Essays and Reflections

Abbey, E. 1968
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. Ballantine Books, New York, USA 303 pages.
AEU HSS PS 3551 B39 D4 Written about the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the author worked as a Park Warden for the US Parks Service at Arches National Monument, in Moab, Utah. A long way from the Palliser Triangle, but a discussion of an arid landscape. He saw this area virtually undeveloped, before the Parks Service had installed infrastructure and paved roads - before the roads had brought mega-tourism to the area. He deeply loved the country and felt passionately that it should be left untouched and that tourists who wish to see it should be forced out of their cars and made to walk or go on horseback. He clearly had no patience for the philosophy that says Parks should be made accessible to everyone. His sense is that this totally destroys their ambience. Clearly, he was in rebellion against much of modern life, most of which he hated, although there are hints that he is not as detached as he would like to be - it seems that he returned to a winter job as a welfare worker in New York. He also saw population control as vital to the maintenance of some quality of life, and unrestrained growth and development as the enemies. However, it is the desert landscape that is the central character in this book. Abbey describes the landscape in very clean, spare prose. His warden activities provide only a rough frame-work for what is actually an extended meditation on solitude and the landscape. (16/Jun/1991).

Butala, S. 1994
The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada xvii + 221 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8552 U87 Z53 Butala married a rancher from southwest Saskatchewan and went to live on his ranch. The book deals with her adjustment to the new way of life and her exploration of her surroundings. At first she is fascinated by the landscape. The writing shifts into a personal crisis story as she faces her own self-doubts and inner disturbance. She considers Aboriginal beliefs and her own reaction to them. (27/Jan/1997).

Butala, S. 2000
Wild Stone Heart. Harper Flamingo, Canada 206 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8553 U6967 Z53 Butala describes how she became obsessed by a particular field on her husband's ranch in southwestern Saskatchewan. She walks in this field many times during 20 years, and uses it as a focus for her thoughts about the land and her meditations on her place in the world. (06/Oct/2002).

Ewing, S. 1990
The Range. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, USA 284 pages.
AEU SCI SF 85.35 M9 E95 The Range of the title is prairies or rangelands of southern Alberta, northern Montana, and southwestern Saskatchewan. The book recounts incidents in ranching life and discusses the development of policies towards ranchland and ranching over the last 100 years, as told by ranchers themselves. Thus the book consists mainly of a series of short interview-like segments with occasional linking text. The rancher here is hero and is presented as misunderstood by the rest of society, with a deep love for the land and understanding of its needs. The book is illustrated with photographs, many of them are from the early days of ranching and show settlement and pioneering. (05/Jun/1992).

Frazier, I. 1990
Great Plains. Penguin Books, New York, USA 292 pages.
AEU HSS F 595.3 F848 In the mid 1980s, Frazier moved from New York to Montana. He became fascinated by the Great Plains, an area many people fly over but few visit. During the next few years, he drove extensively through this region. This book records gleanings from his travels, interspersed with snippets from his readings in Plains history. Rather superficial in places but an interesting personal perspective on the region by an outsider. (03/May/2005).

Lilburn, T. 1999
Living In The World As If It Were Home. Cormorant Books Inc., Dunvegan, Ontario, Canada xv + 109 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8562 I27 L59 Grounded in the prairie landscape, these essays examine what it means to be fully aware and conscious of one's place. Beginning with observations of land and wildlife, Lilburn examines the meaning and personal significance of his relationship to his outward world and surroundings. Openness to experience and reduction in the focus on self are key motifs. Similar themes recur in his poetry. These essays are complex and difficult to read, but provide much food for thought. (16/Nov/2003).

Marty, S. 1995
Leaning On The Wind. HarperCollins, New York, USA xiii + 317 pages.
AEU HSS PS 8563 A797 L4 An examination of life in southwestern Alberta in Pincher Creek country near the Livingstone Range. Buying an old ranch house and fixing it up. Watching nature and wildlife, watching his sons grow up, and always conscious of the wind, the Chinook that clears the winter snow, and yet brings ill-health and tension to those susceptible to it. Marty examines many aspects of life in the region, including tourism, the impact of oil and gas development, the attraction of rodeo, the history of EuroCanadian settlement, especially through his own family history. His family came from the States in the early 20th century, lured by promises of cheap land and great crops, to find neither. He also writes of his anger at government indifference to environmental damage. He writes of his developing relationships with his neighbours. (05/Apr/1997).

Raban, J. 1996
Bad Land. Vintage Books, New York, USA 364 pages.
AEU BARD F 591 R22 An examination of small towns in Montana, mere dots on a map placed there by railway speculators to try to bring in settlers in the late 19th century. Those settlers fought a losing battle with droughts and hardship before finally being defeated by the banks through loans and mortgages. Raban journeys there and looks at the present and the past and interviews some of the descendants of the survivors, people who learned to adapt to the landscape, mainly ranchers not farmers, better able to cope with the vagaries of the climate. He finds a certain strength of community but also a fatalism and a limited outlook. This makes, for instance, the inhabitants of Joe, Montana (a town re-named for a football player) think that the town will turn into a tourist destination on the strength of its name alone. An affectionate look at the land by an outsider, not even an American. (03/May/1998).

Rees, T. 1995
Hope's Last Home: Travels in Milk River Country. Johnson Gorman Publishers, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada 255 pages.
AEU HSS FC 3695 M515 R44 Writings on the landscape and history of the far south of Alberta and adjacent northern Montana.

Stegner, W. 1966
Wolf Willow: A History, A Story, and A Memory of the Last Plains Frontier. Viking, New York, USA 306 pages.
AEU BARD FC 3545 S25 S817 This is a classic. An account of growing up for a few formative childhood years in East End, Saskatchewan and, in "Genesis," an imagined recreation of a cattle drive in the winter of 1906-07 in which terrible blizzards all but destroyed the great cattle herds and ranches of the northern plains and opened the gates to agriculture (farming) settlers. Stegner lived in the area from 1914 to 1920 (for about six years of his childhood) between the ages of 5 to 12. His memories are coloured by the rosy glow of childhood in which everything seems idyllic. However, he makes some cogent points about the lack of knowledge of the settlers of the history of the area they were settling. He feels regret that the missed out on a mythology, a history, that could have grounded them more securely in place and given them a greater and more intense connection with place. Lyrical and evocative writing. (27/Aug/2006).
Number of citations: 10
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This presentation has been compiled and is © 1998-2012 by
Alwynne B. Beaudoin (
Last updated September 2, 2012
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