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 An unpublished writer, the young Edwards had applied for and won the PEN/Northwest Wilderness Writing Residency in 2001, its prize seven months of isolation in which to write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
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 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...
  • 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....