Dear Friends


On to the millennium

As is our wont, we will skip an issue this winter, both to give readers a chance to plow through that accumulating stack and to give us time to regroup for the next 1,000 years, give or take a few centuries. The next issue will be dated Jan. 17, 2000.

Good books

Since we started reviewing books more or less regularly, we've been deluged. That occasionally inspires guilt among editorial staff as fine books put on some age before we get to them. One we've neglected is a memoir published this year of a remarkable Wyoming woman, Mary Back, who grew up in Vermont, studied at the Chicago Art Institute and then moved to Wyoming's Wind River Valley with her husband, Joe, in 1935. There, she became hunter, artist, writer, dude rancher, minister, a certified airplane mechanic, and not least, naturalist. Mary Back's book of close observation, Seven Half Miles from Home, Notes of a Wind River Naturalist (1985), turned necessity - a doctor ordered her to take daily walks - into deft writing and wonderful drawings. She died in 1991 at age 86, but thanks to a memoir written by her niece, Ruth Mary Lamb, we know a lot more about her life in Wyoming. Mary's Way: A Memoir of the Life of Mary Cooper Back is available for $13 from Ruth Mary Lamb, Box 1395, Bolton Landing, NY 12814 (518/796-2229). The book is also available from a group Mary Back founded, the Wind River Valley Artists Guild, P.O. Box 26, Dubois, WY 82513.

"No one you ever heard of is likely to endorse this book, so I'd better do it myself: 'This book is important.' " - Malcolm Wells.

Not one to mince words, "Mac" Wells, an occasional illustrator for this paper, hopes readers will finally get his message, that designing with nature instead of paving it over with asphalt is healthier and much more beautiful. You can read his latest, Recovering America: A More Gentle Way to Build, in an hour. But you might want to linger over his photos and drawings of ingenious underground houses, which feature flowers and grasses on top of roofs and interiors that stay cool in summer, warm in winter. There's no type in this self-published book; Mac's legible and lovely printing easily pulls you through. The book is $5 from Malcolm Wells, 673 Satucket Road, Brewster, Cape Cod, MA 02631 (508/896-6859).

Hello, Altair

In the past year we've been looking for seed money to help pay for our new media: Writers on the Range essays that go to 48 papers, Radio High Country News and the HCN Web site. We figure they can be self-sufficient in about three years. For the radio show, now on 11 stations around the West, we got some help last week from Altair Energy, a solar-electric service company in Golden, Colo. Altair is on the Web at In the meantime, Radio High Country News is looking for one more underwriter. If you are interested, or know someone who might be interested, contact producer Adam Burke or marketing director Steve Mandell.

- Betsy Marston for the staff