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for people who care about the West

Peril in paradise


The Light In High Places: A Naturalist Looks at
Wyoming Wilderness, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep,
Cowboys, and Other Rare Species

Joe Hutto
256 pages,
hardcover: $24.95.
Skyhorse Publishing, 2009.

To Joe Hutto, a "romantic scientist," it seemed that the vast grandeur of Wyoming’s Wind River Range existed "in spite of us," that "human civilization and technology had proven impotent against an apparently irresistible force of nature." But that was before he scrambled up Middle Mountain to spend his first summer observing a large herd of wild mountain sheep. His assignment was to gather information that might help scientists discover why Rocky Mountain bighorn lambs were dying of a strange neuromuscular disorder.

The statistics he gathered that summer reversed Hutto’s old notions about environmental damage: "One would logically expect any threat to a remote twelve-thousand-foot alpine habitat to come from below. ... Ironically, something mysterious is occurring that seems to affect the highest elevations most dramatically." That mysterious something turns out to be acid rain.

The Light In High Places chronicles Hutto’s experiences during the bighorn sheep study, as well as time he spent working as a Wyoming ranch hand. His first book, Illuminations in the Flatlands, recorded the months he spent raising a brood of wild turkeys. In The Light In High Places, he walks us through alpine wilderness to show us that "it is not the greed of multinational corporations with their vicious bulldozers, chain saws, and oil rigs" consuming the earth’s resources and polluting our environment, "but rather individuals like you and me" -- via our daily consumer choices.

But this is (mostly) not a preachy book. The narrative is taken from Hutto’s journals, written while he had an abundance of solitude and time to observe, investigate and reflect. The roughly three dozen color and black-and-white photos in the book add clarity and perspective. Hutto shares plenty of personal stories, introducing us to old-school ranchers and authentic Wyoming cowboys. Bears, mountain lions, hawks, wolves -- even a wolverine -- make cameo appearances in this wilderness drama. And we get to be privileged voyeurs to the author’s discoveries, without even having to lace up our hiking boots.