Reading the West 10-11-10
The fact that Slim Randles lived to write this book is, I expect, due in part to the fact that he has had more than one sweetgrass morning in his adventurous life.
Among American Indians morning purification using sweetgrass is important to keep ones life in balance, and Randles opens his collection of writings with a recollection of just one ceremony undertaken with an Ojibway friend in Michigan. As Randles writes, they burned the sweetgrass and pulled its smoke over them because, “we wanted to sink into the magic of the smoke and have it take away all our impurities and our blemishes and the workaday cares of being a writer, in my case, and a college professor in his.”
From the lyrical overture to the final poem “Sitting Right Here by the Fire” and the last essay, “Breaking Camp” this new book, “Sweetgrass Mornings,” is a delight and an adventure. It takes you along on backcountry pack trips, hunting adventures, and expeditions in Alaska and the High Sierras.
As Randles tells you, he has hunted and fished his way through several generations of fish and wildlife. His outdoor life began at age 16 when he spent a summer training to be a mule packer in the High Sierra, and he writes of his first trip alone with horse and mule on an assignment for his boss to retrieve some hiker backpacks. Clearly he expected that ride to be an adventure, but when a cougar made a nighttime ramble near camp, Slim found out how much he and his horse and mule depended on each other.
Essays about Alaska comprise the larger part of the book, and they include not only the hunting stories of people Slim served as a guide on the northwestern slope of the Alaska Range, but also his own adventures as a newspaperman in the Alaska bush. In “Sweetgrass Mornings,” the veteran outdoorsman shares some 40 years of his experiences. He includes poems, essays, and even a few short fictional stories (that I am certain are well-based on facts but embellished a bit) as well as a bit of “how-to” to serve up a very good read.
In the course of working and living in the Alaska bush, Randles had many encounters with wildlife. One black bear died 8 feet from his boot tips. On another occasion a big bull moose stumbled into a grizzly bear just a minute or so before Randles and a hunting partner would have done the same. The men survived; the moose died.
For his newspaper work, Randles got out of the office on more than one occasion, including taking a sled dog team across a section of Alaska in a quest for a story that nearly cost him his life when he and the dogs got caught in an intense winter storm.
This is a book that will be enjoyed by hunters and non-hunters. It is published by the University of New Mexico Press and I can highly recommend it.