Where Rivers Change Direction

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9780099280750: Where Rivers Change Direction

Mark Spragg grew up on the oldest dude ranch in Wyoming, a place of unrelenting winds, pitiless blizzards, fierce rivers, and the men who work there have to be tough to survive. He writes lyrically of this world, its animals - horses, bears, elk - and of its people, in particular his parents and John, an old cowboy who became his mentor.

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Review:

Growing up in rural Wyoming, Mark Spragg learned early to read the stars. At 11 he was instructed to quit dreaming, and he went to work for his father on the land. "I was paid thirty dollars a month, had my own bed in the bunkhouse, and three large, plain meals each day." The ranch is a sprawling place where winter brings months of solitude and summer brings tourists from the real world--city types who want a taste of the outdoors and stare at the author and his family as if they were members of some exotic tribe: "Our guests were New Jersey gas station owners, New York congressmen, Iowa farmers, judges, actors, plumbers, Europeans who had read of Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull and came to experience the American West, the retired, the just beginning." By the age of 14, he and his younger brother are leading them on camping trips into deep woods. "No one ever asked why we had no televisions, no daily paper. They came for what my brother and I took for granted. They came to live the anachronism that we considered our normal lives."

As Spragg comes to realize the strangeness of his life, he also detects flaws in his own character--a fear of suffering and mortality that first shows itself when he rides a sick horse too hard, until the animal hovers at the brink of death. He knows that if he had faced the possibility of sickness, if he had been brave, this animal would not have declined so quickly. Throughout his life, this inability to face death, this terror of losing the beauty of the world he so passionately witnesses, drives Spragg to distraction.

Where Rivers Change Direction combines a soaring spirituality with a visceral, often stomach-churning attention to detail. It's a book that continually dares the reader to turn away from its pages in an effort to digest the power of its confused emotions and hauntingly spare images (a "moon-fried plain," a stillborn child "baked alive in my mother's body"). Like Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard, Mark Spragg's memoir makes you feel you've been somewhere, you've been out in the depths, and you've come back changed. --Emily White

From the Back Cover:

If the West had a voice this is how it would sound: writing as passionate and unequivocal as the land and the life that inspire it.

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Spragg, Mark
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