“…the bare bones immensity of Wyoming can make you feel like a sacrifice for the gods to pick clean.”
–Laura Bell, in Claiming Ground
Any good road trip requires some good reading, so that’s why I tossed a few books on the Old Lady’s backseat for the Colorado-California-Utah ski trip, including two new books I’m excited about: Laura Bell’s memoir Claiming Ground, and Anne Lamott’s novel, Imperfect Birds. I’m also exploring some Donner-Reed history on this trip, so I’ve got an anthology of Donner Party narratives with me and a publication I picked up from the Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee, CA called “Not Half the Trubles: A Letter from Virginia Reed, May 16, 1847.”
So far, Laura Bell’s memoir has been the standout in this bunch. Claiming Ground traces Bell’s post-collage move from Kentucky to Wyoming, where she begins herding sheep in the Big Horn Basin. Over the next several decades, Bell works as a cattle rancher, forest ranger, and an outfitter. She’s interesting young woman making her way in this hard world—mostly a man’s world—marked by physical labor and long stretches of solitude. Bell’s descriptions of this vast landscape will awe her readers into reverence for the wide-open, and Bell also brings to her readers a life that most wouldn’t even know how to imagine—the inside of a sheep wagon, for instance, or what it’s like to spot a cow in labor, or what treats best fit in one’s own saddlebags. By anyone’s standards, this book turns out to be a tear-jerker, even though I didn’t expect it to be until I found myself putting on sunglasses to hide the fact that I was openly crying in a café in downtown Salt Lake. Claiming Ground is a beauty of a book, with a quiet emotional current that will rein in any reader’s heart and soul.
Photo credit: Alfred A. Knopf.