Deep Creek, by Pam Houston, is a book that could ruin your day, in the best of all possible ways. Once you start reading, all you want is to continue doing so. I love this book, love it deeply and completely. It is everything a book should be: Brilliantly written, flat out honest, rich with a sense of place in the Colorado Rockies, layered with her love of the land, her dogs, her donkeys, her stranded elk babies and frozen water tanks.
A committed bookseller at my favorite bookstore, Arcadia Books in Spring Green, Wisconsin, said she thought I’d like the book. It reminded her of The Education of Will. Both are centered on “the land,” in the sense that Aldo Leopold meant when he used the term to describe our most meaningful community–the soil, the animals, the water, the people, the air–everything, all of us, because we can’t really separate one from the other.
Both books also brim with a love of animals and plants and how bitter cold nights and howling coyotes make you feel more alive. Both involve authors with burdensome pasts that were in part healed by our connection to where we live–to winter blizzards as much to spring flowers, to lambs dying in your arms as much as to bluebirds. I don’t want to stretch the comparison too far, because Pam Houston is a professional writer who teaches writing to geeks like me, and is as brave as anyone I’ve ever met, while I settle somewhere on the cowardly side of the spectrum.
“There is so much beauty, wisdom, and truth in this book, I felt the pages almost humming in my hands. I was riveted and enlightened, inspired and consoled. This is a book for all of us, right now.”
“. . . humming in my hands. . .” Isn’t that beautiful? There are some other stunningly written quotes about the book. They themselves are lovely to read. (Blurbing a great book is actually very hard to do. I can’t tell you how much thought and how many drafts go into our final versions.)
Here is one of my favorite passages from the book:
“And if I say, even so, that it has been only the rare human who has given me an animal’s worth of love back, it’s not because I underestimate the power of human love. It’s because I have been lucky enough to live in the unconditional, unwavering, uncommon, gale force of love directed at me from my animals.”
“Gale force of love?” Ah, exquisite. Who among us has not felt that from one of our dogs?
Even though the author’s childhood was heartbreaking, this isn’t a sad book. Not in the least. Rather, it’s simply a book about life, which of course is sad, and of course joyful and rich and scary and wonderful. Here is a photo of Pam and one of her horses from her website; I hope I am forgiven for including it. I absolutely want to meet this woman.
If you love good writing, a passion for animals, a love of the land, and inspiration about what can be overcome, this is a great book.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: It may be March, but it’s still the underbelly of winter. Ten below this morning. A crusty blanket of snow and ice on the ground. In other words, a good weekend to bake bread. I made some buns for the homemade sausages we got in town yesterday. They look yummy, albeit a tad asymmetrical, but the proof will be in the eating. We’ll find out tonight. (I was going to show you just a part of them so that they looked less, uh, free form, but decided that praising the book above for its honesty and then pretending my bread looked prettier than it does was inconsistent. So here they are, in all their undisciplined glory.)
Sunday morning, after reading Deep Creek from 5 to 7 AM (hated having to stop), I found myself thinking that we’d seen less wildlife than usual this winter. And then I looked up to see two White-tailed Deer right out the window. And then there were four, and then there were six and they pretty much stayed around the house all day. They were there this morning too, and I just saw one out the kitchen window, although in the back pasture and not very close to the house. We had lots of chances to take photos on Sunday, although the best pictures wouldn’t load onto my laptop. (Of course, right?)
I love how this shot shows how well they are camouflaged in winter. Their fur turns the exact color of the bark of trees and bushes, and they can be almost in front of you and you still miss them. Once this one moved behind the bushes you couldn’t see her unless she moved.
Here is her friend, nibbling on the shoots of bushes and perhaps raspberries.
The green stakes below were supporting a new crab apple tree, and I was relieved that the deer left the tree alone. (Rabbits love the bark though, I should get the bark protectors back on soon.) But then I found they’d been nibbling on my baby burr oak tree, which I’ve been nurturing for five years and is finally starting to do some serious growing. (Par for the course for burr oaks, they need a long time to settle in.) As soon as I finish this I am going out to put some dog hair on the baby Burr in hopes of discouraging them. I wonder where I can find some dog hair?
But aren’t deer gorgeous? I know. . . “just deer”. But ever since returning from safari in Africa the first time, I have never failed to see White-tailed Deer with “beginner’s eyes” and appreciate their beauty.
Here’s to beauty, no matter where, no matter the temperature.