Part memoir, part nature essay, a roundabout search for a place of one's ownin this case, on the high plains of Nebraska.
In this debut book, Norton writes of returning home from years of wandering to "an aging reservoir on the Cedar River, part marsh, part bass lake, wellspring of my childhood memories." Her travels from coast to coast, she writes, had given her a close-up look at the blue highways and backroads of America, an education in the art of rootlessness. They also delivered an apprenticeship "in the field of emotion, learning the nuances of sadness, depression, joy, and loss. I was a tabula rasa, allowing the world to etch its patterns into me." Sadness outweighed joy, and her apprenticeship led to a sickness of the soul, especially after she was raped and then, for years, tried to bury the horrible memory in drink. "For long years I felt afloat without mooring, without anchor," she writes, until she finally returned to that place of childhood pleasures, a lean place "not quite desert, yet no oasis either." Her account of finding a restorative haven on familiar ground, among kin and friends, moves her slender book from the nature shelf to that devoted to recovery, and it is a very worthy addition to that library. As nature essay, though, Norton's book also succeeds; she writes affectingly of the plants and animals that inhabit the placecedars, cranes, curlews, cottonwoods, sand roses, and other manifestations of "simple beauty"and of the cowboys and farmers who work the land. These are all matters that can be written of well only after long study and close observation, and it is clear that Norton has done her homework and paid attention.
This book merits a place alongside the work of Terry Tempest Williams (who encouraged her) and Annie Dillard.