If you’re feeling assailed by civilization — its cell phones, computers and telemarketers — David Petersen has an antidote for you. But be forewarned: It’s strong medicine. It’s taken Petersen more than two decades to acquire his hard-earned lessons, and the going hasn’t always been smooth. In 1981, he and his wife, Caroline, left behind their modern lives in sunny California and headed to rural southwest Colorado. There, on a mountainside near Durango, Petersen built a modest cabin, and began a life dictated not by materialism, but by the vagaries of weather, wild game and a short growing season.

On the Wild Edge is both an unapologetic condemnation of our culture’s dependence on technological gadgetry and a forceful reminder that we might be built for better things. "I firmly believe that our ancient innate knowledge of how best to live is not irrevocably dead but has been drugged, sedated, and prostituted by modern material culture," Petersen writes.

He has made enviable use of that knowledge. With the quizzical eye of the naturalist and the fierce concentration of a predator, Petersen is never better than when depicting the passion and adventure of the hunt, be his prey morel mushrooms or an autumn elk.

Although he isn’t optimistic about our species’ ability to appreciate the lessons learned during our Pleistocene upbringing, Petersen has constructed a tentative blueprint for salvation, one in keeping with the credo established by Aldo Leopold and Petersen’s friend Ed Abbey. Live close to the land. Learn from and respect your neighbors, especially the four-legged ones. Recognize your role in the local ecosystem and leave as small a footprint as possible. And remember that, as Abbey was fond of declaring, nature always bats last.


On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life

David Petersen

250 pages, softcover: $15.

John MacRae Books, 2006