Tales from the Edge: A review of Extremophilia

 

Extremophilia, River Rats,
Timber Tramps,
Biker Trash, and Realtors:
New and Selected Writings

Fred Haefele
145 pages,
softcover: $16.95.
Bangtail Press, 2011.

If you're not familiar with the term extremophilia, don't worry. As Missoula, Mont., author Fred Haefele explains: "It's a genuine neologism. A freshly minted word. It refers to someone with an intemperate love of extremophiles, those intrepid little organisms that manage to thrive in the most hostile environments on earth."

Haefele is a self-described "writer and author for hire" best known for his memoir, Rebuilding the Indian, in which he paralleled his approach to middle age with his restoration of a "basket case" classic motorcycle. His essays have been published in a wide variety of magazines; this new book contains 20 years' worth of them, on topics ranging from an Ice-Age-to-present-day view of Missoula to Stanford University during Haefele's Wallace Stegner fellowship to Evel Knievel's funeral in Butte. The title and inset cover photo of the author, shaggy hair hanging in tangles, tongue out and arms raised, may deter less extreme readers from picking up this book, but don't be misled -- this slim volume is easy to relate to and read.

What the essays have in common is a deep, but never sentimental, affection for the West. Haefele left New England as a young man, a tree surgeon deeply influenced by Ken Kesey's work and drawn by the mythology of the West. Extremophilia's stories are grounded in Haefele's experiences as a logger, firefighter, teacher, father and motorcycle aficionado. His writing is strongest when it details familiar Western experiences and landscapes. Describing an intense fire season, for example, he writes, "A column of white smoke massed, rose like a cumulus shot with lighting."

Haefele's tales of Western culture, characters and places are both casual and transcendent, although most tend to have a requisite lesson. After much reflecting on a reunion river trip with his adult children, Haefele concludes, "To simply live to tell the story -- maybe that's all the trip was about after all." Extremophilia can be read as a writer's résumé, but Haefele brings his self-effacing humor to places consistently worth visiting, and his genuine and gleaming vision may deepen the reader's appreciation of things too easily taken for granted.

High Country News Classifieds
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • ANNUAL FUND MANAGER
    Working closely with the Foundation's leadership, the Annual Fund Manager is responsible for the oversight and management of the Foundation's annual operating fund. This is...
  • DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR
    Looking for someone who loves public land and understands the value and importance of data in reaching shared goals as part of a high-functioning team....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The conservation non-profit Invasive Species Action Network seeks an executive director. We are focused on preventing the human-caused spread of invasive species by promoting voluntary...
  • NEW BOOK: A FEAST OF ECSTATIC VERSE AND IMAGERY
    Dynamic fine art photographer offers use of images to raise funds. Available for use by conservation groups. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com.
  • WANTED: TALENTED WRITER
    Write the introduction to A Feast of Ecstatic Verse and Imagery, a book concerning nature and spirituality. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com. Writer who works for conservation/nature...
  • MT STATE DIRECTOR- THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
    The Montana State Director is a member of The Wilderness Society's (TWS) Conservation program team who plays a leading role in advancing the organization's mission...