Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild By Ellen Meloy

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Long believed to be disappearing and possibly even extinct, the Southwestern bighorn sheep of Utah’s canyonlands have made a surprising comeback. Naturalist Ellen Meloy tracks a band of these majestic creatures through backcountry hikes, downriver floats, and travels across the Southwest. Alone in the wilderness, Meloy chronicles her communion with the bighorns and laments the growing severance of man from nature, a severance that she feels has left us spiritually hungry. Wry, quirky and perceptive, Eating Stone is a brillant and wholly original tribute to the natural world. Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild

This was an unexpected and disappointing miss for me. Perhaps it's the books description, or perhaps I should have anticipated prose mirroring The Anthropology of Turquoise that I fell in love with last year, but Eating Stone ultimately seemed a disconnected series of personal essays with an abstract central subject. True enough, the book is about bighorn sheep, or rather, centers around bighorn sheep, but this novel lacked enough substance on ungulates and enough diversity in thought to equal The Anthropology of Turquoise.

Much of Eating Stone's first half is less about the Blue Door Band of sheep of Meloy's backyard, and more about sporadic adventures related to bighorns. I feel like I read more on Native American art, Spanish colonization of western California, gardening, and tortoises care in gardens than I did anything else. And to be fair, that is certainly Meloy's style, but here, while trying to glimpse the elusive and endangered sheep she constantly teases, I felt constantly jerked towards an obscure side story I had little interest in. Despite the undoubtedly beautiful writing style, this book was difficult for me to finish.

Eating Stone's saving grace are the last few months of Meloy's biographical work when a fellow band of naturalist and she transplant a portion the herd deeper into the wilderness to encourage habitat reclamation. Here I felt connected to the excitement and adventure that prompted the novel, and felt sure everything prior was filler. Then again, maybe like the Blue Door Band of bighorn sheep, instinct inhibits me from broadening my horizons and enjoying the story for what it is as opposed to what I wanted it to be.

I leave Eating Stone somewhere in the middle. I feel obliged to revisit as the summer months wane and I find myself not taking nature and the wildlife in close proximity to me for granted. For now, I'll continue to enjoy my own imaginative thoughts prompted by the bighorns of my backyard. Outdoors Nature One of those books that all riders on the planet would do well to consider reading. Meloy writes of a year spent with bighorn sheep in the mountains of southern Utah where she lived, with side trips to several other desert and mountain islands, and how their teetering populations epitomize the risks of humankind losing a core feature its identity by a loss of the wild.

This is nature writing which one could characterize as blending the poetry and emotional relationship of an Annie Dillard with the reflective ecology and anthropology of a Barry Lopez. The rapid loss of habitat and disturbed ecological balance for wild animals such as desert bighorn sheep have been struggled against for a long time through endangered species laws, development restrictions, and the work of scientists and wildlife managers. But below a safe population level for a given subspecies of wild sheep, factors such as diseases spread from domestic sheep, adverse weather, and mountain lion predation can easily wipe out a geographic population. This urgency contributed to Meloy's quest to personally experience the sheep in their remote environment and reflect on how such a relationship is a key to being human.

It is especially poignant that Meloy died suddenly three months after completing this book. She was beginning to suspect the beginnings of presenile dementia and found the desert mountains and work tempered the panic. Just reading about her experiences, especially her final work transplanting sheep from one site to another promising, more isolated, range, also tempered the panic for me. She demonstrates that an individual can still experience real wildness in nature, and positive efforts can be taken. Outdoors Nature The writing in this book is beautiful... I seriously wanted my kindle in one hand and a paintbrush in the other because I'm sure my paintings would be as beautiful as the desert scenes Ellen Meloy paints with her words! Unfortunately, the beautiful writing did not save this book. The title is what attracted me to this book, I wanted to read about Imagination and being out in the Wild, but EM barely mentions it.

And I didn't learn much about Bighorn Sheep, either, other than they are pretty hard to find in the wild. Literally, she's half way through the book before she mentions that it's easy to recognize individual sheep in a band. I suppose she thinks in terms of the entire band and how sheep can't survive as individuals. Oh, except for Sheep 69, who she talks about often, who survived for years after her entire band was wiped out by disease (introduced by domesticated sheep and humans).

And finally the clincher for the One Star rating. EM eats sheep. Not only does she eat them, she ate one that had a name, who she had watched for years. Sheep 1,000 was a ram who had a radio collar, he was instantly recognizable and he was one of her friend's favorite rams, in fact. But when he was murdered by a legal hunter, who only wanted a trophy and gave away the corpse, EM had few compunctions about eating One Thousand.

