X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Books

The call of the wild

Annie Proulx (pronounced ‘Pru’) began her writing career — quite late, in her fifties — as E.A. Proulx, to baffle misogynist editors; then she was E. Annie Proulx, until she dropped the E and became simply Annie the Proulx.

19 February 2011

12:00 AM

19 February 2011

12:00 AM

Bird Cloud Annie Proulx

Fourth Estate, pp.234, 16.99

Annie Proulx (pronounced ‘Pru’) began her writing career — quite late, in her fifties — as E.A. Proulx, to baffle misogynist editors; then she was E. Annie Proulx, until she dropped the E and became simply Annie the Proulx.

Annie Proulx (pronounced ‘Pru’) began her writing career — quite late, in her fifties — as E.A. Proulx, to baffle misogynist editors; then she was E. Annie Proulx, until she dropped the E and became simply Annie the Proulx. (Her father’s ancestors, who left Anjou for Canada in the 17th century, were called Prou or Preault; her mother’s arrived in New England soon after the Mayflower.) Her fiction tends to be about hard times in rural America, and though her new book is a memoir it runs true to form.

It tells the story of the house she built, or had built, in the wilds of Wyoming, where she has set much of her fiction, most notably her gay cowboy romance, Brokeback Mountain. Just west of the Medicine Bow mountains, on the site of an old sheep ranch, the house is set on a 400-foot cliff, ‘the creamy cap-rock a crust of ancient coral’, on the North Platte river. She named it Bird Cloud because on her first visit there she saw a cloud that resembled a huge bird. It is evidently a beautiful place, but fiercely inhospitable, embattled by wind and snow: ‘In winter hurricane winds, loose snow loops sidewise in a grinding haze and the whole sky rolls like the ocean, hurling birds like rocks.’

[Alt-Text]


It is pleasant to read, from a comfortable distance, of Proulx’s hard times, which are familiar to anyone who has had the builders in, but on a scale most of us are spared. For three years, on a site that is ‘a combination gravel pit, mud slide, snow bowl and wind tunnel’, as delays lengthen and costs soar, she deals with ‘sanding, varnishing, prepping, priming, caulking, hanging, installing, mudding, trimming, drilling, assembling, capping…’

One shares her satisfaction as the house takes shape, and its elements — distressed heartwood pine, polished rusty metal sidings, sea-green tiles from Brazil — gradually come together, ready to receive her 56 bookcases. Bird Cloud was intended to be ‘a kind of poem, if a house can be that’, and it sounds — there are no pictures of it — as though her intentions have succeeded. In any event, property porn has never before risen to such literary heights.

Once the house is finished, Proulx considers the history of the place. She lives where the ’49ers crossed the North Platte on their westward trek through the Wyoming Territory, a place of ‘parching winds and hostile Indians’. They were followed by the robber barons of the railroads, by Finnish and Irish immigrants, by game hunters from ‘the elite class of wealthy landowners in the British Isles’ armed with ‘gold-plated bison guns’, and more recently by the heirs of such giant American corporations as Anschutz, Wal-Mart and Campbell’s Foods.

Before that, of course, there were the natives. Her 640 acres are well stocked with their relics — fire-pits, agate knives, obsidian arrowheads — most of them dating from the Late Archaic period, ‘4,600 to 2,000 years BP’ (which stands for ‘Before Present’, ie counting backwards from 1800 AD, which seems an unwieldy and perverse formulation), and she tells the splendid and tragic story of their civilisation with sympathetic rage.

The best thing in Bird Cloud is the last chapter, which she devotes to the local wildlife: porcupines, coyotes, deer, elk, mountain lions, and above all the birds — ducks, geese, ravens, hawks, falcons and eagles. Her neighbours include breeding pairs of both bald and golden eagles, and she writes marvellously about them hunting, fighting, or just playing in the terrible wind. Proulx is a most sensitive and observant pioneer.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close