. ``We practice two kinds of hearing,'' Garrison writes in ``The Tour Guide,'' which combines personal instances with reflections on the nature of narrative. ``At any moment, we may be listening to a story, or we may be listening through it to the suggestions that lie beyond it.'' That sort of layering effect is Garrison's method. In ``Adaptations,'' for instance, he offers pioneer tales, instances of local color (sagebrush, quails, coyotes, etc.), and an aesthetic: ``A story is a series of adaptations. The setting yields the characters that help, scene by scene, reveal the setting....'' While those two pieces are examples of a successful yoking of metafiction and exposition, others avoid the theorizing but take advantage of the aesthetic: ``Independence Day,'' set in Mexico, contrasts subtropical culture to the horrendous death of Garrison's father from cancer, so that the mixture provides a kind of healing (``this side of the border blends the grotesque and the graceful, the elegant and the disgusting''). Garrison is also eclectic: ``Finding Our Lives'' is about a peyote pilgrimage he undertook with the Huichol Indians of Mexico; ``Where Pigs Can See the Wind'' reflects on folk belief, especially in Illinois (where Garrison grew up); and ``Two Love Scenes in Homer'' contrasts honest Achilles and wily Odysseus, symbolizing ``conflict of the literal and the figurative.'' By turns thoughtful and evocative, these essays map out some of the ways in which Northwest nature and Mexican culture comment upon or reflect human nature and the author's mind.