Maggie Ross's superb memoir of her sojourn in the wilderness is filled with living and dying, joy and pain, healing and hurting, and, most important, the "love that indwells and is revealed in the most unexpected places."
Weary and wounded, yearning for deep solitude, Ross takes a job as a caretaker in a place of luminous--sometimes terrifying--beauty on the northwest coast of the United States. Here she meets a local woman called Muskrat who becomes her companion and teacher. From a harsh and unforgiving life, Muskrat has distilled impressive wisdom and an extraordinary, unselfconscious spirituality. Living out a generosity and loving-kindness born of suffering, she helps Ross find healing from damage inflicted by the abuse of power--damage that culminates in a life-threatening illness.
Muskrat is not her only teacher. There are the dogs, Pomo and Kelly, and the bird, Raven, whose joyous play, tender and violent affection, mischief, and fidelity reveal a new vision of life during a long, slow convalescence.
Ross receives healing, too, from the land, from the work necessary to its seasons, from the wildlife, which appears strangely unafraid, and from the small and large kindnesses of her rural neighbors. Like Henry David Thoreau and Annie Dillard, she describes landscapes of rare beauty that reveal the true meaning of sacrament "in the smallest wood orchid and the vast wildness of the sea. . . . the last flimsy boundaries between sacred and secular melted away."
We emerge from this near-mythic tale--from its frustrations, its tragedies and epiphanies--illuminated, refreshed, with a new vital perception of the sanctity of our common humanity and of wilderness as a context for the transfiguration of pain.