Early on I let y’all know I was going to stretch my literary choices this year. Though I am still treating myself to the History of Westeros (Game of Thrones) and its dragons, knights and assorted kings, I have been keeping to my plan. The Carry Home, though a book about the outdoors (of which I have many) is not one I would normally have read.
However when buddy the author (Joe Kurmaskie) recommends a book, you at least gotta give it chance. Damn I am glad I did!
When I read the summary on Amazon, it talked about the journeys the author Gary took to spread the ashes of his wife Jane in her 5 favorite wilderness places. This is why I would’ve skipped it normally. It was going to be, in my mind, either a sad “Oh I miss her so much” or the classic, “The wilderness saved me and brought me back to life” sappiness.
Well it was both, done so amazingly well and not over blown for the extra drama at all, but it was SO much more.
Throughout the book he weaved the story of her death. A fluke canoe accident in Canada in which he himself was lucky to survive. Not only did we get the story, but also the feeling of hope that she might survive, and all the emotions one would feel while waiting for search and rescue to hopefully call you with the good news, though dreading it would be bad.
Even though reading the premise of the book tells you she died, he gives us little pieces of the story at a time, and I found myself hoping Jane was going to make it, even though I just read about the spreading of ash in the first location.
We also get the history of both Jane and Gary, growing up far from mountains and wilderness, yet both drawn to some of the wildest and most beautiful places in the world (let alone the USA). They spent 20 years living, working, teaching and loving in the wildest locations in North America. It is truly one of the best love stories I’ve ever read (OK I know there haven’t been many I’ve read, but I liked it!)
There was also history and science, and absolute awe about the locations to spread the Ash. Yellowstone, and the Bitterroot mountains as just two. Giving us information about the plants, geology and animals you would find there. But done so as part of the story, and done so well, that you learn “stuff” without even knowing it.
Classic example: how the wolves being reintroduced to Yellowstone has helped birds, beaver, and rivers themselves, to recover and flourish more than they have in generations. How would a wolf affect a river? (Well you gotta read the book.)
As far as the “Wilderness brought me back to life” deal. Well it did. As I read, I could feel his love of all things wild and remote (something I share and understand completely) seeping back into him. As devastating as the loss of his wife was, the beauty of the forests, mountains, lakes and canyons can truly, well not cure you, but help you come to terms and love nature for what it is. This gives you something to love again, and gets that spark that can die back into you. It took a while, but we got him back. The mountain gods were looking out for him.
This book also touched me in a different way than I expected. Folks I am a very happy man, with a loving wife that I love back, two amazing kids and a life that I very much enjoy. However, I found myself chastising myself at times, while reading this, for not following my first dream when I went to college.
I had planned on getting a Forestry degree, and hopefully become a park ranger at one of the National Parks in Washington or Oregon. I hated the first class though, so I moved on to new things and now work in an insurance company in a cubicle. Hearing all Gary and Jane did throughout her life, and continue to do in his, I started wondering “What if?” But then each night I would shut down the Kindle, snug up next to Michelle and sleep next to, and wake up to the one I love.
I finally figured out that I had done the most important, and the most special thing Gary had done. I found the woman I love. My path just took me another direction in order to find her.
I gave this book 5 stars. It was a great read, and you don’t have to be a Mountainstroh or love to hike to enjoy it. Anyone who has someone they love and never wants to lose them, or who HAS lost that person and had to deal with the pain, will relate well to this.
Thanks Joe for the recommendation!