Sometimes I read a book that resonates inside me in a way that goes way beyond its words. Wild Life by Molly Gloss was such a book. My daughter had loaned it to me when we were at their home in October. She pulled it from a glass-doored bookshelf and said that was where she kept her favorite books. I always like to read books that she feels that way about; so I looked forward to time to open it.
When I began reading the novel, I felt a connection that only grew. Some is the heroine, Charlotte Bridger Drummond, who although living a very different life than mine in the early 1900s, had a personality that I understood on a personal level, who was living in the area around which are all my earliest memories, my stories, my words-- southwestern Washington, the foothills of the Cascades.
I grew up on a small farm, at the end of a dead-end road, that was almost as far into the mountains as somebody could get back then. Behind our house and land were miles and miles of wilderness where rumors of Big Foot were discussed but without much belief in them being real stories. Every so often some would claim a sighting but proof, solid proof, that was never found.
There were plenty of real wild animals to deal with anyway like the cougar that followed one of the neighbor women one day and ran across the gravel road as I walked down to meet the school bus about 1/2 mile from our farm. There were the black bears that avoided being seen as much as possible. Whenever the plum season was on, when we'd go back to pick from those trees at the back of our property, we would make lots of noise to alert the bears it was our turn. We would see the marks of their claws on the trees but they always left to give us our chance to forage.
In those mountains were plenty of peculiar people like the goat lady who raised a herd of goats with her sons. To a girl that seemed pretty strange but to me now as an old woman, not so much. There was the family that kept a baby bear chained to their front door with glass sprinkled over their driveway to further dissuade curious visitors. That's still strange.
I grew up freely roaming over my parents' land; and I remember it all as vividly as though I still I lived there. There were pastures in the midst of brush and logged over forests. In the early summer, the pastures would be filled the lavender flowers we called flags, like little irises. In the shadows would be the trillium that I was told never to pick or the plant would never bloom again. They were to be appreciated only where they were.
Back in those hills, still part of our property, was our family's spring. It was down in a little pocket with trees and ferns around it, boards over the pool from which a pipe would bring water to our home. Whenever the flow would stop, my father would go back to find what had knocked the pipes lose, often enough it was a deer. Why we didn't get giardia, I don't know or maybe we did and didn't know it.
Wild Life takes this all a step way beyond what I experienced. When Charlotte, successful writer of novels, goes off on a mission of mercy, heading into the wilderness to find a lost child but leaving behind her five sons in the care of others, it might instead be an attempt to have an adventure of her own.
She gets one and nearly loses her life in the process; but her adventure, the experiences she goes through and most of all what saves her life, that's what makes Wild Life not only very worth reading for anyone enamored of nature, anyone who loves good writing, but also gave me a trip back into my own childhood.
I feel so lucky to have grown up as I did, to know the wilderness that little by little has been replaced by man's encroachment. I'd like to think though some of it remains and within it still walk mysteries, where there are places man must or at least should leave be.
From Wild Life by Molly Gloss:
"What is happiness? Perhaps not a State, as we seem to think, but a Moment-- perhaps the moment when one stands from one's browsing and straightens into the sunlight, into the heady warmth of the scented air, and one's gaze rises-- oh!-- across the dazzling field of flowers to the white dome of a far-off mountain perfectly drawn above the dark mountain trees, luminously bright against the violet-blue of the sky."