Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Grateful acknowledgments are made to the following publications: Ascent (“Canadas,” “Thing in the Woods,” “Travelers,” “The Woods are Burning”); EarthLines Review (“A Good Bear”); ISLE (“Confluence”); Isotope (“Summertime”); The Montreal Review (“You Can’t Always Want What You Want,” “In Wonderland,” “Red Summer”); Newport Review (“Ferry Crossing”); Organization and Environment (“Peregrines”); Orion online (“Billings, Montana”); Stone’s Throw (“Invaders”); Wild Thoughts...

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Introduction: The Music of Circumstance

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pp. 1-4

I grew up surrounded by familiar neighborhood children and new tract homes in Greece, New York, a working-class suburb of Rochester. Enrolling in a Catholic high school brought me for the first time, excepting cousins, into regular contact with peers from other bedroom towns, even from the city itself. For a kid who lived close enough to walk to school, it was downright cosmopolitan. After classes ended, I sometimes lingered for a while, hanging out with companions who, delayed by team or drama practice, student newspaper meetings, or maybe detention, were waiting for the irregular...

I

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Peregrines

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pp. 7-14

A sudden opening of landscape, atmosphere, circumstance. What it must be like to encounter a ghost. But that’s not right. Not otherworldly or ethereal, but solid, pushing air out of the way like water stripped of resistance. A moving center, coasting along a vertical plane with a wild echoing shout, then rising effortlessly until just a speck, not even a speck, in the wide sky.

~

The peregrine falcon “has long been considered the embodiment of speed and power,” notes bird guide author and artist David Allen Sibley. But it was the bird’s wide-ranging travels that gave it its name. Peregrines...

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You Can’t Always Want What You Want

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pp. 15-35

After the late local news, I click aimlessly through channels, settling on one of those music specials that seem to universally signal pledgedrive, as if audiences, the PBS folks believe, can’t possibly see and hear too many times the black-and-white Roy Orbison show, the Springsteen concert, the Johnny Cash tribute, the pudgy and all-but-forgotten stars of sixties pop, fifties doowop, Motown, or wherever. This one is new to me though, a madefor-the-BBC stage show hosted by the Rolling Stones, originally recorded, I’ve since found out, in December 1968. Guests include many of the usual...

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Canadas

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pp. 36-52

A June morning in Boston. A quiet tributary greenbelts its way toward the Charles River. Two large Canada geese balance forward across the path as I walk by, preserving their dignity through a kind of aloof disdain. Geese appear at intervals in pairs and groups of three or four. Some don’t lift their heads from under their wings when I pass.

Two old men converse on a bench, tossing breadcrumbs in the general direction of several Canadas. They seem hardly to notice the geese, which, for their part, approach the men slantwise, not out of wariness but as if...

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Summertime

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pp. 53-60

August in Rochester. Another day of haze, temperature in the nineties— the twelfth time already this year. The Ontario Beach Park pier stirs the smell of decaying algae into the calm, dark opacity of the lake. No shelf of dried scum like a few decades ago, just a gently pulsing green soup. Bulldozers prod seaweed into dripping heaps. Caspian terns wheel while ring-billed gulls plow the shallows, picking at zebra mussels. No sign yet of West Nile virus or the avian botulism working its way over from Lake Erie. The beach is even open for swimming, the bacteria count having dipped to...

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Ferry Crossing

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pp. 61-74

In 1960, the year I turned five, my father had his first heart attack: at forty, serious enough for his doctors to resort to “it could go either way.” They said he had to quit smoking. He did. Not good enough. Another attack came ten years later. A “two-time loser,” he was one of the first in Rochester to undergo bypass surgery. The operation cleared three arteries. Today it would be five. As it was, the remaining two plagued him the rest of his life, along with cumulative scar tissue, residual pain in the leg from which vein grafts were taken, and generally weakened circulation. It probably didn’t...

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Black-Throated Blue

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pp. 75-79

I was playing three-corner catch with two friends at Lakeside Beach, one of a chain of state parks providing public camping along Lake Ontario’s shore. When the ball skipped past me into brushy woods, it was my duty to find it (a baseball can stay hidden in undergrowth for a very long time). As I scratched my way through wild grape and mayapple—carefully avoiding that most ubiquitous of New York groundcover plants, poison ivy—I glanced up into the low branches of a small beech, warped nearly horizontal by the play of forces in the young woods’ developing understory, and...

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Thing in the Woods

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pp. 80-106

Despite the spooky name, Shades State Park—short for Shades of Death, a reference to the deep gloom under the trees—is a welcoming place, a cool, picturesque beauty spot amid dusty agribusiness fields near Crawfordsville, Indiana. Bordering Sugar Creek, the park features picnic areas, “rally camping” sites, and short loop trails in a mature forest cut by steep ravines. These ravines, overhung by a canopy of beeches, walnuts, and hickories accented with the occasional sassafras or eastern hemlock, are all that has prevented the park from being converted into “fencerow to fencerow” corn and...

