"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.
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
Winner, May Sarton Award for contemporary fiction. When ostracized daughter Agnes Clayton, now middle-aged and alone, returns to the wilds of the Northwest after a life in various western cities, she is determined to make moving her father out of their family home in War Creek as quick and painless as possible. Reconnecting with her estranged father, a retired ranger, proves difficult at best, and extracting him from his fiercely beloved ranger station seems impossible. Over the course of a long summer she becomes entangled with opposing forces in the isolated rural community in the Cascade Mountains. Agnes hopes to answer questions from her past and find not only closure but redemption.
Winner of the Wallace Stegner Prize in Environmental Humanities. Co-written with Florence Rose Shepard, author of Sometimes Creek, Ecotone, and other works.
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)
An illustrated guide and celebration of the natural wonders of Cache Creek, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. One of the area's most popular network of trails can surprise you if you look more closely. Photos and other illustrations by the author.
"Susan Marsh doesn't simply walk in the outdoors--she absorbs it, she becomes part of it. Moreover, she can write about what she knows and what she feels. A book to appreciate." --Bert Raynes, noted naturalist and author
The Wild Wyoming Range is a hardcover coffee-table book featuring the author's photographs and essays, co-edited with Ronald Chilcote. Its intent is to bring to the reader's attention a lesser-known area near the national parks of Wyoming, a place deserving of appreciation.
I have published creative nonfiction and poetry in numerous journals. Here is a poem that appeared, in slightly different form (are we ever finished revising poems?), in Dark Matter: Women Witnessing.
Elegy for the Cranes
Reed grass sloughs, coverts of cottonwood and ash
Buffaloberry embroidering a ditch with threads of crimson fruit
October spreads its wings, yearning for the sky's embrace.
Land flattens under cumulus and mare's tails
Blood-red lines of sunrise broaden to a ruddy streak.
By noon the wind has turned, strong and from the north.
Primeval music tumbles from the vacant blue
And all at once the sky holds columns of pure grace,
Dozens of sandhill cranes calling as they climb
The invisible staircase of the North Dakota sky.
One, at the far tip of a long vee of birds,
Is white. Its wings ply the air like canvas sails,
Their hems dipped in the blackest ink.
Sunset lingers, empty without cranes.
The prairie sky was made for their millions,
Its silence for their cries. Twilight's fading violet
Shrouds the trace of their ancient pathways.
Tomorrow's sun will bleed again into the dawn
And the midday sky will wait the only way it knows—
Arms open, ardent, filled with light.