"Bird Cloud" is the name Annie Proulx gave to 640 acres of Wyoming wetlands and prairie and four-hundred-foot cliffs plunging down to the North Platte River. On the day she first visited, a cloud in the shape of a bird hung in the evening sky. Proulx also saw pelicans, bald eagles, golden eagles, great blue herons, ravens, scores of bluebirds, harriers, kestrels, elk, deer and a dozen antelope. She fell in love with the land, then owned by the Nature Conservancy, and she knew what she wanted to build on it - a house in harmony with her work, her appetites and her character, a library surrounded by bedrooms and a kitchen.
Proulx's first work of nonfiction in more than twenty years, Bird Cloud is the story of designing and constructing that house - with its solar panels, Japanese soak tub, concrete floor and elk horn handles on kitchen cabinets. It is also an enthralling natural history and archaeology of the region - inhabited for millennia by Ute, Arapaho and Shoshone Indians - and a family history, going back to nineteenth-century Mississippi riverboat captains and Canadian settlers.
Proulx, a writer with extraordinary powers of observation and compassion, here turns her lens on herself. We understand how she came to be living in a house surrounded by wilderness, with shelves for thousands of books and long worktables on which to heap manuscripts, research materials and maps, and how she came to be one of the great American writers of her time. Bird Cloud is magnificent.
The Back Road to Bird Cloud
The cow-speckled landscape is an ashy grey color. I am driving through flat pastureland on a rough county road that is mostly dirt, the protective gravel long ago squirted into ditches by speeding ranch trucks. Stiffened tire tracks veer off the road, through mud and into the sagebrush, the marks of someone with back pasture business. It is too early for grass and the ranchers are still putting out hay, the occasional line of tumbled green alfalfa the only color in a drab world. The cows are strung out in a line determined by the rancher's course across the field; their heads are down and they pull at the bright hay. The blue-white road twists like an overturned snake showing its belly. The ditches alongside are the same grey noncolor as the dust that coats the sage and rabbitbrush, the banks sloping crumbles of powdery soil that say "not far away from here were once volcanoes." It is impossible not to ...
Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx's first work of nonfiction in twenty years, is subtitled "A Memoir." To many readers who might be hoping for a full-blown, linear account of Proulx's life, this subtitle will be somewhat misleading and possibly disappointing. For careful readers and those with strong, natural curiosity, however, Bird Cloud will be a treasure in which Proulx reveals herself – sometimes directly and other times in more subtle ways. Proulx's memoir is a great example of being shown what a person is about rather than being told what she is like. It is, admittedly, an untraditional way to present a personal memoir, but when examined as a portrait of a specific stretch of time – the building of Proulx's home – the book becomes a beautiful reflection of that period.
(Reviewed by Jennifer Dawson Oakes).
Full Review (974 words).
Proulx purchased the square mile of land that she named "Bird Cloud" from The Nature Conservancy, an organization incorporated in the USA in 1951 with a mission to take "direct action" to save threatened natural areas. The non-profit now has a presence in all fifty American states as well as in more than thirty other countries. It is one of the largest non-profit groups in the U.S. with over one million members and, in a 2007 Harris Poll, was shown to be one of the most trusted organizations in America.
It is the goal of The Nature Conservancy to "protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people." The group's approach to conservation is science-based; they will study and analyze what is needed in a given ...
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