Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness
Other Editions of This Title:
2017 Finalist - Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Creative Book Award
2017 Finalist - Evans Biography and Handcart Award
Combining natural history, humor, and personal narrative, Raising Wild is an intimate exploration of Nevada’s Great Basin Desert, the wild and extreme land of high desert caliche and juniper, of pronghorn antelope and mountain lions, where wildfires and snowstorms threaten in equal measure.
Michael Branch “earned his whiskers” in the Great Basin Desert of northwestern Nevada, in the wild and extreme landscape where he lives off the grid with his wife and two curious little girls. Shifting between pastoral passages on the beauty found in the desert and humorous tales of the humility of being a father, Raising Wild offers an intimate portrait of a landscape where mountain lions and ground squirrels can threaten in equal measure. With Branch’s distinct lyricism and wit, this exceedingly barren landscape becomes a place resonant with the rattle of snakes, the plod of pronghorn antelope, and the rustle of juniper trees, a place that is teeming with energy, surprise, and an endless web of connections. Part memoir, part homage to an environment all-to-often brushed aside as inhospitable, Raising Wild offers an intergenerational approach to nature, family, and the forgotten language of wildness.
Praise For Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness…
“This book is not exactly about wild landscapes but the life of a house-holding family placed out there with two verge-of-puberty daughters. It is about our daily reality, not our fantasy possibilities, and who knows today what these girls will have to say later? So it is remarkably interesting, lively, non-theoretical, and hopeful. The wild might be wildfire or bushy-tailed woodrats under the floor—not just to live with but to know them. Michael Branch’s book points forward, not back.”—Gary Snyder
"With Raising Wild, Michael Branch turns his sharp mind and big heart to the subject of domestic wildness—life with his wife and daughters in the high desert. Reading Branch’s prose is like attending a great and raucous party. A party held around a campfire in a secret corner of the wilderness full of intense talk, laughs, liquor, and deep insights. That the kids are invited this time makes it even better. A profound and moving book that just might change some lives."—David Gessner, author of All the Wild that Remains
“At last! A home for Michael Branch’s joyous dispatches from the high desert, which I have long followed with delight. If you’re unfamiliar with Branch, prepare for your first encounter with a singular sensibility, bracing yet affable. In part a memoir of building a unique home in an extraordinary place, in part a treatise on cultivating, protecting, and loving the wild, and each other therein, Raising Wild is a wholly defiant, tender book bristling with spirit, intelligence, and mountains of laughs.” —Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn and Gold Fame Citrus
“I have long considered Michael Branch one of the true visionaries of western American literature--and here is further proof. This beautiful, often raucous account of fatherhood and (wild) faith takes us even deeper into his remarkable kinship with northwestern Nevada. A place where, through the “daily practices of love, humility, and humor,” we can all learn to be at home in this world.”—John T. Price, author of Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father
“Not since Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder has there been such a lively and evocative account of intergenerational experiences in nature. Michael Branch’s Raising Wild offers breathtaking lyricism, sage wisdom, and big belly laughs in equal measure. Most importantly, this collection is a testament to the value of marrying memory and place—especially while in the company of those we love.”—Kathryn Miles, author of Adventures with Ari, All Standing, and Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy
Roost Books, 9781611803457, 320pp.
Publication Date: August 23, 2016
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. In the book’s preamble, the author contrasts his own epic hikes in the high desert with his daughters’ long-held ambition to climb a modest local ridge they call Moonrise. Ultimately, he concludes that the experience of hiking with his daughters is “more fascinating and valuable than any heroic male wilderness adventure could possibly be.” (p. xxix). What is the impact of the contrast between these two forms of experiencing wilderness—solitary male adventure vs. a father hiking with his daughters?
2. The book’s opening chapters, “Endlessly Rocking” and “The Nature within Us,” reveal that the author has real fears about whether he is prepared to be a good father. Why is he so hesitant about becoming a parent? How does he ultimately confront concerns that he will be inadequate as a father?
3. Much of this book is concerned with the author’s developing identity as “the father of daughters.” How might the book have been different if Branch had instead been the father of sons? How might the book’s story have changed had it been told by a mother of daughters or a mother of sons?
4. Branch writes that “Laughter is the sound we make in the moment we acknowledge, perhaps even begin to accept, our own mistakes or inadequacies” (p. xxxi). He even claims that “laugher generates the flexibility and acceptance that are necessary for one to develop patience and express love” (p. xxxii). How does humor function throughout the book? Would you agree that humor has the power to make us more accepting and resilient? What are the limits to the power of humor to help us in our lives?
