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A wildly good gift from gifted writer

Review: “Calling Wild Places Home” by Laura Waterman

As I read Laura Waterman’s second memoir, “Calling Wild Places Home” (SUNY Press, 2024), my immediate reaction was gratitude that she gave us this gift.

Aware of her history as a leading voice in the literature of wild places, and of her marriage to Guy, her life and writing partner, I much anticipated her first memoir, “Losing the Garden.” That book, a significant and compelling work, plumbed the impact of losing her husband and homestead, her “Eden.”

I was left wondering whether she would ever revisit Guy’s well-publicized suicide in 2000, for which he prepared her for 18 months. In that memoir, I felt she still considered her life as a “We.” Where was her “I”? “Calling Wild Places Home” addresses this gracefully, thoughtfully, with love and great insight.

Laura is a gifted writer, a treasure to those of us who revere wild places (especially alpine ones). In her devotion to causes of preservation and stewardship, she walks the walk, having adopted (with Guy) for nearly two decades trail maintenance along the magnificent Franconia Ridge. Through her eponymous Waterman Fund, she also supported small organizations with a common mission to protect those wild places we hold dear.

“Calling Wild Places Home” is a smorgasbord of essays that bookend her life. We learn that her love of literature emanates from childhood. In an academic-minded family, immersive reading of the classics was how she bonded with her father. He was a brilliant Emily Dickinson scholar, and the other man in her life haunted by demons (in his case, alcohol).

Most of her hiking and climbing days were spent in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, but the first peaks Laura climbed with Guy were in the Adirondacks. Guy wanted to summit all 46 high peaks in winter before setting foot on them during other seasons. They used the drive time to memorize Milton’s Paradise Lost. “Books and reading were our lives,” she notes. And winter climbing became one of her passions.

Throughout the memoir, but especially in the epilogue, she tackled head-on what drove Guy to choose death over growing old with her. Despite thinking of herself as Pooh’s “Piglet” in the relationship, after his passing she found a singular voice as an author. Her first novel, “Starvation Shore,” proved a riveting piece of historical fiction about a tragic 1880s arctic expedition. Interestingly, having been “abandoned” by her husband, she chose to write fiction about a crew of abandoned sailors.

Maybe this was part of her process to comprehend the loss of the love of her life, her literary collaborator, her “Christopher Robin.” Did she “enable” Guy’s decision, or demonstrate her love by honoring his wishes, or simply defer to the man she loved? It was not a subject she could easily broach with him. In a letter to Rob Buchanan at Outside magazine, she wrote: “I wouldn’t have wanted to have held him back, nor could I have. Loving him meant letting him go.”

It turns out Guy had much to learn from her — ironic since she saw herself as the apprentice. She has now done the hard work of brutal introspection to reach the point where she forgives herself, forgives him, and embraces the joys and limitations of growing old. I am filled with admiration.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review included an incorrect byline. The Enterprise regrets the error.

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