2012-08-30 / Opinions

Book Review

Settled in the Wild
Reviewed by

Nature writing is an art. Susan Hand Shetterly h as won awards and grants for her non-fiction writing, but the real test is in enabling the reader to care about the topic.

Settled in the Wild is subtitled “Notes from the Edge of Town,” and is a series of essays about her life in coastal Maine. The fact that she lives in Maine is not the most important thing, but rather that she lives close to and observes nature.

She, her husband, and their young son said that they were going “back to the land” when they moved to an unfinished cabin in Maine in 1971. There was no electricity, no plumbing, no phone. The word “back” was inaccurate since both parents had grown up in the suburbs. They were proud of their new lives and pleased when his parents came to visit. His mother draped her mink coat over a chair, and they sat down to eat. As Susan began to explain the origin of the meal, “a skunk, living under the floorboards of the kitchen, released an explosion of spray, and the mink coat got a dose of its old life back.” (She doesn’t reveal what happened next.)

Shetterly’s style is gentle yet engrossing. She is able to laugh at herself and her unrealistic expectations while making the reader absolutely on her side. One incident involved her son’s telling her that a cricket had bitten his finger. Bandaging the bleeding she assured him that crickets don’t bit. Finding the site together, she reached in to show him and drew back her own bleeding finger.

There were many lessons. “Couples who thought they held the same values, who thought they loved each other, found that under the pressure of living hard and close and often poor, they did not, and filed for divorce. My husband and I were among them.”

Shetterly learned to take care of wildlife with troubles. With the help of a veterinarian and a friend who rescued birds, she adopted an injured raven. He became “Chac,” and formed an enduring friendship with her and her dog Sadie. Though Chac was missing an eye (making his finding food problematic,) and had a limp from the original injury, she decided not to keep him caged: “letting him go meant that he would never abide a sheltered life. I offered this tamed and crippled wild prince his own ancestral home -- bounteous and dangerous.”

Another time she interfered between a baby rabbit on the side of the road and a stalking bobcat. Birds and fish, flowers and icy weather, she records them all, in a wonderful spirit of acceptance and appreciation.

“This is my neighborhood of millions of lives, depending on how and whom you count ... It is a tiny irreplaceable place where we go about the everyday magic of our lives.”

Sealed in the Wild is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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