A life of brutal grace

  • The Boy Who Invented Skiing

 

Montana writer Swain Wolfe’s memoir, The Boy Who Invented Skiing, might be more aptly titled The Writer on His Way to Being An Alchemical Cartographer. Wolfe’s writing maps transformations, in a style both gritty and magical.

Wolfe was born in the hardscrabble West of the late 1930s. His boyhood was spent in the Colorado Springs tuberculosis sanatorium directed by his distant father, who in later years injected morphine and nicotine between his toes.

Wolfe’s eerily gorgeous evocation of the sanatorium is straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales ... emphasis on the grim. The reader becomes one with the little boy who explored dark and terrifying tunnels under the buildings — and rode the roller-coaster of his narcissistic mother’s whims.

His mother left his father and embarked with Swain and his neglect-damaged sister on a dude/hunter venture near Gunnison, Colo., and then on to a second marriage to a violent rancher.

Today, with luck and a Child Protective Agency, a boy who lived Swain Wolfe’s childhood would be hauled to hypothetical safety. Still, his writing never whines. His pain is evident, yet we are carried to understandings delivered with brutal grace.

Every slap, every uprooting forced young Swain to develop not just his observational gifts, but his own brand of hope. His teachers were cowboys and miners, drunks and hermits. Every hard case, every con man taught the kid something —- about killing to eat, making tools, setting a dynamite charge. He learned to pay attention, to walk out to the edge and stay steady — essential elements of craft for a true writer.

The skis? It is enough to say that the boy who invented skiing became a writer who could say in a recent interview, "I am Rarick Creek" (the wild stream that was his childhood universe) and make the reader believe it.

The Boy Who Invented Skiing
Swain Wolfe
287 pages, hardcover: $24.95.
St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!