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w e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S p r in g 2 0 0 6 Even Mountains Vanish: Searching for Solace in an Age of Extinction. By SueEllen Campbell. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003. 141 pages, $17.95. Reviewed by Angela Waldie University of Calgary In the final hours of a week-long trip to the Canadian Arctic, SueEllen Campbell watches an Inuit woman named Doris demonstrate traditional string games. With quick and subtle shifts of her fingers, Doris produces a series of ephemeral string figures: “man in a kayak, fox, loon on a nest” (109). Each appears, hovers, and then vanishes to make way for the next. As its title suggests, Even Mountains Vanish is filled with such references to evanescence. In the prologue, Campbell paints with water on gray paper, then watches each brushstroke evaporate. Hiking in the Colorado Rockies, she witnesses a ptarmigan’s shifting capacity for camouflage— its mottled body, white tail feathers, and white wings allowing it to vanish against a backdrop of rock and melting snow. And attending a mandala ceremony at Colorado State University, she watches as Tibetan monks sweep up the colored sand from a mandala created with painstaking concentration. Some of this sand will be distributed to the audience in small glass vials and the rest sprinkled in a nearby creek “to heal the invisible spirits who are everywhere” (126). Like this mandala, the four essays of Even Mountains Vanish convey a sense of both ephemerality and connectedness. While this essay collection is an eloquent reflection on the impermanence of art and life, it is also a tribute to the immense scope of geologic and evolu­ tionary time, as well as the importance of understanding the environmental history of a place. After a trip to the Pajarito Plateau, Campbell researches the geologic history of this landscape as well as the evolutionary history of Albert’s squirrels, ponderosa pines, horsetails, and sandhill cranes—the species that she most closely associates with her time there. Attempting to articulate the duration of geologic time, she leads the reader on a hypothetical walk along a bookcase stretching eight and a half miles. This imagined bookcase is filled with packages of printer paper, the thickness of each single sheet correspond­ ing to a century. As our guide on this epic tour, Campbell makes accessible the almost incomprehensible scope of Earth’s history, identifying reference points such as the big bang, the appearance of life on earth, the evolution of conti­ nents, periods of glaciation, and the six major waves of extinction. Although humans have been present for only a fraction of this geologic history, Campbell continually reminds the reader of our power and culpability in altering natural processes. Alongside the creation of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in 1939, for example, which offered shelter to endangered sandhill cranes, Campbell juxtaposes the opening of a secret laboratory in Los Alamos in 1943, where scientists would develop the capacity—in a single atomic explosion—to decimate landscapes and life. BO O K REVIEW S I find Even Mountains Vanish outstanding in its ability to capture simultane­ ously scope and essence. With its nuanced connections between personal, geo­ logic, and evolutionary details, this essay collection would be well suited to courses in ecocriticism, environmental history, and personal narrative. Demonstrating the value ofbeing attentive to natural processes, Campbell reveals unique ways in which the evolutionary adaptations of species can inform our lives. From lichens Campbell learns to “accept that the same thin skin that admits nourishment also makes you vulnerable” and to understand the importance of “shar[ing] pieces of yourself with the world.” From alpine forget-me-nots she learns to “put down deep roots. Be passionate. Make beauty. Bloom like mad” (58). Filled with such lyrical insights, Even Mountains Vanish reveals how research and meditation on the essence of place can provide awareness, enjoyment, and wisdom. Sam Peckinpah’s West: New Perspectives. Edited by Leonard Engel. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003. 268 pages, $21.95. Reviewed by Brian McCuskey Utah State University, Logan...


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pp. 78-79
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