Seven months of solitude

 

Breaking into the Backcountry
Steve Edwards
192 pages, softcover: $16.95.
University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

"In the seven months I spent in the backcountry, in relative solitude, I rarely felt as alone as I do sitting at this table," writes Steve Edwards, describing his return to the family dining room after a lengthy sojourn by Oregon's Rogue River. An unpublished writer, the young Edwards had applied for and won the PEN/Northwest Wilderness Writing Residency in 2001, its prize seven months of isolation in which to write in an old homestead, living off the grid with two hours of dirt road between him and the nearest gas station.

Those months form the subject of the Indiana-born writer's memoir, which begins in the flat, distinctly non-wild Midwest but soon moves to a remote acreage replete with bears, coyotes and cougars -- and, most frightening, possible human predators. Edwards' honesty is refreshing, especially when, as a self-conscious male writing in Hemingway's Man-Against-Nature mode, he candidly catalogues his fears: bears, extended solitude, and the harrowing dread that he has nothing new to say in a world overflowing with books.

Breaking into the Backcountry may not offer a fresh plot: A "green" young man finds himself out of his depth in the dark woods, seeking his heart's desire amid an abundance of time and solitude. But it's worth looking over his shoulder to experience his encounters with the natural world:

"Enormous, luminous, the moonrise shoots wide white beams across the mountain. The barn roof comes into relief, each cedar shake. My friends the deer stand still a moment in the meadow behind the garden, as though spooked by the sudden appearance of their shadows. ... The moon pulses like a white-hot heart through the exposed rib cage of the tree with the hole in it."

Edwards confronts the challenge of doing the ecologically right thing: He's stricken by guilt when he poisons the mice that scrabble around the cabin, interrupting his sleep. "It's a poisoning of the mind and the imagination, and what hemorrhages is a sense of responsibility to anything beyond my own comfort."

Edwards can be naïve, even foolish, as he readily admits, but the reader envies him nonetheless. When he returns to Indiana, he seems transformed; "Some friends think I've gone a little kooky in the head, and maybe I have." Life with wild creatures has awakened him to the uncontrollable nature of reality, the richness of a world that thrives in spite of human beings. And, he concludes, "Maybe it's a good thing."

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance, a leading grassroots conservation advocacy organization for over 30 years, seeks a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help...
  • OPERATIONS AND FINANCE MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national grassroots organization led by women, seeks a resourceful, self-motivated, team player to serve as Operations and Finance Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR AT WILDERNESS WORKSHOP
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]