Book Review: “Hawks Rest” by Gary Ferguson
Why am I writing a review of a book that came out over eight years ago? Because it went out of print — which made me unhappy because it is one of my favorite pieces of nature writing — and it’s coming back now. I spoke to Gary Ferguson this morning, and he said it looks like Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone will be coming back out this fall. When I have details, I’ll share them here.
Luckily, I am a cyber-packrat as well as being one in real life, so I still have a copy of the book review I wrote for the Carbon County News shortly before the book came out. So here, direct from April of 2003, is my review of Hawks Rest:
The wait is over for Gary Ferguson fans. His latest book, Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone, is here, with another dose of the evocative nature writing we’ve come to expect of him.
Last June, Ferguson strode through the front door of his Red Lodge home and took the first step of his 140-mile hike to the most remote spot in the lower 48 states. This book describes both the trek to Hawks Rest, which is just south of the Yellowstone Park boundary, and his stay in the remote wilderness. How far can you get from a road in the continental United States? A paltry 28 miles — an easy day’s ride on horseback or a long day’s hike.
The trip was ostensibly about a lot of things. Writing Hawks Rest for National Geographic. Fixing up a Forest Service cabin. Counting various species of wildlife. Fixing fences. The book, however, reveals as much about its author as it does about the wilderness he visited. Clearly, the trip was also about a catharsis for Ferguson, perhaps a return to his days as a Forest Service ranger. This would be an opportunity for him to step away from the craziness of the human world and retreat to the seclusion and renewal of Mother Nature.
Seclusion, however, is one thing he found little of. Between rangers, trail crews, hikers, riders, outfitters, hunters, a camp for troubled juveniles, and backwoodsmen of all shapes and sizes, he encountered over 600 visitors in his months in the backcountry. Nature, he found in abundance, and he describes it with typical Fergusonian flair. His prose ranges from flowery descriptions of the grandeur of the area surrounding the Hawks Rest area to more factual recitations of the goings-on, but never settles into a dreary “this morning I arose at 6:48 and had a bowl of granola” journal format.
The combination of his wonderfully descriptive writing style and an encyclopedic knowledge of flora, fauna and the geological features of the area draw vivid mental images of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. One piece of advice consistently given to novice writers by grizzled veterans is to write what you know. There’s no question that’s what Ferguson is doing. He knows and loves his subject matter, and it shines through in the writing. Having achieved grizzled veteran status himself with over a dozen books under his belt and his work appearing in over 100 magazines, he continues to educate, enlighten and enchant readers with his tales of the relationship between man and nature.
If you know Gary Ferguson, you won’t be surprised to hear that he pulls no punches when describing the things that offend and annoy him. His writing has matured as he has matured, and his feelings are expressed more clearly than in his earlier works like The Yellowstone Wolves. The groups most targeted by his blunt criticism are those using political clout to exploit wilderness areas for their own financial gain. Take this excerpt as an example:
“…I’m constantly amazed at the degree to which outfitters are wrapped in a victim mentality. Emerging from this profession, at least in the Thorofare, is a mean-spirited paranoia, a constant griping about wolves and city people and anti-hunting groups destroying a way of life; in short, it’s one of the most self-indulgent whinefests ever to unfurl in the land of the Great Divide.”
A far greater part of the book, though, is dedicated to the plants and animals of the Yellowstone ecosystem; especially the elk which dominate the area and the wolves that obviously hold a special place in Ferguson’s heart. He speaks of his critter encounters with fondness, and evokes both fascination and chuckles. I still can’t get the image out of my mind of his surprise meeting with a large grizzly bear where, in his words, Ferguson was “watching him with my pack turned slightly so that should he suddenly look up, my skinny ass will look bigger than it really is.”
Unlike most of his previous books, Hawks Rest is going straight to paperback instead of going through an initial hardback release. The publisher, National Geographic, is sending him on a publicity tour to promote the book, and he’s starting here in his hometown of Red Lodge.