What was intended to be a deep immersion in study for graduate school—in the silence and solitude of a northern Idaho backwoods cabin—becomes a deep immersion instead in a place and its people, sharply etched.
In the early 1970s, Gruber (English/Emory Univ.) and his wife moved to the Idaho panhandle. He was attending graduate school but wanted a bit of Hesiod and Thoreau in his life, so the pair took possession of “an abandoned log cabin and forty acres of broken meadow and second-growth timber.” A selection of experiences from the next seven years is presented here in speech that’s just as anchored in the material world as is that of the man Gruber once asked about selective logging (“Hell, yes. We did it all the time. You select a mountain and you log it”). Which isn’t to say that Gruber is a friend of clear cutters; his interest lies more with the peasant’s right to windfall and mushrooms or with taking the time to appreciate a perfect tree (“In the silhouette of the white fir you would see, almost as if abstracted, symmetry, order, grace”). His neighbors are a revelation. With no 15-generations-needed-before-you-can-be-a-local nonsense, they are open and ready to be inclusive. One of them was “like the gatekeeper in a fairy tale, full of good humor and gnomic advice,” while another was seemingly placed on earth to remind Gruber “of the biblical injunction to look to the welfare of others as to our own.” The author reflects on a close encounter with a bear (“their dangerousness and our legitimate response to it”) and on the way that the edifice complex (“wanting someplace different or bigger to live in is a desire as irrational as it is common”) plays out in his remote neighborhood.
Engaging particulars of an essential life, pared to the core.