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Wallace Stegner weaves together fiction and nonfiction history and impressions childhood remembrance and adult reflections in this unusual portrait of his boyhood Set in Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan where Stegner's family homesteaded from 1914 to 1920 Wolf Willow A History a Story a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier brings to life both the pioneer community and the magnificent landscape that surrounds it This Twentieth Century Classics edition includes a new introductory essay by Page Stegner


10 thoughts on “Wolf Willow A History a Story and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier

  1. says:

    The plain spreads southward below the Trans Canada Highway an ocean of wind troubled grass and grain It has its remembered textures winter wheat heavily headed scoured and shadowed as if schools of fish move in it; spring wheat with its young seed rows as precise as combings in a boy's wet hair; gray brown summer fallow with the weeds disked under; and grass the marvelous curly prairie wool tight to the earth's skin straining the wind as the wheat does but in its own way secretly Stegner is the poet and the prophet of that great endless expanse of wilderness that floods across the USCanadian border Iowa Utah Montana Saskatchewan all lumped together in the American imagination in that evocative phrase The West He writes of the land of the importance of wilderness of a certain type of hardship of a vanished world I have read pretty much everything he has written and nothing in the whole bunch ever sounded a wrong note This particular book slips between autobiography fiction and history to tell of a particular place and a particular time Saskatchewan from about 1906 1920 It explores that end of the pioneer culture and the evolution of pioneer communities It also seeks to analyze why the dream of progress failed in that hard climate It is an object lesson in the naïveté of the American hope of a new society It emphasizes the predictability and the repetitiousness of the frontier curve from hope to habit from optimism to country rut from American Dream to Revolt against the Village That curve is possible anywhere in America but nearly inevitable on the Plains because on the Plains the iron inflexibilities of low rainfall short growing season monotonous landscape and wide extreme of temperatures limit the number of people who can settle and the prosperity and contentment of the ones who manage to stick


  2. says:

    Description Pulitzer Prize winning author Wallace Stegner's boyhood was spent on the beautiful and remote frontier of the Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan where his family homesteaded from 1914 to 1920 In a recollection of his years there Stegner applies childhood remembrance and adult reflection to the history of the region to create this wise and enduring portrait of a pioneer community existing on the verge of a modern worldThe geologist who surveyed southern Saskatchewan in the 1870s called it one of the most desolate and forbidding regions on earth My town used to be as bare as a picked bone with no tree anywhere around it larger than a ten foot willow or alder Now it is a grove The axles were unpeeled poplar o cottonwood logs and the wheels could not be greased because grease would have collected dust and frozen the hubs to the axles The shriek of a single Red River cart was enough to set tenderfoot visitors writing home it was an experience of an excruciating kind Speed on speed on good MasterThe camp lies far away;We must cross the haunted valleyBefore the close of dayCanadian Boat Song by Tom Moore and sung by Cosán Lots here to like and will appeal to those who know the area in real life and those who delight in Stegner's prose Recommended4 The Spectator Bird4 Wolf Willow4 Angle of Repose


  3. says:

    This book has no right to be so absorbing Though the topic of this forgotten book by Wallace Stegner reeks of self indulgence A writer returns to where he grew up reminisces about his youth and the history of the frontier town his transient childhood most identified as home and concludes with a 100 page fictionalized account of a the terrible winter of 1906 he manages to tie his past inexorably to ours linking his nostalgia for his youth with our own and exploring the promise and inevitable waste of the American Dream lived out on our frontiers Stegner like Proust experiences an ancient unbearable recognition spurred by a return to the sites sounds and most importantly smells of his childhood He dreams of this period and is haunted on awakening by a sense of meanings just withheld and by a profound nostalgic melancholy Everyone has some awareness of a deep meaning lurking in our past that has not or cannot be fully interpreted Perhaps the best part of the book is section three the novella length exposition on the hope and danger of the high plains that does a superb job of creating looming dread as the winter drops hard on the land Near the end of section three Stegner expounds on what it is to be an American pursuing the Dream How does one know what wilderness has meant to Americans unless he has shared the guilt of wastefully and ignorantly tampering with it in the name of progress? One who has lived the dream the temporary fulfillment and the disappointment has had the full course The vein of melancholy in the North American mind may be owing to many causes but it is surely not weakened by the perception that the fulfillment of the American Dream means inevitably the death of the noble savagery and freedom of the wild Any who has lived on a frontier knows the inescapable ambivalence of the old fashioned American conscience for he has first renewed himself in Eden and then set about converting it into the lamentable modern world


