“Piercingly beautiful. . . . Its chapters map a vibrant, curious mind in love with the particulars of the Southwest landscape.” –The New York Times Book Review“One of our finest natural-history writers. . . . Her own knowledge of the natural world is deep, her prose breathtakingly beautiful and often startling.” –Annie Proulx, Globe & Mail“A major contribution to an understanding of the land. . . . Meloy’s genius seems evident on every page of this thoughtful, impressionistic book.”–Deseret News “One of the American West's greatest contemporary naturalists. . . . More than a mere adventure, Eating Stone concludes Meloy's love affair with the western desert and the wildlife it nourishes.”–Outside MagazineBeautiful. . . . Not since Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard has an author transported us so completely into the wilderness.”–The Plain Dealer
It was like a miraculous vanishing act. An entire species of North American mammals had disappeared among the steep cliffs of Utah's canyonlands. Naturalists wondered how a species that had modestly prospered since the Pleistocene had suddenly slipped into extinction. Then, several years later, the desert bighorn sheep returned as inexplicably as they had gone away. Eating Stone, the final book of Pulitzer finalist Ellen Meloy, brings these elusive, regal creatures alive so that even city people can appreciate their wilderness society.
It takes a bit of obsession to sit on sandstone ledges and watch desert bighorn sheep through a telescope for a year. This is just what Meloy (who died last November), shortlisted for the Pulitzer for her The Anthropology of Turquoise, did to slake her thirst to understand a group of sheep in Utah's canyonlands--a group she nicknamed the Blue Door Band. In this record of her study, Meloy, like the best naturalists, is a keen observer of the landscape and the habitat it provides. The band, just back from the brink of extinction, clings to the edges of the cliffs suspended in what Meloy calls "an island" of "deep landscape." She is concerned with the impact of the loss of the wild on humans' ability to exist, once wondering if losing species will "leave us brain damaged." However, a surprising levity punctuates the book, as when she writes, "Only sheep and lions fully understand sheep-lion dynamics." This humor balances her darker observations about the crushing footprint of humanity on the wild. In emotional, visceral prose Meloy makes no apologies for anthropomorphizing the rams and the ewes, writing, "I wanted the sheep to adopt me, a kind of reverse Bo Peep arrangement." Agent, Philippa Brophy. (Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Desert bighorn sheep were thought extinct and then they came back. Meloy, an observer and naturalist, spent a year watching them in Utah. The sheep became a metaphor for all that is wild and all that we are on the brink of losing as humans devour the landscape. Meloy is concerned about the effect the loss of any one species has on all species, including humans. She also glories in what she calls "animal-longing," that part of our brain that connects with the wild, and worries about what will happen when we have no wild to identify with. She writes about sheep terrain and the houses that have taken over their territory and the homeowners who complain about the sheep invading their neighborhoods. Her observations of the environment and the animals are also lyrically descriptive, as when she says, "The sheep are like mollusks attached to an entire canyon," making the reader want to sit on a high rock with her, watching and understanding all that she sees. Meloy's writing is funny, poetic and anthropomorphic and causes the reader to slow down to match the author's and the sheep's pace over the year of observation. The book concludes with selected references about sheep and their environment.
Why would someone spend the better part of one year, notebook in hand, binoculars glued to the eye, in extreme temperatures, studying a single endangered species? Because, as Meloy states, to understand one thing is the beginning of understanding everything. Meloy, a Pulitzer Prize finalist (The Anthropology of Turquoise), spends hours in the field observing a band of desert bighorn sheep rutting, mating, cavorting, and reposing on the Colorado Plateau of Utah. On travels in search of more bighorns, Meloy meets wildlife biologists, views the remarkable sheep petroglyphs hidden within the confines of a military reservation in the Mojave Desert, and, clueless, stumbles into a bordello seeking a public phone. She ponders the oxymoron of wildlife management-is a managed animal still wild? What does the loss of the wild mean to humans whose imaginations were shaped by wild things? Readers who delight in Meloy's offbeat humor and palpable description will be saddened that this is her last book as she died unexpectedly last November. Highly recommended for all natural history collections.-Maureen J. Delaney-Lehman, Lake Superior State Univ., Sault Ste. Marie, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Meloy, who died in 2004, reveals how wild animals, encountered in wild settings, impart beauty and meaning to our lives. The late laureate of the Colorado Plateau, Meloy (The Anthropology of Turquoise, 2002, etc.) here embarks on a quest to commune with desert bighorn sheep in the many habitats that support them. But this is no more about sheep alone than Peter Matthiessen's is about snow leopards or Herman Melville's about whales, for Meloy is hot on the trail of what it is that happens when humans lose their connections with nature, and she offers gentle instructions for reconnecting: "The Canada geese will adjust for you the changing length of daylight as winter deepens. They begin and end days along the river, and that is all you need to know about time." Sometimes her quest takes her close to her home in southeastern Utah, where those desert rivers flow; at other times she ventures farther afield, to California and Arizona, to see how bighorn fare in nearby climes. Unusually for American naturalists, she also wanders down to Baja California, visiting places like the Cuesta del Infiernillo, a desert canyon switchbacked by a highway with "vehicle carcasses stacked at the foot of the cliffs like dead Japanese beetles"-perfect sheep country, in other words. When she is not observing that the human brain weighs less than a pot roast or that boojum trees resemble upside-down electrocuted carrots, Meloy pays exquisitely close attention to the contours of the desert and the behaviors of the animals that inhabit it, marveling at the myriad ways those creatures have found to survive. Underlying her prose is a current of cheer and optimism; the world may be a screwy place, she hints, but we canlearn to treat it better. A lovely parting gift.