That scene just broke my heart. It made me lose hope in humanity.
Outdoors Nature I find sheep to be dull creatures. I say this as a dedicated conservationist, and one who firmly believes that all organisms have an innate right to exist, or at least to exist for as long as they can in the bloodthirsty battlefield of natural selection.

But Meloy writes about her bighorns with such unstinting love, and such poetry, that it becomes impossible not to fall in love with them yourself. Her avowed adoration of wild things is apparent in the way she describes a group of bighorns dozing lazily in the sunshine, and in tautly written action scenes where she deliberately upsets an Edenic scene of resting Canada geese to keep them away from (or at least give them a fighting chance against) early morning hunters.

I am sad that we lost Meloy so early, and with so many of her books unwritten. If this an The Anthropology of Turquoise are anything to judge by, she was a gift to the world of nature writing. As it is, I will think of her, and the sheep now every time I look at the hoofstock at the National Zoo. And I will feel more warmly towards them, because she loved them and shared that love with me. Outdoors Nature Where is the water? I describe a confluence of rivers hidden in folds of stone, a spring on the side of the mountain in land so holy, you must sing every footstep you place on it.

The concept for this book was a month-by-month collection of musings and discoveries over a year of observing the desert bighorn sheep of the U.S. and Baja, Mexico. Meloy begins the year in November with sheep sex. While I do find it remarkable that the rams' testicles expand to the size of cantaloupes during the mating season, I wasn't sure if I wanted to tackle an entire book devoted to that intimate gonadal level of sharing. Fortunately for me, Ellen Meloy was a generalist when it came to her love of the Southwest. The bighorns were her purpose for wandering, but along the way she shares healthy helpings of anthropology, archaeology, Native American lore, botany, history, environmental concerns, and a wit as dry as the desert she called home.

Meloy has a lot in common with Ed Abbey in her love for the desert and her distress over man's encroachment, but she takes a softer approach. She presents her concerns with a little more hope and a lot less misanthropy than that venerable curmudgeon.

Our deserts lost a redrock angel when Ellen Meloy died suddenly in November of 2004. Outdoors Nature


Finally finished this one. It's as dense as a thicket of nature and just as enjoyable. Everytime I glazed over something, eavesdropping in the subway say, she brought me right back in with a lovely line. Meloy's voice is so charming and she writes so many truisms about the human benefits gained from having a relationship with the natural world She makes me seriously consider dropping my entire life to go watch sheep in the desert. Outdoors Nature 3.5 stars

I'm not sure about this book if I'm entirely honest.

I absolutely loved The Anthropology of Turquoise and would put it down as one of my all time favourites. So I was deeply looking forward to this offering from Ellen Meloy.

It felt disjointed, fractured, distracted writing. Ellen Meloy even states a few times how she fears her mind is becoming increasingly muddled and chaotic, which comes through in the writing itself. I found myself putting the book down and my mind wandered to other things throughout (whereas with Anthropology my eyes were glued to the pages).

The elusive bighorn are treated as rather sacred and special creatures with a worthy history and culture. Despite this, as Rift Vegan mentions in their review, the party that Ellen is with decide to eat one of the bighorns once it is dead!!!

I don't know, I just felt the author had lost her spark on this piece. It didn't feel like the same woman writing. Still enjoyable but nowhere near the scintillating quality of Turquoise. Outdoors Nature A year spent with wild longhorn sheep and a moving treatise on wildness and its disappearance from the world. Outdoors Nature Such a good read! Ellen Meloy was often personal, frequently poignant, and always fascinating. Her observations about small town Utah life (she lived in Bluff) were as engaging as was her writings about desert bighorns, the primary topic of the book. Outdoors Nature Ellen Meloy was one of those writers who found the connection between making visual art and painting with words. I could never do a fraction of the things she did. I don't have the stomach, the temperament, the stamina, the fearlessness of multi-legged wiggly critters, or the tolerance for excessive heat and UV exposure. But when deep into her writing, I sort of wish that I did.

Each chapter covers a month in a year that Meloy spent intensely observing a band of big horn sheep near her home in Bluff, Utah, as well as some other big horn environs in New Mexico and Southern California. On the surface, the book is about the sheep, their habitats and habits, their struggle to adapt and survive. Deeper down, the book is also about so many other things: immersion, solitude, imagination, endurance, and awe. The writing is beautiful and often has threads of fantastical musings, but Meloy is also a realist who understood that nature is under no obligation to make itself acceptable to human sentiments.

Eating Stone is Meloy's final book, and thanks should go to her husband for shepherding this beautiful writing through the final stages of publishing after Meloy's sudden death in 2004. The world is richer for her writing being in it. Outdoors Nature