Broken Country: Mountains and Memory

Overview

C. L. Rawlins's previous book, Sky's Witness, was praised by Jim Harrison for the "spaciousness of its thought and the antic wit of its style." Broken Country takes us back to the source: Wyoming's remote Salt River Range, where the author's life changed for good in the summer of 1973. Thus - with a rift between himself and his family, his heritage, and a nation at war - Rawlins begins a journey to the American interior. He takes to the high country with a team of horses, three dogs, and a friend named Mitchell ...
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Overview

C. L. Rawlins's previous book, Sky's Witness, was praised by Jim Harrison for the "spaciousness of its thought and the antic wit of its style." Broken Country takes us back to the source: Wyoming's remote Salt River Range, where the author's life changed for good in the summer of 1973. Thus - with a rift between himself and his family, his heritage, and a nation at war - Rawlins begins a journey to the American interior. He takes to the high country with a team of horses, three dogs, and a friend named Mitchell Black to watch over a herd of sheep. And there he encounters not only a rugged landscape but his own mythic legacy: the frontier West. Here is fresh air, ferocious mirth, and a hint of silent terror as Rawlins tackles the questions we long to ask of ourselves and our tangled world. As our reach extends to the vastness of the land, it also deepens to touch the mysteries of the heart. In Broken Country we find both storm and shelter as the author guides us to the place of understanding.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the summer of 1973, Rawlins (Sky's Witness: A Year on the Wind River Range), rebelling against his Mormon family over the Vietnam War, took a job herding sheep in Wyoming's Salt River mountains. Twenty years later, he returned andusing the journal he kept in 1973has reconstructed those two and a half months on the trail without trying to reinterpret that time from a new perspective. The vivid descriptions of the mountains are breathtaking, and his wry observations on the rigorsand the very real dangersof a greenhorn's life with a couple thousand uncooperative sheep are refreshingly unromanticized. Rawlins's moments of philosophical introspection, however, are more of an acquired taste: "Life is all we have. And a bear can kill so easily. I'm not a bear. It's a lonely thing to know." He also writes poetry and liberally quotes Homerand other classical writersfrom an anthology he brought along. Rawlins has an increasingly testy time with the other herder on the job (an old friend); his brother drops by (and is chased by a bear); his girlfriend shows up (for a bit of sex and to end their relationship); a chance encounter with some Basque shepherds reveals how amateurish Rawlins's operation actually is. But he learns his job, how to cook, round up wayward sheep and load a skittish pack horse. Toward the end, he sums up this way: "And after 47 days of... boredom, hunger, accident, storm, terror, mud, darkness, frost, fever, and snow, I felt as if the Devil himself couldn't kill me." (Oct.)
Library Journal
It's the summer of 1973, and Rawlins is at a critical crossroads in his life. With the Vietnam draft looming over him and his relationship with his family and his girlfriend deteriorating, he signs on to work with an old friend on a sheep ranch and heads to the high, rugged, remote Salt River Range of Wyoming to herd sheep and find himself. Written as a memoir 23 years after the experience, this work drips with authenticity and excitement. The difficulties of managing six horses, three dogs, dozens of sheep, and the gear and food needed to exist for two months in the high country are well explained. Rawlins also carefully documents what he learned about flora, fauna, geology, meteorology, poetry, classical literature, and philosophy at the time. Rawlins, who is editor of High Country News and has published in the United States and abroad, has a style reminiscent of Abbey and Leopold, Quammen and McPhee. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries and all Western studies collections.Thomas K. Fry, Univ. of Denver Lib.
School Library Journal
YARawlins recalls the summer of 1973, when he took a job herding sheep in Wyoming. He was a greenhorn and the task was far from easy. It was a time in his life when he realized he could not participate in the Vietnam War, and he sought refuge in the mountains. That summer he fought his own war, not only dealing with nature's harshness, but also struggling to find ways to deal with his fears. This was a time of initiation; he made discoveries about what was importantliving things, poetry, words, trust. The writing deserves a rereading for the beauty of sentence structure, phrases, phrasing, and descriptions of the natural world. A well-written, honestly told story of self-discovery.Rebecca Burgee, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Booknews
In the summer of 1973, while the nation was at war in Vietnam, author Chip Rawlins traveled into remote Wyoming to watch over a herd of sheep with a team of horses, three dogs, and a friend. This is his account of his experiences as he evaluated his life and learned to live in the wilderness. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A summer's retreat into Wyoming's high lonesome, tending sheep, allows Rawlins (Sky's Witness, 1993) to blow the carbon out of his system.

The Vietnam War was raging, the draft was a possibility, and Rawlins wanted none of it. His parents were appalled. The summer of '73 looked to be tense on the home front, so Rawlins hired on with a shepherding operation in the Salt River Range, tending to hearth and tent while his buddy Mitch covered the sheep. Claiming some experience, he was in truth an impostor, learning packhorse knots and sourdough baking on the run. At first the story is all about gathering his wits as he tries to manage the tasks at hand. Then he starts to look around. As the camp moves from site to site, he forages for greens to supplement the mutton and peanut butter: speedwell and waterleaf and salsify. He becomes observant, noticing the green porcelain of a lake, the nervous polychrome of a fly's eye, the atmospheric changes that foretell a storm. As the summer deepens, he rolls ideas like wilderness and patriotism, complexity and draft notices around in his mind, shedding his own light on the subjects. A near-death experience pulls him up short; his girlfriend comes, then leaves—permanently; he squabbles with Mitch; the backcountry begins to scare him. Things fall apart. But then, in fits and starts, Rawlins regroups. Deep immersion in the landscape helps. So do the writings of the ancient Greeks, his stabs at poetry, the job's steady thrum. When, in a closing private moment, he "lifted [his] arms and began to dance . . . a dance of helplessness, mourning, love, and victory," one senses that Rawlins may well be off his rocker, but he's regained his bearings.

The book covers the period from June 21 to September 17, 1973. Readers will feel honored to have spent these three months with this reluctant shepherd.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805037180
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/4/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.04 (d)

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