—MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
The late writer and naturalist Ellen Meloy wrote and recorded a series of audio essays for KUER, NPR Utah in the 1990s. Every few months, she would travel to their Salt Lake City studios from her red rock home of Bluff to read an essay or two. With understated humor and sharp insight, Meloy would illuminate facets of human connection to nature and challenge listeners to examine the world anew. Seasons: Desert Sketches is a compilation of these essays, transcribed from their original cassette tape recordings. Whether Meloy is pondering geese in Desolation Canyon or people at the local post office, readers will delight in her signature wit and charm—and feel the pull of the desert she loves and defends. With a foreword by Annie Proulx.
ELLEN MELOY was a native of the West and lived in California, Montana, and Utah. Her book The Anthropology of Turquoise (2002) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the Utah Book Award and the Banff Mountain Book Festival Award in the adventure and travel category. She is also the author of Raven’s Exile: A Season on the Green River (1994), The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest (2001), and Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (2005). Meloy spent most of her life in wild, remote places; at the time of her sudden death in November 2004 (three months after completing Eating Stone), she and her husband were living in southern Utah.
|Publisher:||Torrey House Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I Stapled My Hair to the Roof
I have just stapled my hair to the roof. I was unfurling heavy rolls of black felt over the pitched roof. Then I would lean in and staple the felt in place with tin caps. This requires grunt labor more than skill. But I was daydreaming about snowy egrets and leaned too far.
I'm my own boss. I'm in no particular rush. The day is so clear you could bite it. It seems a good time to enjoy the view and contemplate the dazzling spectacle of women awakening to their own full powers. With a slight twist I lie on my back.
Now, I will give you my precise location and concentric geography. The roof covers a modest owner–built home on eight acres of desert. Our house, me affixed to its south flank, faces a sheer escarpment of rose and beige sandstone. Below the cliff flows the San Juan River. Several miles southwest of my feet lies Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation. It's the home of the Mirage People, so called because it doesn't rain there often. House, river, the rez, Colorado Plateau, Utah, America, the world, the universe.
Stapled to the roof, I have serious thoughts about human potential. My Navajo neighbors have lived for centuries in a matrilineal society. In pioneer times, while the men mumbled about posses and punched each other's lights out, the grandmothers of my Anglo neighbors simply got off their horses and took care of business. Rural women could always raise roofs and corn, kids and hell. Yet today, one speaks of women marching into equality as if that were a different country. "No," I think as two turkey vultures circle above me, "we're simply occupying the rest of what has always been home." House, town, country, the world, the universe.
The turkey vultures don't see this geography of possibility. They see me, an edible, two–legged smudge on a plywood platter. I extricate my hair and return to felt and staple gun. Before I finish, two parties pass by on the highway. They pull over and watch, then offer me jobs. But I only have one roof in me, my own, and what I'd really like to do next is to run a tractor or a government. Perhaps a particle accelerator.
May 24, 1996
Perhaps it began with the wind. For weeks, the wind blew its dry burden of red dust down the canyons and across the open desert into our ears, our pockets, our nerves. The wind lifted up the top three inches of Arizona and dropped it on our heads. The gusts made the roots of my hair ache. No one in Bluff could remember so much wind blowing day and night, day after day.
People grew testy and distracted, but we knew our land well. We knew the stillness would return, even as we longed for it. Then one day the wind did stop. The earth tilted and Bluff slid.
After killing a policeman in nearby Colorado, three anti–government extremists surfaced east of Bluff, where one of them shot and wounded a local deputy. Within hours, the somnolent little town turned into an armed camp with roadblocks, helicopters, SWAT teams, canine tracking units, and hundreds of edgy men in uniform darting madly about with small arsenals on their persons.
Early in the manhunt, my husband Mark and I were allowed through a roadblock late at night. We drove to our isolated house above the river. Where Bluff should have been, there was a blank space, an inky darkness. The entire town had disappeared. No one told us that residents had been evacuated.
From some obscure heap of dust balls, Mark unearthed his old shotgun, put it next to our bed. The damaged gun barrel was unnervingly curved. The label on the ammunition box showed a pleasantly plump pheasant.
As a thudding fleet of choppers passed over us, Mark told me that if I had to use the gun, I should aim for the crotch. "Whose crotch?" I asked, certain that the outlaws were all at once somewhere, anywhere, everywhere. When I took a shower, it felt like the movie Psycho.
The Bluff school, used as a command post, swarmed with troops. The testosterone was so thick a woman could get pregnant just by walking down the hall. The map room was strangely chilly, an oasis of detumescence.
When it was discovered that we had not evacuated, that our isolated property had not been checked, and that I was alone while Mark worked, I was given two sets of advice.
A sheriff's deputy said, "Get yourself some guns."
The FBI said, "We'll give you an escort." I took the escort.
"Get guns?" I mumbled as five FBI guys led me down my driveway. "Get myself some guns."
Obviously, I was the only person in North America without them. One token, squishy, white doughball of liberalism who still believed that if you hated government, maybe you should do something really radical to change things, like vote.
I wondered if arms against arms created an endless spin into violence. I wondered why the world had turned so vicious. I wondered why the FBI guys wore bulletproof vests and I did not.
They poised their rifles as we reached the house and, with quiet courtesy, asked me for permission to enter.
I stood outside in a limp noodle posture, my wildlife menagerie around me—lizards, rabbits, ravens, the bullsnake that napped under the mint bushes, the flycatcher and her nest of baby birds in our eave. I looked through the glass doors at the way too many books, my stupid little piles of river rocks, the fetishes from Mexico, the Navajo mud toys.
The armed search precipitated a wholesale destruction of the lyrical. It felt dreamy and unreal, like hand grenades in a monastery.
These days, people still recount manhunt anecdotes. They recall the endless rumors, such as the one about the outlaws hijacking a UPS truck and terrorizing the Four Corners region in little brown suits.
Countless stories are told, all but the most critical one. That is, what really happened and why did these men disrupt so many lives with their survivalist fantasy, one that arms itself to the teeth and touts violence as a virtue.
Two of the fugitives remain at large. They will likely surface when they become bold or miss their mommies. Meanwhile, people in Bluff slowly reclaim the river and de–spook their yards, trails and canyons. I look at my neighbors' faces and see a bone–deep fatigue.
The wind has returned. It comes up every afternoon, pushing heat and dust, rattling the dry cottonwood leaves and thrashing my hair about my face. We long for stillness.
This time, no one is sure that it will come again so easily. In Bluff's deep peace, there is a severe crack.
July 24, 1998
Table of ContentsSPRING
1. I Stapled My Hair to the Roof
2. Animal News
4. Cracking Up
5. Rural Realities
5. Navajo Fair
6. Lawn Essay
7. West Virginia
1. Bighorn Sheep
2. The Dump
3. Sick of Election
5. Tourists in the Wild
6. Season Wrap Up
2. The Snakes in Desolation Canyon
3. Bread Dough
5. Ice Fishing
6. Peculiar Home
7. End of Season