Theme: The book from this list about the state where you were born.
The Book: Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg
“Maybe I am the only one afraid. I wonder whether getting older will give me more, or less, to fear.” Where Rivers Change Direction, Mark Spragg
I was born in Wyoming. I don’t remember any of it because we moved when I was only a few years old. A few years back I traveled through the southwest corner, staying the night in Cheyenne. The largest city in Wyoming with a population of almost 60,000, it boasts an air force base, a rodeo, and cowboy boots the size of outhouses.
Outside of the city, I remember wide open plains, hills, a horizon that stretched on forever. Every once in a while, I’d see a forlorn statue of a single bison perched on a hill.
There was also this:
The Wyoming that Spragg recalls resides in the northwestern portion of the state, in the wilderness outside of Yellowstone. Where Rivers Change Direction is a memoir of boyhood both romantic and brutal. Spragg sings songs to the beauty of the landscape and wildlife and the horses that he grew up around on the ranch his family owned, but he doesn’t shy away from the harshness of that reality: winters in Wyoming are cold, the wind blows all the time, and one wrong turn can bring disfigurement and death to people and horses alike.
It’s not an environment for the faint-of-heart. Amateur homesteaders need not apply.
Spragg’s prose is beautiful, vividly evocative of the natural world and the people that populated his life. Thoughtful and imaginative, he give voice to thoughts that only seem to come when we’re young. Of the horses who dominated his waking hours, he writes:
I imagine I hear the horses laugh. I think it every time. I think that running is the way a horse may laugh out loud. When I am older I will believe that following in their wake has filled me with the inconsolable joy of animals.
The joy is laced with sadness as time marches on. As a boy, Spragg ruminated on the type of man he would become. As he grew older, he began to fear that man. Accustomed to taking city folks out into the wilderness to hunt bear and elk, he no longer hunts as an adult. Even as a boy, he found it difficult to watch a bear killed. He writes:
I expected to learn the language of bear, but I only learned to love them. Now, when the sun is up I am still their friend. I still imagine that I can stand with a foot in their world. But at night I know I am slowly growing into a man. I am afraid that a bear will find me out, judge me. I am afraid that a bear will kill me for the traitor I am.
There is something to fear about growing older, and it isn’t death. Death is natural and inevitable. The fear is loss, loss of self, loss of joy, and a life not fully lived.