Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country by Pam Houston
In Pam Houston’s new memoir, “Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country” (2019, W.W. Norton & Company, hardcover, 302 pages, $13.05), the grit of the author’s life experiences and the complexities of man’s impact on nature are explored. She balances heart-wrenching stories of her neglectful parents (a self-centered diva mother and alcoholic and abusive father) with hope, by illustrating the way one caring person (a nanny) can prove to be a lifeline and alter a person’s life.
The memoir uses a creative structure, weaving tidbits about the hardships of ranch life in the tiny community of Creede, Colorado with snapshots of her early upbringing, and the challenges she faces as an adult juggling the needs of her pets and livestock and her travel schedule as a writing teacher and coach. A major theme is the influence of nature on her life.
Houston describes the perils of Colorado’s winters and wildfires with the ranch and her connection to her remote home in the Colorado landscape as a common thread. Perhaps the most compelling component of the book is the detailed account of the massive firestorm that burned 110,000 acres near Creede in summer 2013. Not only does Houston capture her emotional angst over the concern for her Icelandic sheep, beloved Irish wolfhounds, and her elderly equines, she also provides snapshots of the firefighter language, their heroic efforts, and the communications between the fire officials and the community.
Her descriptions of the post-apocalyptic landscape and her reverence of the amazing healing power of Mother Earth is a testament to Houston’s love of the natural world.
Deep Creek also captures a glimpse of the American frontier when ownership required “proving” the land and failure to do so meant losing your property, when neighbors came by to help others in need, and when living in a log cabin was an ordinary way of life. Houston’s respect for the legacy of her ranch is both admirable and endearing as she renovates the original homesteader’s historic cabin on her property into a usable writing space, incorporating artifacts found beneath the rotting floorboards into the redesign. The respect Houston shows for nature, the people of Creede, the land owners that came before her, the ranch animals and wildlife that share her 120-acre parcel, shines through her prose and leaves the reader with a new appreciation for a rancher’s lifestyle and the earth.
Pam Houston is a prize-winning author of “Contents May Have Shifted” and has published four other books, including “Sighthound”, about an Irish Wolfhound with a few lessons to teach his owner, and a short story collection, “Cowboys are my Weakness.” When she isn’t working as an English professor at the University of California at Davis or travelling the world, Pam lives on her beloved Colorado ranch near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. “Deep Creek” will likely appeal to fans of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”, Jeanette Wall’s “Half Broke Horses”, and “Where the Crawdad’s Sing” by Delia Owens.
About Jill Hedgecock: Jill Hedgecock is the award-winning author of “Rhino in the Room”. She is also the Program Coordinator for the Mount Diablo branch of the California Writers Club. Website: www.jillhedgecock.com