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Moving to the mountains

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Did you ever feel like you were living your life in one gigantic hamster wheel? Monday comes and you hit the alarm, go to work, come home, fall in front of the TV. You slog through three carbon-copies of Monday, and then it’s Friday. The weekend is something like 1.5 seconds long and it’s Monday again. Did you ever think you might just chuck it all and move to the mountains?Can you really do it? Read “On the Wild Edge” by David Petersen (c.2005, Henry Holt) first. It might make you think twice.Back in 1981, David Petersen left California and moved with his wife, Caroline, to a one-acre plot on a mountainside in southwestern Colorado. Scraping together cash and a small loan, they bought a patch of land in the middle of a grove of quaking aspens and Douglas fir, becoming the fourth homestead in what was otherwise a rather secluded mountain. At first, while the cabin was being built, the Petersens lived in an old travel-trailer pulled on the property. No electricity. No telephone. No running water. No bathroom, save but an outhouse.After the cabin was built by hand, all 596 square feet of it, the Petersens settled down in their mountain paradise. Much of “On the Wild Edge” is about the animals and nature that David meets on his daily hours-long walks in the mountains with Otis, his dog. Petersen tries not to make noise as he walks, he says, out of respect for the mountain and its inhabitants. For the same reason, he has taught himself to walk with his hands in his pockets or hooked in the straps of his backpack, so he doesn’t touch anything and inadvertently leave his scent. The stench of humans, Petersen says, unsettles the elk that roam the mountain.The most exciting parts of this book are Petersen’s encounters with bears. While he admits that meeting a bear requires prudence, Petersen tells of some ursine encounters that show that bears are not completely the bloodthirsty, vicious creatures that some hiking books will lead you to believe.While I thoroughly enjoyed Petersen’s beautiful, Thoreau-like stories of his life on the mountain and the wildlife he so obviously enjoys, I quickly tired of his repeated curmudgeonly grumps about materialism. Don’t get me wrong I was impressed with the lifestyle that David Petersen describes. For a person to live his version of a perfect life is a wondrous, extraordinary thing. Being distressed with the trashing of wildlife and wilderness is highly esteemed. But since we can’t all live in the mountains and hunt our own food, to condemn someone who lives in the city and shops at a grocery store is unfair.If you can ignore the anti-materialism rants, you’ll find some pretty good stories in this book from a man who has a passion for the wildlife with which he shares his space. Just be aware that there is a mountain of big-city criticism to hike over first. VT


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