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8 6 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 emerges sated from this fare, eager to read more of the writers less known out­ side the city or region. Reading Seattle includes historians, journalists, personal essayists, novelists, and short story writers, representing diverse backgrounds. They write about street comers, buildings, neighborhoods, and climates intimately familiar to me. Unsurprisingly, it is particularly rich in city portraits: writers like Roger Sale, Jonathan Raban, Thom Jones, Natalia Rachel Singer, Peter Bacho, Emily Baillargeon Russin, Paisley Rekdal, Neil Henry, and Lydia Minatoya render the area’s mystique clearly and forcefully. Seattle has come a long way from pioneer outpost. The Qreat Divide: The Rocky Mountains in the American Mind. By Gary Ferguson. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. 288 pages, $24.95. Reviewed by Ben Quick Utah State University, Logan In The Great Divide: The Rocky Mountains in the American Mind, Gary Ferguson serves up an insightful history of the rift in the collective American psyche over our relationship to the land on which we live. Using the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, Ferguson portrays, with smooth and provocative clarity, chronologi­ cal highlights of the uniquely American drama bom of the tension between “two remarkably different perspectives— one revealing a hunger for paradise, the other a desperate urge to control it” (22). It is a tension, he argues, that has shaped our cultural response to the American landscape for the last four hundred years. The peaks and high plains forming the spine of the continent, Ferguson asserts, “are as close as America has come to an archetypal landscape—a region that, although far removed from the core of society, reflected much about our most persistent longings” (26). Through opening small but revealing windows onto the lives of the explorers and missionaries, the politicians and dude ranchers, the tourists and miners, the fur traders and hippies, the artists and speculators—some well known to even the casual historian, others largely anonymous—that have been drawn over the years to the western American landscape, Ferguson shows these longings to be as vast and broken as the land­ scape itself. And, as Ferguson illustrates, they reveal much about the compli­ cated body of American mythology. Despite the clashing motivations and the often tragically disparate social conditions of the men, women, and children venturing into and sometimes set­ tling in the Rocky Mountains, there is a common psychology running through the lives of those who somehow prospered in this harsh and unpredictable land, a wisdom of acceptance bonowed from the very people who lost the most to westward expansion—the Native Americans. Emigrants and travelers BO O K REVIEW S who were able to shed cultural conditioning and embrace, like the tribes of the West, “the notion that beauty and chaos stood side by side,” could achieve a freedom and equality otherwise unattainable in the existing social order (114). In his chapter-long snapshot of the fur trade, Ferguson illuminates this wilder­ ness egalitarianism nicely. At a time when slavery was still practiced in south­ ern states, when racism and xenophobia dominated the national consciousness, the trading camps and Native villages of the Rocky Mountains saw black trap­ pers mingling with the free-spirited sons of aristocrats; mixedblood marriages were common; contrary to the myth of the lone mountain man, communal living with shared responsibility was the norm, not the exception; and a man truly could pull himself up by his bootstraps. Because of rich yam like this, Americans have naturally come to see the Rockies as symbolic of the democratic ideal. However, we have not always been so quick to support the utterly intractable mystery and ferocity of these mountains, which are heartbreakingly beautiful, but not always kind, and never completely subservient to human demands. And this is exactly what Ferguson urges us to do—subtly, without gushing or pleading—in this beautifully spun history of our nation’s environmental attitudes. Embrace the chaos. Sick of Nature. By David Gessner. Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Press, 2004- 234 pages, $24.95. Reviewed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 86-87
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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