  4. says:

    As a westerner madly in love with mountains deserts and history of my homeland I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I haven't delved much into Wallace Stegner I've read a tiny bit of his non fiction and none of his novels but everybody who's anybody west of the 100th meridian knows all about this guy and recommends himAnd now I think I get it Stegner nails the sense of place thing with this one a combination of history and memoir with an unforgettable novella dropped in smack dab in the middle of the book All with the goal of painting a picture of the patch of Saskatchewan shortgrass prairie right on the Montana border he grew up on circa 1910 or so He's writing decades later after living exploring and writing about the west so when he goes back to visit and research he's looking through some interesting goggles He and his family got to partake in the epic story that was the frontier Trying to turn raw material into something that pays and pays big or at least better than whatever it was you left behind Could be gold furs oil or timber but in this case it's the fertile topsoil of the plains and the rush to make it big with dryland wheat farmsStegner knows his family's experience was just one chapter of the history of that place so he ties it into all the events that led up to his family's arrival The usual suspects albeit in very short order beaver trapped out bison killed off Indians pacified cattle put on to graze on open range cattle killed off by horrendous winters the arrival of the railroad the land fenced and settled by the likes of the Stegner familywith some Canadian twists of course such as French speaking tribes of half breeds trying to remain independent the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Like almost everyone else the Stegners failed miserably as wheat farmers Not due to their incompetence or laziness but rather for their inability to admit that THE DREAM of freedom and prosperity just over the next western horizon was often a mirage and a wicked one at that Some land just won't bend to the will of Manifest Destiny not for long anyway and many learned that lesson the hard way including young Wallace StegnerThe best part was the novella a tale of cowboys trying to round up the strays and yearlings before the snows fly I'll leave it at that It may sound cliche aren't all things cowboy cliche by now? but know that a writer like Stegner isn't going to fall back on anything trite or silly This part of the book packed a powerful punch and put the rest of the tale all that came before and after into perspective as the experiences of this bunch symbolizes the experiences often but not always failures of everyone else who tried to make a go of it in that region and others like itIn the end Stegner muses on the culture that was created in places like Whitemud What ideals and hopes did they bring? What happened when they got there? Did the open space and freedom lead to better things? Did they allow the best of human hopes and visions to take wing? Or did they hammer away at those dreams until nothing was left but provincial small mindedness and the ongoing often bitter struggle to get by? If you're into the American west you simply must read this book If you don't care one way or the other about the west but want to read an amazing memoir read this book And EVERYBODY should read it for the novellawould make a great movie


  5. says:

