No ordinary stroll
by Laura Paskus
One of the most beautiful books of 2007, The Walk, by William deBuys, tells of life, death, crisis and love in northern New Mexico.
It's a poetic book, to be sure, but one that's entirely down-to-earth. Sometimes, when writers recount their experiences farming or working the land, it's hard not to see them as dilettantes, more interested in crafting a good tale than reaping a decent harvest.
DeBuys is careful to remind readers that this spot has been his part-time home for 27 years. But it's clear that in the course of growing alfalfa, timothy and other grasses, he has learned a few things: how to irrigate a field, negotiate small-town friendships and truces, even tether a homemade bridge so that it's not entirely lost to a summer flood.
DeBuys has always infused his writing with clarity and passion. The Walk, however, is his best book yet. It's nice to walk with him across his land, learning about an old mill, for example, or about the trees peeled, perhaps by Apaches, to reach the edible cambium inside. But this slim little book is inspiring simply because it is so perfectly written. Consider his recollection of an afternoon spent with his family. DeBuys works in the field, readying it for irrigating, while his young daughter learns to gallop on a sorrel mare. His wife and son walk through the tall grass. For the reader, the light feels golden, the moment almost slack with pleasure. And then, the afternoon ends, and there is this: "But seasons come and go. Children grow. And the mare gets old." In a sentence, everything has changed.
Life is what it is, DeBuys believes: Despite all our efforts to strive for happiness or perfection, life has a rhythm of its own. Rainy years come and go and are followed by persistent drought. Lovers divorce, accidents occur, old friends die. Generations of dogs join our strolls across the landscape. The only constant is the rhythm of change. And that, deBuys helps us understand, is OK.
This is not altogether a happy book; nor is it quite a sad one. The Walk is a few shades shy of melancholy - and it is altogether lovely.
176 pages, hardcover: $22.95.
Trinity University Press, 2007.© High Country News