The rural West has always been a refuge for people out of step with the American mainstream of family, work, and religion. Laura Bell saw this in the sheepherders and cowhands that she met as a young woman on an archaeological dig in Wyoming in the 1970s. They, of course, worked very hard, formed their own kinds of families, and were spiritual when sober, but their ways were unrecognizable to city dwellers, suburbanites, and anyone from east of Kansas. Bell also discovered that she wanted to live among them under the big sky of ranch country instead of returning to Kentucky. She tells her story in her memoir, Claiming Ground.
Bell was not, however, really able to hide away from all society and her former life. The local librarian discovered her and began sending her books (which were deeply appreciated by the book-loving Bell) via grocery and agricultural supply deliveries. Ranch women kept checking on her welfare and seeking her company. Most significantly, her family from Kentucky began making long trips to just visit - never criticizing her choice of poverty and wandering. Reading this book, I kept hoping that I could be just as tolerant and supportive a parent as Bell's mother and father. I also hope that my daughter never experiences as much heartache as Bell.
Of course, we can never really protect the ones we love. Bell learns this in one of the hardest ways - through the death of a stepchild. How she carries on is her subject through the latter part of the book.
I suggest Claiming Ground to readers who enjoy nature writing and personal revelations, for in describing her experiences as shepherd, ranch hand, forest ranger, massage therapist, and conservationist, Bell always notes the look of the clouds, the feel of the wind, the scent of the grass, and the rough beauty of Wyoming, a place she deeply loves. She may make you long to visit Wyoming, too.
Bell, Laura. Claiming Ground. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 9780307272881