Notes from a place of risk and hope
by Julianne Couch
Writer Kevin Holdsworth copped Wyoming’s tourist slogan “Big Wonderful” to describe a place of both risk and hope, a beautiful, battered landscape rich in myth and fact. He presents it through the complementary perspectives of a mountain climber, family man and friend, describing both Utah, the state of his birth, and Wyoming, the home of his heart, in a collage of essays, poetry and fiction.
Holdsworth was raised in a traditional Mormon family, but chose a life outside the faith. In his idealistic youth, he moved to New Jersey to write (failed) Western novels. Missing the mountains and spurred by wanderlust, Holdsworth returned to the West. “The problem was and to some extent still is the re-entry. … I fell for all of Nature’s tricks. I fell in love with her, with her scrub oak and stream crossings, sunsets and snow slopes.”
Holdsworth explores nature’s tricks — and her truths. They’ve taught him to balance his yearning for a solitary life in the mountains with the even richer life he discovered in his personal relationships. No stranger to Wyoming’s harsh weather, he recounts near-death adventures on icy roadways with black humor. The book’s centerpiece is his examination of the Mormon Church’s role in, and its rewriting of, the disaster that befell his ancestors on the Mormon trail in the winter of 1856, when their handcart company was stranded near Martin’s Cove.
Holdsworth invites us to sit down at his literary campfire and listen to vivid, unforgettable stories. We look on as he dodges lightning bolts, fishes for brookies, and rescues drowning dogs. He reflects on the death of his close friend, the illness of his father, and the difficult birth of his young son. He shares his conflicting feelings about the West’s energy boom and the toll it takes on the environment. In the poem “Seven Horseshoes,” readers join his company of friends for a grand day of camping, fishing and imbibing. “Later, in the fireside dark, someone is certain to slur / My friends, it does not get significantly better than this.” Neither does most writing about the contemporary West.
Big Wonderful: Notes from Wyoming
University Press of Colorado, 2006.© High Country News