River and Vision: Kim Barnes and the story of loss

  • Idaho author Kim Barnes

 

To Willa Cather's Great Plains, Ivan Doig's Montana, and Cormac McCarthy's borderlands, you can add Kim Barnes's Clearwater River.

Barnes's first three books, the critically acclaimed memoirs In the Wilderness and Hungry for the World and her powerful debut novel, Finding Caruso, all take place along Idaho's Clearwater River. Her soon-to-be-released second novel, A Country Called Home, explores this particular piece of geography even more deeply. "I sometimes think that each book I've written is an elegy to the river," Barnes says. She's right, but she's too modest: In so eloquently memorializing the Clearwater, she has also begun to elegize the whole of the American West.

Kim Barnes teaches creative writing at the University of Idaho and lives with her husband, the poet Robert Wrigley, on Moscow Mountain.

Between summer fishing trips, Barnes talked with HCN freelancer     Joe Wilkins about her river and her vision.To Willa Cather's Great Plains, Ivan Doig's Montana, and Cormac McCarthy's borderlands, you can add Kim Barnes's Clearwater River.

Barnes's first three books, the critically acclaimed memoirs In the Wilderness and Hungry for the World and her powerful debut novel, Finding Caruso, all take place along Idaho's Clearwater River. Her soon-to-be-released second novel, A Country Called Home, explores this particular piece of geography even more deeply. "I sometimes think that each book I've written is an elegy to the river," Barnes says. She's right, but she's too modest: In so eloquently memorializing the Clearwater, she has also begun to elegize the whole of the American West.

Kim Barnes teaches creative writing at the University of Idaho and lives with her husband, the poet Robert Wrigley, on Moscow Mountain.

Between summer fishing trips, Barnes talked with HCN freelancer Joe Wilkins about her river and her vision.

HIGH COUNTRY NEWS Could you talk a bit about your faithfulness to the Clearwater River country?

KIM BARNES I was born and raised in Clearwater country, of course, but that's not enough to explain why it informs and defines my mythology as much as it does.

My parents came to Idaho from Oklahoma in 1956, leaving lives defined by poverty, alcoholism, and tragedy. ... My father was a logger, my mother a housewife, and they were very young and, for a time, very happy. (We) took great joy in small, good things: a mess of brook trout  -- enough to feed the extended family  -- was something to feel happy about. ... When my parents joined the Pilgrim Holiness Church (a severely fundamentalist branch of the Pentecostal Church), my life changed. My father had a crisis of faith. He believed that he heard the voice of God telling him we must leave the wilderness we loved. (So) we loaded up our old Chevy and, within twenty-four hours, we were gone. Our new home was Lewiston, a small city 90 miles south. ...

(Yet) my husband and I moved back to the Clearwater. We raised our children there. We wove the story of who we were to the story of the land and the river. Eight years ago, when we left to take jobs in Moscow, Idaho, just 60 miles north, it again broke my heart. I am still grieving. How can I live without water?

My "faithfulness to this particular place," then, is defined by experience, by intimacy, by memory, and by loss. As my author friend Debra Magpie Earling says, "Without loss, there can be no story."

HCN How is this story  -- your love and loss of the Clearwater River  -- the story of the American West?

BARNES It's a story of the westward movement toward hope and plenty, a story that seldom proved true. It's a story of the nomadic nature of those living and working in the West. It's a story of how class has defined the majority of the West's inhabitants, that sense of everything being maybe: Maybe the rains will come; maybe the forests won't burn; maybe we'll get our elk this year; maybe my father's back will heal; maybe my mother will sell enough pies to buy herself a new coat before winter. One of my family's favorite sayings is, "Lord willing and the creek don't rise." But, of course, the creek, at some point, always rises.

It's not surprising that the journey to Lewiston has taken on mythical meaning in my writer's mind. It was a move that broke my sense of family and my connection to the land. It was a fall from innocence. I left those woods a naive girl and entered into my young woman's life, defined by a faith that taught that, as a daughter of Eve, I was inherently flawed and a danger to myself and those around me. When I entered junior high, I quickly rebelled against my father and my faith. My life fell apart. The fact that the Corps of Engineers dammed the Clearwater that year adds yet another layer of metaphor: my childhood cut off, an impenetrable, concrete face separating me from that girl I once had been. Not the creek but the river rising.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • 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...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    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...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    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...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...