    Wolf Willow is a personal memoir by Wallace Stegner whose fiction and non fiction writings capture a deep sense of the western places he called home during the early part of his life The book takes its title from a willow particular to the Cypress Hills the area of southern Saskatchewan where Stegner spent part of his early years Unlike many memoirists and fiction writers from small rural towns Stegner writes not as one who was cynical and embitterered by the experience Rather he recognizes the conditions of the place physical and otherwise that shaped both the strengths and the limitations of its peopleThe first part of the book chronicles the period before the town he lived in Whitemud was settled He gives us deeply evocative descriptions of the topography of the place the peoples native to the area and the defining event of drawing the national boundary between the US and Canada along the 49th parallel called the Medicine line We learn of the different tribes the metis who were half breed traders the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who pacified the area in a very different way than the American Cavalry and the transition from buffalo to cattle herdsThe middle section of the book does something novel for a memoir Stegner inserts a fictional account of the terrible winter of 1906 that or less marked the end of cattle ranching The account is absolutely riveting the majority of which is narrated by a greenhorn cowboy who joins up to herd the cattle through the winter As the terrible cold and blizzards set in we see the gradual transition from trying to save the herd to physical survival of the menThe final part of the book chronicles the settling of Whitemud after this terrible winter and the attempts at turning the area into an agricultural Eden In the end Stegner's family fails to do so as did many others as they slammed up against the hard reality of insufficient rainfall west of the 100th meridian where their land was locatedIn the epilogue we are reminded that the book began with a return visit to Whitemud by Stegner We see a remarkable portrait of town father Corky Jones and the strengths and struggles and limits of this rural community And we see Stegner's appreciation for how this community shaped him even though he and his family couldn't remainThis book is one reason I consider Stegner as one of this country's great writers of place along with Wendell Berry Most of us just live in places What both Stegner and Berry do is help us understand places and how they help shape the lives of the people in those places perhaps challenging us to begin to notice our own places and how they shape us


  6. says:

    This wonderful collection of essays and fiction about the last Western frontier is both romance and anti romance Writing in the 1950s Stegner captures the breath taking beauty of the unbroken plains of southwest Saskatchewan and the excitement of its settlment at the turn of the century Part memoir the book recounts the years of his boyhood in a small town along the Whitemud River in 1914 1919 the summers spent on the family's homestead 50 miles away along the Canadian US border His book is also an account of the loss of that Eden and the failed promise of agricultural development in this semi arid region with thin top soilStegner is a gifted intelligent writer able to turn the people and events of history into compelling reading The opening section of the book describes the experience of being on the plains and specifically in the area where Stegner was a boy And it lays out the geography of that land a distant range of hills the river the coulees the town which the book will return to again and againThe following section evokes the period of frontier Canada's early exploration the emergence of the metis culture the destruction of the buffalo herds the introduction of rangeland cattle and then wave upon wave of settlement pushing the last of the plains Indians westward and northward A chapter is devoted to the surveying of the boundary along the Canada US border; another chapter describes the founding of the Mounted Police and its purely Canadian style of bringing law and order to the wild westThe middle section of the book is a novella and a short story about the winter of 1906 1907 In the longer piece eight men rounding up cattle are caught on the open plains in an early blizzard Stegner builds the drama and the peril of their situation artfully and convincingly The final section of the book returns to Stegner's memories of the town and the homestead ending with his family's departure for MontanaStegner lived at a time and in a place where a person born in the 20th century could still experience something of the sweep of history that transformed the American plains I've read many books about the West and because of his depth of thought his gifts as a writer and his unflinching eye Stegner's work ranks for me among the best I heartily recommend this book


  7. says:

    I wish I could remember the name of every author and every book I've ever read I can't My memory is reliable for about a year's worth of reading After that only the most remarkable books good and bad stick To aid my memory I have a list of everything I've read going back to 1987 Despite my list keeping I'm still surprised sometimes when I rediscover an author I've mentioned this happening with Neil Gaiman and now it's happened with Wallace StegnerWallace Stegner was a Canadian author who wrote fiction and non fiction Back in 2005 I thoroughly enjoyed Angle of Repose Now for the Canada Reads 3 challenge I've read one of his non fiction books Wolf WillowWolf Willow is formally a memoir but it's a memoir in the same way that Tales from Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett is It's part memoir part history and part fictionPerhaps I don't know enough about the history of the border area between Saskatchewan Montana and North Dakota but the book didn't hold my attention as Angle of Repose didThere were a few moments though that I will remember beyond the point where I forget the title the author and when I read it The first of those is Stegner's description of the culture shock between winter and summer During the winter he traveled north into town to go to school There he was clearly in Canada Then during the summer he'd be on the farm plowing the fields that butted up against the 49th parallel He could through rocks into the United States He watched life go by on America prairies As a kid growing on a border town I related to Stegner's sentimentsMy second favorite scene was a description of a particular Mountie who was a local legend for his ability to get his man no matter the circumstances With the rural location and the I'm guessing exaggerated description of his feats I couldn't help but think of Benton Fraiser from Due South


