Candy Moulton: Reading the West 2-14-11
Deep within the soul of rural people is a place that is tied to the land. Deeply tied, tap-rooted in a way that no matter how dry the conditions, how remote the location, how harsh the weather it is a part of them. They might move from ranch to ranch, job to job, opportunity to missed opportunity, but they will always know where they belong.
Depending on their physical location that connection to the land may come from the power of the prairie, the flatness of the plains, the rugged nature of mountain canyons, or Southwestern arroyos.
The work of the land also grounds them. It becomes not only their way of life, but also, for some, their muse. While many rural people may attempt to write of their lives, to share it with fellow conspirators in the big “ranching family of the West,” or to try to convey it’s meaning to urban folk, all too often their efforts come across as caricature.
A few, though, are able to capture the meaning and the message in stark prose. Max Evans has done it. So have Linda Hasselstrom, Terry Tempest Williams, and many of the contributors to “Leaning into the Wind,” “Woven on the Wind,” and “Crazy Woman Creek,” the excellent collection of anthologies edited by three ranch women.
And now there is a new voice of the land.
Ranch woman Amy Hale Auker writes that she has “been in love with the working ranch cowboy my whole life.” She writes of working beside her dad, and her husband, a South Dakota farm boy who moved to Texas where he met and married her. They spent 20 years on Texas ranches – some of the biggest and most well known including the JA and the Pitchfork – living, working, raising two kids.
Her book, “Rightful Place,” published by Texas Tech University Press, is passionate, gritty, and an unvarnished glimpse into the life of a ranch woman/wife/mother.
This collection of essays is powerful and worth savoring. Admittedly I read it in one sitting … but I think it is a book to be experienced in smaller doses to really appreciate the nuances of language, the meaning of her stories.
What appealed to me with this book is her dispassionate passion. That may sound like an oxymoron, but Auker shares intimate, heartfelt experiences through her writing and never gives the impression that she is on a soapbox, or wanting sympathy, or, really even to draw particular attention to herself.
Instead she eloquently describes life in the round pen, imaginary adventures of her children, quiet walks among wildlife, and the pleasure of making bread. She gives voice to the nature of hardworking ranch men who make paper Valentines, Christmas stars out of beer boxes and tin foil, and give a frozen rose bud with a hand printed poem.
While her father inspired her to a love of ranch life, he worked as an English teacher. In one piece she writes of him “prowling my living room, looking through the books on the shelves” seeking something to read himself. She locates a book by E.B. White, “The Rural Life, Magpie Rising” because she knows he “doesn’t like female writers.” But he selects a Sam Brown novel. And she tells him she has been reading a lot of essays (most probably because she is also writing essays).
He responds, “Twinkie, I don’t like to read essays. I don’t even enjoy teaching them to my students. I’ve got to have something with a story.”
I wonder, has he read her book of essays? If not, he is missing a heck of a story.
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