29 March 2014


As promised in an earlier post, here is a summary of my experience with a book called Badluck Way - A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West, by Bryce Andrews.

The core theme is the evolving relationship between predators (in this case, wolves) and the cattle ranchers who often share the same territory.  It is a polarizing, highly-charged subject, one in which I am firmly allied with wolves.  But as the author shows, it's not all black and white.  Bryce Andrews is a gifted writer and an incisive thinker, in addition to being a hard-working cattleman.  His book is a gift, one that bridges the opposed perceptions of hard-core ranchers and hard-core wildlifers.  The writing flows as naturally as a mountain stream, awakening the reader's senses and lifting our collective eyes to a horizon we may not have known existed.

From the book jacket ~

"In this gripping memoir of a young man, a wolf, their parallel lives and ultimate collision, Bryce Andrews describes life on the remote, windswept Sun Ranch in southwest Montana.  The Sun's twenty thousand acres of rangeland occupy a still-wild corner of southwest Montana -- a high valley surrounded by mountain ranges and steep creeks with portentious names like Grizzly, Dead Man, and Bad Luck.  Just over the border from Yellowstone National Park, the Sun holds giant herds of cattle and elk amid many predators -- bears, mountain lions, and wolves.  In lyrical, haunting language, Andrews recounts marathon days and nights of building fences, riding, roping, and otherwise learning the hard business of caring for cattle, an initiation that changes him from an idealistic city kid into a skilled ranch hand.  But when wolves suddenly begin killing the ranch's cattle, Andrews has to shoulder a rifle, chase the pack, and do what he'd hoped he would never have to do.

"Badluck Way is about transformation and complications, about living with dirty hands every day.  It is about the hard choices that wake us at night and take a lifetime to reconcile.  Above all, Backluck Way celebrates the breathtaking beauty of wilderness and the satisfaction of hard work on some of the harshest, most beautiful land in the world.  Called 'an important meditation on what it means to share space and breathe the same air as truly wild animals', Badluck Way is the memorable story of the West's timeless landscape, a place at the center of the heart's geography, savage and gorgeous in equal measure."

I found it at the public library, and was so deeply impressed that I bought a copy for myself and one for my son's birthday.  By happy coincidence, I noticed a sign in Barnes & Noble alerting passersby to a book signing that weekend.  Eureka!  I showed up, two copies in hand, and was greeted by one of the most pleasant, eloquent, and at-ease people I've ever met.  We traded stories -- me, about my work on a Nature Conservancy preserve in southern Arizona, and doing post-hurricane habitat restoration for the US Forest Service in South Carolina, and Bryce, updating me on his own life's progress.  After the events in the book, he went on to manage two other ranches in southwest Montana, continuing the ethic of coexisting with wilderness/wildlife rather than seeing nature as an antagonist.  Currently he and a partner are starting their own ranch in the Bitterroot, with the intent of supplying free-range beef in bulk (a whole beef, a half, or a quarter) to individuals and/or retail outlets in Missoula. 

I enjoyed our conversation so much that an hour slipped by before I knew it.  Bryce wasn't hesitant in greeting others, but he was also generous with his time with me.  We exchanged business cards and email addresses, and I promised that I would continue to promote his book wherever I could.

And, as you can see, I'm following through.  Not from any sense of obligation, but because of the inherent worth of his writing -- skilled, natural, and devoted to one of the seminal controversies of our time.  I hope you will fell encouraged to read the book, and pass the word along.

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