When American writer Annie Proulx purchased land in Wyoming with plans to build a dream home to complement the landscape, she began an emotional and intellectual journey of discovery and quiet adventure. She named the property “Bird Cloud,” and that too is the name of her latest book. BIRD CLOUD is a not-quite memoir that traces the first years of her ownership of the property, including the only year she lived on it full time. It’s an examination of a piece of land, but more than that, it’s a rumination on place, history, ecology, home, work and community.
"BIRD CLOUD can also be read as a celebration of home: those we find, those we create, those we dream of, those we stop in for a moment, creating memories..."
Before the space of Bird Cloud is fully described, Proulx begins with an interesting look at her family history. But this traditional narrative is soon replaced by tales of other domiciles, her plans for building the house, poetic quotations, examinations of pine cones, meditations on wind and weather, the execution of the house building, the history of the land both anthropological and ecological, and a lovely ode to the eagles and other resident birds that nest in the trees and cliffs surrounding the house.
BIRD CLOUD is a tough book to describe and sometimes a bit difficult to read. It often feels intensely personal (like reading a journal), and the pace is not always even. Proulx drifts from subject to subject, which can be alternately fascinating and frustrating. Some sections are dramatic and beautiful, like when she writes about the pairs of bald and golden eagles who nest so close to her house that she can watch them for hours and get to know their habits. Others are technical and detailed, like when she records the minutia of building her house --- from the crew she hires to the materials they used to the problems with the electrical outlets.
There is no denying Proulx's literary prowess, her keen powers of observation, or her gifts as a storyteller. Perhaps more than anything, this book should be understood as a tribute to Wyoming --- its breathtaking vistas, plentiful wildlife, ferocious storms and hardy peoples. In that way it becomes, instead of a rambling tale of various components, a celebration of the place and a mindset of openness, of possibility, and the past and the future coming together in a contemplative and intimate moment of force and beauty.
Yet, as she rambles, Proulx comes back to the same themes again and again, and the most intense of them here is home. A bit of a nomad, Proulx's physical restlessness is reflected in her writing style. She moves from home to home, roams the Wyoming landscape and travels around the world. But for a period of time anyway, she returned to Bird Cloud to watch the house grow, to watch the lives of the animals who were her neighbors, and to watch the seasons change.
So BIRD CLOUD can also be read as a celebration of home: those we find, those we create, those we dream of, those we stop in for a moment, creating memories and dreaming dreams until we move on once again.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 28, 2011