"I don't think there's a set formula for falling in love, but surprise, wonder, the invitation to thoughtfulness, and meeting the other on its own terms all have a part in the process," writes Andrea Jones in "Love Letter to a Sewage Lagoon," one essay in Between Urban and Wild.
"I inherited much of my devotion to the mountains from my father, but Lake Powell [the 'sewage lagoon' of the title] provided me with the opportunity to discover the character of one small part of the world for myself. On the shores of that paradoxical desert lake, I learned what it meant to fall in love with a place. Love, of course, is seldom simple, and it wasn't long before complications set in."
The complications to that childhood love for the wilderness of blue water set in a maze of pink and red sandstone begin with the fact that the lake is actually a reservoir, "a gigantic human artifact imposed on the red rock land." And that it drowned Glen Canyon, perhaps the most glorious of the slickrock desert's sinuous river canyons, and that the damming of the Colorado River to create the reservoir gravely harmed one of the West's greatest watersheds.
"Reading [Edward] Abbey's books..., I discovered that he put words to some of my feelings for the desert. Those writings resonated deeply for me, even though my sole experience of the slickrock desert transpired, for years, along the shoreline of a reservoir that Abbey despised. He called Lake Powell—the waters of which I drank, played in, slept beside, and ate fish from—a 'sewage lagoon.'"
Jones is the rare writer about nature and the land who loves deeply but is not blinded by her affection. In this slim volume of essays, she looks at life in general and life in the rural West in particular with a truly reflective eye, an appreciation for irony, and a wry sense of humor.
There is a lovely quiet rhythm to these pieces, some brief, some longer, winding through reflection. The subjects range widely, from the difficulties of growing food in the foothills of the Rockies where garden "pests" include elk and black bears, and the way that just knowing mountain lions live in the neighborhood sharpens the senses, to weeding, and the nature of vision and what that means for our perception of the world.
Each essay is rooted in some aspect of Jones' daily life, using seemingly mundane observations—the way her horses interact with each other and with their surroundings, the birds she watches out her office window, a family with a screaming toddler in a national park, summer thunderstorms—as a way to look at the choices we make in life, and how we interact with and what we see as our place in the larger, wilder natural world.
Through Jones' eyes, that world comes alive in luminous detail, and if our relationship with it is complex, contradictory, and sometimes heartbreaking, that gives her plenty to reflect on. Those reflections make Between Urban and Wild haunting and compelling, a book that lasts.
Andrea M. Jones was born and raised in Colorado, where she lives with her husband and their two horses. Her essays have appeared in Orion, the Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, and Wildbranch: An Anthology of Nature, Environmental, and Place-Based Writing, among others. She is a professional indexer and the owner of Jones Literary Services. Visit her website.
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