Works

Saving Wyoming’s Hoback: The Grassroots Movement that Stopped Natural Gas Development
Winner of the Wallace Stegner Prize in Environmental Humanities.

This book tells the story of how a group of local citizens in a remote part of Wyoming was able to start a movement that resulted in a negotiated buy-out of natural gas leases in their home mountains. Lushly illustrated with color photographs, it portrays the Hoback Basin as an important area for wildlife and a way of life for people.

"A fine, personal story of how people who don't always agree with each other found common cause in opposing the industrial development of a magnificent mountain backcountry. Success stories are rare in the environmental field, and this ‘win’ in the Wyoming Range was a big one.”

—Fred Swanson, author of Where Roads Will Never Reach (University of Utah Press 2015)

War Creek (click on this text to read a sample)
Winner, May Sarton Award for contemporary fiction

War Creek delves into the dynamics of one family's complicated history of abuse, deceit and vindictive secrets. Agnes's older brothers are far too busy for their dad, Clayt, so they recruit her to return home to the War Creek Ranger Station. It is Agnes's responsibility to help their aging father downsize to a smaller house, and this is her first trip home in twenty years. But estrangement is almost too cozy a word to describe Clayt's relationships with his adult children. The closer Agnes gets to the station, the more the resentful memories flood her consciousness, "like a fresh slap." She wants to turn and speed back to her life. But she doesn't.

"She resolved to simply have it over with: help him pack his belongings and vacate the ranger station where he had resided for over forty years. Then get out as soon as possible. It wouldn't take a week."

Of course, it takes considerably more time than a week to get the old ranger moving.

Marsh's prose is so beautifully descriptive that the smell of the majestic Ponderosa pines rising above the rocky ravines briefly takes me back to the mountain trail rides of my youth. The Cascade Mountains themselves are protagonists. Agnes is the only daughter with five much older brothers. According to family legend, her eldest brother loses his life in the Vietnam War. Her cantankerous father, Clayt; the bear guy, Hunter; and the dog, Tuck, as well as a small group of secondary characters, round out a memorable cast. All of Marsh's characters are well-developed and individually unique. Agnes' father is an angry and bitter alcoholic. His verbal abuse requires a thick skin. But as days turn into weeks, she begins to see a different side of him. And his rhetoric slowly softens. Her memories of growing up at the ranger station string their way through the novel, and Agnes eventually realizes she actually has some good memories.

Father and daughter explore mountain trails as they help Hunter in his quest to locate the elusive grizzly bear, although she feels that "riding with Clayt was like riding alone." He compliments Agnes's expertise with handling the horses, making camp and her campfire cooking. She reminds him that her outdoor skills exist because he is a good teacher.

Agnes's relationship with Hunter develops at a believable pace. Both are single and well into their thirties, they find unexpected friendship, and then love. It is almost sweet at times, in what is certainly not a sweet novel.

Damaged family relationships thread their way through all events in the novel. The tense pacing keeps the reader involved and anxious to see what will happen next. Forest rangers are kept busy with wildfires, and lost hikers in the mountains. Injuries and even death occur randomly, almost as if reading a newspaper. Retired Clayt is summoned back to ranger duties, assisting younger rangers more than once since he knows the mountains better than anyone.

Reconciliation with her mother is in the realm of expectations, but this is definitely not a predictable novel. Agnes finds peace when she finally realizes the meaning of recurring bear dream. Warning: this is a page turner and the reader may lose sleep, I did. But War Creek is worth it.

Ann McCauley, Story Circle Book Reviews

A Hunger for High Country (click on this text to read a sample)
A Hunger for High Country is a memoir with a mission. On one hand, Susan Marsh shares her romantic notion of the wild places of Montana and Wyoming with descriptive detail. On the other hand, she shows us her strength in her quest to find her place among the male-dominated hierarchy of the National Forest Service (NFS). In this hybrid memoir and scientific report, the author provides insight into the status of federal wilderness lands as our nation transitioned from managing public lands to preserving them. The shift that began in 1964 with the Wilderness Act, signed by Lyndon Baines Johnson, has been a slow one. An inherent conflict pits "amenity" resources like recreation, wilderness and scenic quality against the status quo of utilizing national forests for commodities like timber, minerals and grazing. The old-guard bureaucracy has held on tenaciously for five decades, regardless of new laws enacted.

A baby-boomer, Marsh grew up playing in the woods rather than playing inside with dolls. Even though she had few women role models, she chose a career in environmental conservation. Women in the 1980's were expected to "smile and be pleasant" to have any hope of a career with the National Forest Service. She persisted and wrote, "Yet the longer I stayed the more I loved the forest and it occurred to me that loyalty to a place, a relationship with the land, were more important that moving on to further one's career." If you are a reader who is interested in women who pioneered in fields that are not typically pursued by women, her story is unique.

If you are intrigued by the area she calls "The Park" and the area surrounding Yellowstone (like Bozeman, Montana or the Grand Tetons and Jackson, Wyoming), there are plenty of accounts of these places as she travels on foot and horseback, and she includes black and white photos from those trips.

But vast tracts of federal wilderness lands remain at risk even after 50 years of attempts to preserve them. An alarming trend is to turn over stewardship to states and private contractors who use up natural resources as "commodities."

Marsh's voice is both scientific and poetic as she blends both writing styles in her prose. "Quiet," she warns, "by its nature slips away unnoticed. But once it is gone, we notice." She reflects:

"We've grown to accept, or even expect, a theme park rather than the wild. Without authentic and individual experience, without the practiced intimacy needed to grow a personal relationship with real places, we cannot muster the visceral allegiance to them that is so urgently needed. I worry that the lack of intimate knowledge of the outdoors and its attendant quiet will make us simply forget about both. Silence will go the way of the Dodo, unnoticed and unmourned."

We owe a debt of gratitude to forest workers like Susan Marsh whose tireless efforts have resulted in victories of preserving wild lands that are "outstandingly remarkable."

Martha Meacham, Story Circle Book Reviews

Cache Creek: A Trailside Guide to Jackson Hole's Backyard Wilderness (click this text to read an excerpt)
An illustrated guide and celebration of the natural wonders of Cache Creek, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.


The Wild Wyoming Range (click on this text to read a sample)
The Wild Wyoming Range is a hardcover coffee-table book featuring photographs and essays, co-edited with Ronald Chilcote and published in 2013.


Beyond the Tetons, Targhee Trails
Targhee Trails and Beyond the Tetons are regional books with maps and photos, natural history and historical vignettes in addition to basic trail information, co-authored with Rebecca Woods.

Stories of the Wild
Anthology of nature writing and art by contemporary authors and pioneering naturalists of the early 20th century.