  8. says:

    I don't know why it took me so long to get through this I liked itI think it was because the chapters were too long for it to be an effective bedside table book I kept falling asleep no fault of the book I chose this because I like Stegner's writing and this is kind of in the world of my studies it's about his childhood right on the border between Saskatchewan and Montana He writes about existing in two worlds in a way In the winter they lived and went to school in town celebrated Canadian holidays read books by British or Canadian writers got the Canadian side of history as regards say the War of 1812 and from 1914 on were at war In the summer they farmed a parcel right on the border and were actually closer to American towns and so they bought American goods and celebrated the 4th of July and weren't at war until 1917 I like the style of this book too it starts as memoir and history and then goes into a few chapters of fiction that deal with life in the region during the decades before the town was built and Stegner got there Driving cattle and whatnot Then it is back to memoir The whole time Stegner is musing on what it means to have grown up in this place during the last gasp of great plains homesteading And what it means to have failed since his family homestead never amounted to anything and eventually they left There is some really thoughtful stuff here For her sake I regretted that miserable homestead and blamed my father for the blind and ignorant lemming impulse that brought us to it But on my own account I would not have missed itHow better could a boy have known loneliness which I must think a good thing to know?How does one know what wilderness has meant to Americans unless he has shared the guilt of wastefully and ignorantly tampering with it in the name of Progress?


  9. says:

    “Desolate? Forbidding? There was never a country that in its good moments was beautiful Even in drouth or dust storm or blizzard it is the reverse of monotonous once you have submitted to it with all the senses You don’t get out of the wind but learn to lean and suint against it You don’t escape sky and sun but wear them in your eyeballs and on your back You become acutely aware of yourself The world is very large the sky even larger and you are very small But also the world is flat empty nearly abstract and in its flatness you are a challenging upright thing as sudden as an exclamation mark as enigmatic as a uestion mark”In which the brilliant Wallace Stegner wanders through his Wild West childhood and the generalized folkloric history of Saskatchewan It meandered a bit at times perhaps than I would have liked but his considerable power as a raconteur carries you throughout “I may not know who I am but I know where I am from I can say to myself that a good part of my private and social character the kinds of scenery and weather and people and humor I respond to the prejudices I wear like dishonorable scars the affections that sometimes waken me from middle aged sleep with a rush of undiminished love the virtues I respect and the weaknesses I condemn the code I try to live by the special ways I fail at it and the kinds of shame I feel when I do the models and heroes I follow the colors and shapes that evoke my deepest pleasure the way I adjudicate between personal desire and personal responsibility have been in good part scored into me by that little womb village and the lovely lonely exposed prairie of the homestead”


  10. says:

    This book is an oreo of memoir and local history sandwiching a novella It’s wonderful at evoking place and space and I love Stegner’s musings on a landscape imprinting itself on a child between 8 and 12 and forever shaping that child’s worldviewPublished in the mid 50s this book is remembrance of Stegner’s time growing up on the border of Saskatchewan and Montana and his later dive into the colonial history of the area I also grew up where prairie meets hills and I think he’s right I didn’t live anywhere else until I did my undergraduate in Halifax Even though I love the city I really missed the wide open spaces and high blue skies of the prairieThough a lot of this book really rang true to me and a lot of his analyses like the way that small towns force bookish people to either bend or leave still ring true some of his discussion of Indigenous peoples is definitely of a different time Though he’s generally admiring of the people that lived in the area and wishes that he had learned some of their history instead of the history of the British Empire in school there’s a lot of noble savage rhetoricThis is a wonderful exploration of a time and place in Canada that is often overlooked and the combination of memoir history and fiction is a novel way to evoke time and place I’d definitely recommend picking this up