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Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country

Review

Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country

Sometimes, in order to find yourself, you have to get lost in the wilderness. That is the path that was taken by author Pam Houston (COWBOYS ARE MY WEAKNESS, CONTENTS MAY HAVE SHIFTED) when, in 1993, she bought a timeworn homestead high in the Colorado Rockies.

From the outset, the piece of land --- first owned and homesteaded by the Pinckleys, whose graves are located on the property --- represented multiple challenges. The first was the fact that its price exceeded Houston’s budget by a considerable margin. But she loved the place, and the woman who owned it wanted her to live there. What followed were years of acquiring animals to satisfy Houston’s innate love of all creatures, and tending them, and once watching a ram nearly disembowel a ewe seconds after it gave birth (leaving a ram in the birthing area was a mistake she never made again). She endured the death of beloved dogs and watched her pasture “erupt into a blanket of wild iris.” As she states so well, it’s hard to be ironic about such things.

"[Houston's] beautifully composed paean to wilderness living combines tales from her conflicted childhood with homestead journaling, descriptions of favorite animals, travels out to exotic places, and simple, homey happenings."

And it’s hard to live through one of the worst fires in Colorado’s history, a saga Houston dramatically reels out as she experiences it --- first from a distance (she had a teaching contract out of state when the fire first took hold) and then up close. She never evacuated, as she tried to save her animals and her land, which was miraculously spared as the blaze began to recede just as it seemed to be coming to call.

Houston was raised in dysfunction with two alcoholic parents who managed to not just wreck but total 16 cars during her childhood. A saving grace was a lovely woman named Martha Washington, who became her caregiver for most of her first 20 years, providing the love, safety and stability that her parents utterly lacked. Still, their wildness influenced her to teach herself to take chances --- but sensibly. The purchase of her Rockies homestead combined both her risk-taking and her inner longing for rootedness. Her beautifully composed paean to wilderness living combines tales from her conflicted childhood with homestead journaling, descriptions of favorite animals, travels out to exotic places, and simple, homey happenings.

After she took another large risk, investing in the restoration of the tiny Pinckley cabin, Houston found in it a place to rest and write, and concludes, “It’s easy to believe I have done the right thing, on behalf of Pinckley’s ghost and on behalf of my writing.” Her readers will doubtless agree.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on February 1, 2019

Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country
by Pam Houston

  • Publication Date: January 29, 2019
  • Genres: Essays, Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393241025
  • ISBN-13: 9780393241020