Book Review: The Carry Home

Lost and found in the American wilds with Gary Ferguson

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After nature writer Gary Ferguson lost his wife, Jane, in a whitewater canoeing mishap on a wild river in 2005, he gradually returned to the wilderness to put his life back together. The Carry Home (Counterpoint Press, $25) is Ferguson's haunting, deeply personal account of tragedy, grief and recovery in places like Ontario's Wabakimi Provincial Park, Yellowstone and the remote tundra of northern Canada's Barrenlands. Ultimately, Ferguson comes to terms with his loss by celebrating Jane's life in the wildernesses they loved together. In the process, he sheds rich, nuanced light on the influence of nature on generations past, present and future.

A part of a demographic that championed outdoor adventure, Ferguson tells the story of how he and his wife came to the rambling life from humble beginnings as baby boomers in the American Midwest.

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Gary Ferguson. Photo by Mary Clare

They traveled across the country in a live-aboard van; fell in love as the winter caretakers of a mountain lodge; made a home on the doorstep of Yellowstone; and paddled the Hood River through Arctic Canada. The bestselling author and his outdoor educator, search and rescue technician and wilderness EMT wife were clearly a perfect match; by the time Ferguson finally gets around to describing Jane's drowning on the Kopka River the book's narrative is well-established, which sharpens its impact to a razor's edge.

Two years after Jane's death, Ferguson gets back to canoeing. He joins a wildlife biologist friend on a trip on Canada's Thelon River led by legendary guide Alex Hall, in "the land of the bear and wolf." Through his own grief, Ferguson reflects on how his own generation—once smitten by the wilds—has lost its sense of purpose in confronting today's environmental challenges, such as climate change. He realizes that nature has been simplified and compartmentalized, its benefits all too often replaced by the quick-fix buzz of technology. "The loss of myth leaves us with withered imaginations," Ferguson writes, "…in turn [causing] a certain restless hunger—one that as often as not we end up trying to stuff with consumer goods."

On the Thelon, Ferguson admits, "If I was going to have any chance of healing—if any of us were going to heal—we'd have to lay claim to a fresh trove of stories." Ferguson's story—that is, Jane's legacy—is written as he ventures into five wilderness areas they both loved and shared, scattering her ashes and confronting his grief with a message of hope.

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