Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday's Western: MOUNTAIN MAN by Vardis Fisher

Vardis Fisher's MOUNTAIN MAN, as published in the Opal Laurel Holmes edition, is one of my favorite January reads.  This is the edition with Robert Redford on the dustjacket.  It has a frontispiece with a map that charts the incidents in the novel.

I greatly admire the movie made from it too, for all its faults a work of naturalism unsurpassed this side of Jack London.

Fisher himself is an excellent study and, despite how little known he is in the mainstream population, a substantial body of critical literature has grown about him (see Rediscovering Vardis Fisher: Centennial Essays).  You can see a brief bibliography of his works at this link.  Sometimes atheists claimed him as one of their own, at other times he seems very much a Christian, in the purest sense.  He was a man who went his own way without labels.

Tomorrow, we're in for another snowstorm here, they say, and this armchair naturalist plans to read Nevada Barr's  Winter Study, and plans soon to revisit David Petersen's On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life.  About the time of our first snow this year, I reread Gene Hill's essay, "Snow."  Here's an excerpt:

"Somehow snow is nature with its pockets turned inside out. You can see things that you knew were around, but weren't sure exactly where.'

"The pheasant that scratch for berries under my holly tree stand out like Christmas ornaments against the snow. I can see where the moonlit rabbits danced last night, where the deer reached over the garden fence to nibble the tops off the white-pine seedlings and wonder about the brussels sprouts.'
"I like to walk in the snow because that's the only time I sound quiet like a woodsman. I like deer stands when it snows because I always think there's something sneaking up on me. I like duck-blinds in the snow because that's the way they look in the old-time pictures I like best.'
"I like to make snowballs to throw to the Labradors and watch the expression on their faces when they try to catch and retrieve them.'

"I can walk in unknown places with confidence--because I can always backtrack my way out. And I like the confidence I feel when I see tracks--the side by side commas of deer, the feather etching of the grouse or the exclamation point left in the wake of a strutting cock pheasant.'

"I like the shush sound snow makes when it's falling. The sound of friends stamping boots outside before coming in to steam by your fire.'
"I like the fearsome howl of Western high country blizzards with the wind strumming your tent ropes in long bass notes.'

"Snow makes me feel elemental, brave and incredibly solitary, a single adventurer, along with only my wits and endurance to help me survive the storm--even if I'm only half a mile away from the car when the first flakes start to fall. It may be only a little adventure, but that's better than no adventure at all.'

"Few things are more comforting than to be inside when it's snowing outside. A bayside shanty with a big pile of dry wood by the fireplace, plenty of good bourbon and, with luck, some maple-tree icicles to cool it down. Outside you can hear the ducks chattering about the plans for tomorrow, and the Lab stands with her nose pressed against the glass making plans of her own.'

"Late at night you wake and listen to the wind. Old Tippy whimpers in her sleep as you pad around and add a log against the bitter morning."

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