Monday, February 28, 2011

Week 8: Letters from Yellowstone, by Diane Smith

Last year, Jamie and I visited Yellowstone National Park in the early fall, and it’s difficult to convey just exactly how much we loved it. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life. When I returned, my boss let me borrow this book, which I just picked up recently and completed. It is set in Yellowstone at the end of the 1800s, and the story is told exclusively through the exchange of detailed letters sent from the characters in the park. By reading the accounts that they have penned for their friends and family members, the total picture of the tale emerges. The protagonist is a young botanist from Cornell named A.E. Bartram, who joins a scientific expedition at Yellowstone. The leader of the expedition, H.G. Merriam, is pleased to welcome this new member. But upon meeting Bartram, he is surprised to learn that she is a woman (Alexandria, or Alex for short). Despite initial reservations about including a woman into an all-male team, Merriam accepts Alex after she insists that she be allowed to stay. Alex soon proves herself based on her scrupulous and dedicated work efforts. As she immerses herself more deeply into the wilderness, she has an epiphany or sorts, and realizes that she has found her calling. Her wonder and marvel at the natural world surrounding her accurately captures the feelings that I think most visitors to the park actually experience. Through Alex, we receive a beautiful and detailed description of the park’s landscape, plant life, and animals. Secondary to that are the stories of the trials and tribulations of her campmates. As the story progresses, the reader observes how the relationships within the camp deepen, and how Alex must defend her new way of life to the people that she has left behind in New York. The book leaves the reader in a peaceful, inspired state. A delightful read, especially for anyone who has travelled to Yellowstone.

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