5. In his endorsement of Raising Wild, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Gary Snyder writes that the book “points forward, not back,” and he describes it as “hopeful.” What do you think Snyder meant in describing the book as pointing forward?
6. Although the book is often both funny and hopeful, a number of chapters offer serious contemplations of potential loss. For example, “Tracking Stories” examines what might be lost if pronghorn antelope were to be extirpated from the author’s local landscape, while “Fire on the Mountain” examines the near loss of Branch’s family home to fire. Why are these contemplations of loss important to the larger story told by the book? How can they be reconciled with the book’s lighter, more hopeful tone?
7. The key to this book is its setting in the remote, high-elevation Great Basin Desert, which the author describes as being “among the most extreme landscapes in North America” (xx). “This place is not remarkable in spite of its blizzards and droughts, its fires and floods, its rattlers and scorpions,” he writes. “It is astonishing because of them” (p. xxiii). If the high desert landscape is so inhospitable, why does he value it so highly? Why does he want to inhabit this extreme environment—and raise his children there—if it is such a difficult place to make a home?
8. At many points in the book, the author contrasts the way adults and children see the world. “There is something about adult perception, however finely honed it might be, that struggles to attain the sense of possibility that is instinctive to children,” he writes (p. 104). Do you agree that children retain a “sense of possibility” that has become less accessible to adults? What are examples of things children can imagine that grown-ups have a harder time envisioning? What might adults learn from a childhood sense of possibility?
9. Although Raising Wild is a book about the author’s life with his family in the high desert wilderness, it often reaches out to make contact with popular culture. For example, “Playing with the Stick” offers a humorous look at the induction of the stick into the National Toy Hall of Fame, while “The Hills Are Alive” takes a comical approach to examining the musical film The Sound of Music. How do the chapters that work with pop culture relate to the chapters that more directly discuss Branch’s experiences with his children in their home desert? For example, what does “Playing with the Stick” suggest about the differences between adult and childhood perceptions of nature, a theme important throughout the book? How does “The Hills Are Alive” challenge our assumption that green landscapes are superior to arid landscapes, which is another key issue in the book?
10. For many of us, a garden is an important domestic site where nature and culture meet and overlap—a place where we try to understand nature but also shape it to our own purposes. What representation of the garden emerges in the chapter “My Children’s First Garden”? What are the author’s ambitions for his children’s garden? How are those ambitions thwarted? How does Branch respond to his repeated difficulties in this troubled garden? Do you consider the garden described in this chapter to be a failure?
11. The author addresses his book’s title this way: “We tend to think that something that is ‘raised’ cannot also be ‘wild’ and that something that is ‘wild’ must not have been ‘raised.’ (Think salmon here.) But rather than figure the wild as other than and apart from the family, this book explores the ways in which living as a family in a wild landscape reveals the wildness at the heart of both childhood and parenthood” (xxvii). How does Branch conceive of the relationship between domesticity and wildness? Would you agree with his sense that the wild and domestic can coexist, or do you instead consider them mutually exclusive?
12. Henry David Thoreau, whom Branch quotes and refers to a number of times, once wrote that “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” However, this quotation is often incorrectly rendered as “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” What is the difference between wildness and wilderness? Can one exist without the other? In what ways does Raising Wild explore the relationship between wildness and wilderness, and what does the book ultimately say about the distinction between the two?
13. Near the end of the chapter called “Fire on the Mountain,” the author discusses the scientific consensus that “People who write about traumatic events are a great deal more resilient than are trauma victims who do not create a narrative of their experience” (p. 250). Why do you think writing about emotionally difficult experiences has been shown to be so therapeutic? What is it about retelling the story of a traumatic event that makes that event more endurable, perhaps even more comprehensible, to the writer?
14. How would you reply if asked to categorize Raising Wild by genre? Is it creative nonfiction? Memoir? Humor writing? An essay collection? Nature or science writing? Regional literature? Is it a parenting book? How might you read the book differently if you were to first identify it as being an example of one or another of these genres?
15. Very late in the book the author addresses his readers directly, inviting them to try a specific thought experiment: “Take a moment to imagine the landscape you now inhabit or, alternatively, a treasured landscape from your past. What memories have you attached to that place? How has that place helped to shape the person you are today? How have your experiences there informed your way of seeing yourself, your family, the place itself?” (p. 259). Now actually try this! How have your experiences or memories of this special place influenced your identity and your view of the world? How might you be a different person had you never encountered this unique place?