II

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Travelers

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pp. 109-123

On a typically cool, overcast summer afternoon on California’s North Coast, I steer our rented Sentra across a misty spit of dunes toward the south jetty, one of a matched pair ushering the open Pacific into roughly hourglass-shaped Humboldt Bay, the state’s second-largest ocean inlet. Dodging potholes requires careful attention; under a constant barrage of windswept sand and salt spray, the narrow road has deteriorated in the twenty-seven years since I’ve been here. Finally, the sandy peninsula gives out, the dunes grudgingly ceding a small parking lot, the bay’s channel...

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In Wonderland

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pp. 124-146

In 1991, I left graduate school to take a position teaching in the English department at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, a small agricultural town in the Bighorn Basin east of Yellowstone National Park. Beginning my career at thirty-six, I was a slow starter, but with a child in first grade and a “real job” at a community college in a state where any college was rare enough to be noteworthy, I was finally, it seemed, on the verge of becoming an adult.

Two years earlier, I had begun searching for a faculty position, hand-copying addresses and instructions from job announcements I tracked in...

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The Woods Are Burning

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pp. 147-163

The Basin Creek Lakes Trail climbs steeply and steadily from the West Fork of Rock Creek. We weren’t breaking new ground: we’d loved Basin Creek for many years. We’d hiked to Upper Basin Lake two years before, and Cara had more recently been as far as Lower Basin Lake with her sister. There’s an unassuming quality about Basin Creek. The lakes aren’t included in the designated Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, perhaps because the trail follows the ghost of a road past cabin ruins. The lower lake’s not much more than a pond crowded by conifers, their crisp reflections interrupted...

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Red Summer

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pp. 164-179

It’s been a splendid July day in Yellowstone. Cara and I have hiked through a blaze of wildflowers: elephant heads, monument plant, rein orchid, larkspur, monkshood, and more; watched a coyote pouncing its way across a meadow; and looped down Dunraven Pass as a thunderstorm spun a rainbow over Tower Falls. Now, on our way home, we scan through lateafternoon light for bears, maybe a moose or great gray owl. As always, the park has delivered a generous share of the wilderness “glad tidings” that the naturalist John Muir called on his readers to get firsthand, an invitation...

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Invaders

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pp. 180-196

At Storm Point, something like Maine surf pulses against something like Maine rocks with a sputtering roar. But when I look up, away from the breakers, there are the fire- and beetle-ravaged slopes of the Absarokas, the snow-traces of Mount Sheridan, the rocket-ship Tetons. This is not Maine, not a coast at all. I am inland, at Yellowstone Lake.

Since Cara and I moved to Montana from Florida and, before that, Maine, our usual route to the park has been to follow the Yellowstone River all the way from Billings to the Gardiner entrance and Mammoth Hot...

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A Good Bear

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pp. 197-198

The summer after we moved to Wyoming, we decided Tom was old enough for his, and our, first foray into the Yellowstone backcountry. Studying the visitor center “dayhike sampler” list, we settled on the DeLacy Creek Trail to Shoshone Lake, the largest backcountry lake—not directly accessible by road—in the Lower 48, we were informed. DeLacy turned out to be just about right, an easy three miles along a grass-edged rivulet, the trail meandering between conifer fringe and wildflower meadow. In one opening, two moose browsed, alert, vaguely annoyed, perhaps, but not enough to worry...

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Confluence

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pp. 199-216

There is a road that leads along a river, occasionally crossing bridges, or veering into hills only to return to the stream a few miles ahead. Each curve reveals a cabin, a farm, maybe a town.

Or the road continues into the hills, cresting ridges, twisting down wooded ravines, until it reaches another river, which merges with the first where the landscape flattens into a wide valley, clouds spread over meadows, fields. Here are herons poised in roadside marshes, turtles lined on silt-wedged logs, killdeer racing ahead in the shoulder dust, dragging their...

Coda

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Billings, Montana

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pp. 219-220

Like Sitting Bull and frontiersman Luther Kelly, today’s Yellowstone Valley inhabitants like the view. We like to watch ravens coast the updrafts. We like to trace mule deer paths through brushy ravines, to glimpse the quick scurry of a sagebrush lizard, to sniff out rumors of bobcats and lions.

From Kelly’s grave atop the Rimrock cliffs, the prairie swells northward, past Billings Heights housing tracts, to the burned-over Bull Mountains. South, across the river, rise the humpbacked Pryors, and, to the southwest, the massive granite blocks that make up the Beartooths; crossing those...

Bibliography

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pp. 221-226