Permanent Vacation: Twenty Writers on Work and Life in Our National Parks Volume 1: The West
Edited by Kim Wyatt and Erin Bechtol
205 pages, softcover: $15.
Bona Fide Books, 2011.

In Permanent Vacation, editors Kim Wyatt and Erin Bechtol have assembled an eclectic collection of essays by cooks, river guides, maids, backcountry rangers and horse wranglers from Yellowstone, Yosemite, Wrangell-St. Elias and a handful of other national parks. Their stories give us a complex, poignant portrait of those who live and work every day in what Wallace Stegner called "America's best idea."

Readers will enjoy plenty of animal thrills. In "Grizzly Country," Joseph Flannery encounters the great Ursus arctos horribilis: "The great bear bursts into the light. Head held high, he jogs right to the carcass and swings his front paws down violently ... 'Jesus Christ,' one of us says. It might have been me." Troy Davis shares tales about the life and death of Six, Yellowstone's car-smashing, tourist-chasing bull elk "bad boy," who "became as close to a rock star as any native ungulate has likely ever been," but died ignominiously tangled in a fence in Gardiner, Mont.

We also get a peek at the lives of workers who normally might be invisible to park visitors. In Cassandra Kircher's "A Portrait of My Father in Three Places," she explores the changing relationship between father and daughter -- the 10-year-old sees only the heroic protector who saved the family from a marauding campground bear, while the 27-year-old wilderness ranger gets a glimpse of her father's now-faltering spirit in a bucket of just-caught trout: " 'I can't kill them,' he says, and for a moment I feel a flash of fear, that kind of fear I've felt all my life whenever my father seems vulnerable." In "Tonight We Dash," Ruth Rhodes celebrates the bittersweet life of seasonal employees who build tenuous but life-sustaining communities. She and her fellow Denali Princess Hotel employees, fueled by alcohol and joi de vivre, dash a naked three miles from one Denali bar to the next. "Wild places are suffused with magic," she writes, "and they attract the most crazy-wonderful people."

Wyatt culled these diverse and well-written essays from 220 submissions gathered through ads in Poets & Writers magazine and High Country News and with the help of the National Parks Artists in Residence program. The response was so enthusiastic she's put out a call for more stories. The submission deadline for Volume II: The East is Jan. 1, 2012. See www.pvstories.net for more information.