A gathering of essays, mostly autobiographical, by the poet laureate of the Inland Empire.
Kittredge (The Willow Field, 2006, etc.) was in his 30s when he decided that he wanted to leave the family ranch in the desert of southeastern Oregon, earn a degree and become a writer. “An ill-educated boy,” he writes, “I once thought no one would ever give me much that would prove very useful in terms of realizing my evolving dreams. Turns out it’s been gifts all the way.” Out in the outback, news traveled slowly. In that vast remoteness, a place where the people were “secure from the world,” even such momentous events as the dropping of the atomic bomb took their time to become known. Now news arrives quickly, and so does everything else. Kittredge brings the news in reverse, writing about the eternal verities, the cycles of planting and harvest and butchering. His portraits of the people who work the land are immediate and affecting. In one piece, he recalls driving across the desert with a broken-down rodeo cowboy who traveled in a pink Cadillac with no windshield—“not broken out, but missing entirely, as if it had never been there,” oblivious to the fact that it was “a windy sonofabitch” out there but well aware that his shaven-for-Sunday-meeting face was now plastered with bugs and saddened by the fact, as Gregory Peck, Kittredge adds, was saddened in the movie The Gunfighter by the fact that he’d never owned a watch. Kittredge recounts missed steps along the way, moments of bad management and poor harvests and the beauties of living in a place where the wagon tracks from a century past were still carved into the desert floor and the air was sharp and fresh—a place that largely exists now in his imagination.
A fine summation of Kittredge’s excellent body of work.