“Breaking Into the Backcountry,” by Steve Edwards
In 2001, Steve Edwards, a 26-year-old Purdue University professor who had “never been much of an outdoorsman,” won a PEN/Northwest writing residency, earning him a seven-month stint as the caretaker of a backcountry homestead on Oregon’s Rogue River. He was a flatlander, a virgin fly-fisherman, 70 miles from the nearest town or friend, and still nursing wounds from his divorce. “Breaking Into the Backcountry” is the story of his time as the caretaker, through the eyes of a writer seeing the West with dew still on it, and his transformation during that period of wild solitude. Edwards paints wonderful scenes of this place, detailing his walks along the Rogue, bears devouring apples on the homestead and the wilderness surrounding him. Even more endearing are the honestly told, personal stories of how he dealt with the solitude — hearing the news of 9/11 on the radio, going days without seeing or talking to another person and experiencing silence in a quantity most of us will never have in our lifetimes. “Breaking Into the Backcountry” is a great vicarious literary escape for the rest of us poor schlubs living with millions of neighbors.