Is it possible to ever get completely "away from it all?" A celebrated writer who's visiting Tallahassee this week poses that question in her latest book.
The author's name is Pam Houston.
“I wrote a book called ‘Deep Creek-Finding Hope in the High Country,’” she began. “It’s about a 25-year relationship I’ve had with a homestead in Colorado’s High Country at 9,000 feet.”
Houston insisted it really wasn't her idea to write an entire book about her home in the wilderness. At least, not at first. The book's concept was originally suggested by her editor at longtime publishing house W.W. Norton, who told her:
“’I want you to go on a book-length adventure.’ She meant dog mushing to the North Pole or sailing the coast of Turkey or something that I’d always be up for. But then I was headed home after a semester teaching out at U.C. Davis and getting closer and closer to this ranch in the Colorado High Country that I love. I’ve been here for 25 years. And then I thought, ‘That’s my book-length adventure!”
Having always had a ferocious spirit of adventure and wanderlust, Houston said this was more than a little out-of-character for her.
“Nobody expected me to set down roots and commit to a piece of land and let it grow me up and teach me about responsibility and all these things I’ve done for the last 25 years. Because I did this crazy thing and bought this 120-acre ranch for 5% down, which was all the money I had at the time, and made a commitment to protecting it.”
Still, Houston admitted her life has had many unexpected twists and turns. One of them certainly occurred in 1992 when she wrote her first book.
“I never thought, ‘Cowboys are my Weakness’ would have given me my whole career,” she mused. “I was just writing stories about chasing men all over the West. This book I wanted to write because I realized it had been the great love story of my life; me and these 120 acres and it parented me in a way I hadn’t been parented.”
This led to her current and sixth book, "Deep Creek-Finding Hope in the High Country."
“When I started, I just wanted to focus on the ranch exclusively,” she explained. “But then it was my agent who read a very early draft and said, ‘Isn’t this where you talk about what happened to you as a child?’ I grew up in a very violent home. My father broke my femur when I was 4 years old. And so the ranch was a real sanctuary from that. And then a little later in the editing process, it became more and more apparent that we’re in the middle of this crisis catastrophe that we’re in, I felt I had to address that, because here I am writing about my little slice of paradise up here at 9,000 feet, which is basically the last valley that will go underwater.”
But Houston didn't simply gloat about her particular piece of unspoiled wilderness. She's been urging action to reverse, or at least slow, environmental degradation everywhere. She also sensed that the desire to connect to the natural is universal, even among those who can't seem to disconnect from their phone screens for more than a few seconds.
“I think the need for wilderness and wild things and natural beauty and fresh air, trees, mountains, rivers and oceans, I think that is really common, no matter how distracted we get by contemporary life.”
And this week, Pam Houston returns to another favorite place.
“I’ve been to Tallahassee and I like it very much!” she exclaimed. “I’ve seen some manatees there and I love Tallahassee. And I do have a little chapter in my book about Florida as a place where there’s been all kinds of environmental degradation and the animals are kind of working around it. It’s kind of a model for us; the osprey in the construction zone. And how do we wake up every morning in celebration, but also in concern.”
Houston is appearing at the Capital City's Midtown Reader on Wednesday, Feb. 20 between 6:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.