Temporary Homelands

Poet-essayist Alison Hawthorne Deming is a skilled naturalist and chronicler of the lives of wild, distinctive places. As she suggests, people’s own lives are temporary and should not compromise the longevity of the homelands they borrow to inhabit. In TEMPORARY HOMELANDS, she writes passionately about relationships of every kind: family, place, politics, and wildlife. She reflects on the harmony nature sustains and on the discord American culture has created. Part 1 follows an often troubled notebook through descriptions of a remote Canadian island, the author’s old family cottage, and memories of summers she spent in girlhood, clam-digging and roaming the desolate seaward cliffs. Part 2 examines the author’s coming of age in a compelling description of her 1960’s Vermont homestead, where she lived poor through her twenties with her baby daughter. Another essay tells the story of her father’s death, stretched over two years and two strokes. In it she imagines both death and the hospital as “a place in nature” and comments on the human species’ only true uniqueness among animals: foreknowledge of death and ritual treatment of the dead. Parts 3 and 4 travel through the American Southwest, and southwestern Alaska. Deming gives spiritual readings of desert landscapes and petrified forests. In Alaska, having arrived from Los Angeles the day of the Rodney King riots, Deming wonders why watching wild animals gives people pleasure. “Wolf, Eagle, Bear: An Alaskan Notebook” mixes dark and pleasant memories with brown bear lore. Another essay describes bald eagles migrating. Deming’s voice in these essays is comfortable, moving, and wise. Her skilled abandon at mixing field notes with highly personal memoirs makes impressive and entertaining reading.