The wild West lives

  • Book cover of "The Lobo Outback Funeral Home"

  Jack Hunter abandons his Sierra Club lobbying job in D.C. and a marriage gone sour, eager to settle on life's placid surface near the Diablo National Forest of southwestern New Mexico. He takes up horseshoeing and jumps into a meaningless affair, enjoying the respite from strenuous work for hopeless causes. But then he meets a beautiful conservation biologist and learns about the endangered Mexican wolves in the forest's imperiled roadless area.


Such is the outline of The Lobo Outback Funeral Home, Dave Foreman's first venture into fiction. Foreman, a founder of both Earth First! and the Wildlands Project, has written books before, including the provocative essay collection Confessions of an Eco-Warrior and a national inventory of roadless areas called The Big Outside. Lobo Outback goes beyond these, delving into a particular place that Foreman knows as few others do.


Foreman's fictional Diablo National Forest stands in for the Gila National Forest, but his descriptions ring true: "Blooming lupine washed a blue tide" through a ponderosa forest of "plate-barked yellow pines," while along a creek, "violet-green swallows scooped up aerial plankton ... like tiny, feathered baleen whales."


Lobo Outback is more than Foreman's chance to wax poetic over one of America's wildest landscapes. The novel is a chilling reminder that much of the West's old power structure remains intact, and that some of its beneficiaries are disposed to thuggery when their good-old-boy politics fail.


Catron County, a locus of militia organizing and anti-endangered species activism, appears in Lobo Outback as Fall County. Fall County's most powerful rancher, Buck Clayton, who lives in a "ducal manor" complete with private airstrip, lobbies for more taxpayer-built roads in the forest and hires a local yahoo to hunt down endangered lobos - Mexican wolves. When conservationists stand in his way, he excoriates them as "modern-day witches and druids" and "dangerous terrorists" - and follows his rhetoric with violence.


The Lobo Outback Funeral Home is a literate and highly readable story of a region where the soil itself seems seeded with conflict. This is a book about the present, about the persistence of wildness and about the intransigence of those opposed to Nature itself.


The Lobo Outback Funeral Home, by Dave Foreman, 2000, fiction, University Press of Colorado, 226 pages, $24.95.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Michael J. Robinson