Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's a Matter of Life and Death

Here are the two upcoming books I ordered free advance copies of today. The first is a collection of essays by Edward Hoagland; the second title is self-explanatory.

Sex and the River Styx

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery

Coming out next month is Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout which I enjoyed quite a bit. Here's my Amazon review of that one.

This book crept up on me like a forest fire which smoldered for a while before turning into a long slow burn not easily extinguished. As I read, there were often passages covering material I knew such as the Muir-Pinchot divide, Leopold's gradual enlightenment, and changes in policy toward forest fires. Sometimes I longed for more new material based on the author's own experiences. But like the author, when Fire Season was over I found myself regretting that I couldn't stay longer.

It has to be a difficult task to write a book about being a fire lookout, knowing you're following in the footsteps of lookouts/writers such as Abbey, Snyder, Maclean, and Kerouac. It also has to be difficult nurturing a marriage while living alone in a remote location for a third of the year, and that is one aspect of the book which gets more attention here than in those previous authors' work.

I enjoyed the reflections on solitude and those drawn to it, and on living a life which is split both in location and lifestyle, since I live a variation of that myself though not to the author's extremes of wilderness lookout and bartender. There are also brief looks at a wide variety of people, some who love the wilderness and try to live in it most of their lives, and others who can't cope with it and quit within a few days to return to urban life.

Despite encounters with bears and lightning bolts, and some social moments, this is a quiet book. Norman Maclean is quoted, "It doesn't take much in the way of body and mind to be a lookout. It's mostly soul." For those with a love of and need for wilderness and personal freedom, this book will be a bit of nourishment for that soul.

I finally made it up the hill behind the dorm to take a few photos. I love the views up there, and it's a great place just steps away to experience beauty and solitude when I need a boost.


Last year, I posted many photos of elk around the dorm. There's another one coming up, but of a very different sort. It's wonderful to experience being around all the wildlife here in Yellowstone: every day can be filled with exciting sightings of some sort--creatures never seen in nature before which last year for me included elk, bison, grizzly bears, marmots, magpies, and more. I saw elk calves romping and adult elk and bison rutting, bears sleeping and foraging, wolf cubs playing, bighorn sheep picking their way downhill, and shared acknowledgment with a beautiful coyote five feet from me.

With all the life must come death. There is no Either/Or. It's perfectly fine to feel sorry for the elk in the next photo; we just need to also feel happy for the coyote and the ravens who've been seen feeding there. Life and death are both all around us here, and where you are as well, at all times.

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