"I discovered mountain rivers late, for I was a prairie child, and knew only flatland and dryland until we toured the Yellowstone country in 1920, loaded with all the camp beds, auto tents, grub-boxes, and auxiliary water and gas cans that 1920 thought necessary. Our road between Great Falls, Montana, and Salt Lake City was the rutted track that is now Highway 89. Beside a marvelous torrent, one of the first I ever saw, we camped several days. That was Henry's Fork of the Snake."
I was remiss yesterday--blame a cold that muddled my thoughts, weakened my limbs, and made me about as much fun to be around as a Republican governor "reluctantly" accepting stimulus money from Washington--in not noting the centennial of the birth of one of America's best writers.
Wallace Earle Stegner was born on Feburary 18, 1909 in Lake Mills, Iowa. After a childhood mostly spent in Saskatchewan, he became a noted writer of fiction and nonfiction, a great writing teacher, an early and passionate environmental activist. I spent most of April 6, 1990 with him, which was a pleasure, an honor, and a formative experience. He died in Santa Fe, New Mexico on April 13, 1993, as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident.
But he left behind a lasting legacy of the written word. If you love language, and especially if you love both wonderful writing and the American West (although he also wrote about other places, and for part of his life lived in Vermont, which he wrote about in his last novel, Crossing to Safety), and you haven't read Wallace Stegner, then hurry to your nearest library or bookstore and get started. Read The Sound of Mountain Water, from which the excerpts here are taken. Read All the Little Live Things or The Spectator Bird. Read his Collected Stories. Most of all, read Angle of Repose, his Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece.
You won't be sorry you took the time. I've spent many hours with Stegner, through immersion in his work. I never took a class he taught but he schooled me just the same, and if I'm any kind of writer at all, he had a lot to do with that. If I appreciate the West in which I live, that appreciation owes much to his example.
Happy 100, Wally. You are still missed, and still loved.
For some interesting consideration of Stegner's legacy, check this blog by Tim Egan and its comments from the NY Times. Thanks to Kathryn for pointing it out.
And here's more, courtesy of author Stephen Trimble, whose book Words from the Land is just one of his great contributions.
"Angry as one may be at what heedless men have done and still do to a noble habitat, one cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery."
--Wallace Stegner, The Sound of Mountain Water