Cover image for Where rivers change direction
Where rivers change direction
Spragg, Mark, 1952-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Salt Lake City : University of Utah Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
267 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F767.P3 S67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Publishers Weekly's starred review calls this collection of essays about a boyhood spent on a ranch in Wyoming "a piercing voice from the heartland...(a) resonant autobiography (that) weds the venerable Western tradition of frontier exploration of self and nature with the masculine school of writing stretching from Hemingway to Mailer".

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Wyoming, land of wind and dust, of suicides, loneliness and fierce lovemaking, of uninterrupted vistas stretching 20 miles in every direction, of hard-drinking men and fighting women, forms the backdrop to Spragg's brave and beautiful coming-of-age memoir. Readers expecting a quaint, picturesque yarn will find instead an elemental, powerful confrontation with the naked realities of living and dying. Growing up on the high Yellowstone Plateau on the state's oldest dude ranch, a family business dating back to 1898, Spragg wrangles horses for his taciturn father, trying to win his respect and approval. At age 14, Spragg shoots and mercy-kills his beloved, aged, sickly steed, whose corpse will be used as bait for bears targeted by human hunters. The teenage Spragg joins his father on hunts, an experience he recalls ruefully (he no longer hunts, he reports, and became a vegetarian for five years). With self-deprecating wryness, the author, a screenwriter and essayist, re-creates adolescent crushes and hijinx. From quotidian eventsÄcommuning with horses, attending a livestock auctionÄhe fashions existential encounters with nature, self, fear, death, God. Composed in clean, crisp prose, his loping narrative is peopled with memorable characters, like his 40-ish mentor and bunkmate, John, a smiling, battle-scarred WWII veteran, or the mediumistic Greenwich Village waiter from India who tells Spragg, then 27, about his dead infant sister, reducing him to tears. Encompassing his marriage, divorce and remarriage, the book closes with Spragg's almost unbearably poignant account of caring for his mother, dying of emphysema and housebound on an oxygen inhalator. A piercing voice from the heartland, this resonant autobiography weds the venerable Western tradition of frontier exploration of self and nature with the masculine school of writing stretching from Hemingway to Mailer. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Spragg's first book is about growing up on the country's oldest dude ranch--and much more. A rare accomplishment in "sense of place" literature, this deftly evokes life in the wide-open of Wyoming's Continental Divide. In each of these 14 essays, his direct, spacious, tangible prose vibrates with the fragile crisis and joy of a man face to face with nature and himself. (LJ 10/15/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I don't know why I've come awake. I listen for horses. I do not hear their bells, their steps on the frost-stiffened ground. I listen harder. I listen for a bear. I listen for the huffs, snorts, the coughing of a bear come into camp. There is only the deep silence of the night. I imagine a bear standing quietly by the side of my tent. A grizzly. Waiting. Aware of me. The thought of a bear thrills like a horror film escaped from its theater. My own murder stands vividly in my imagination. The dark night grinds down hard. I imagine a bear's small, dark eyes watering and intent in the cold air. I imagine a bear's nostrils flexing, breathing in my scent, its gut grumbling, whining for the taste of me. I think of a bear's teeth, its claws. I listen for the clicking of teeth. I think of the thick, dish-shaped skull--the brain inside that skull anxious for extra prehibernation calories. I pinch my chest, the back of an arm. My body seems soft as lard. I think of myself as food. I pull my woolen watch cap more tightly against my head--over my ears and eyes--and curl my face into the throat of my sleeping bag. I am wearing long underwear--top and bottom--and socks. My jeans and shirt are rolled against my feet at the bottom of the bag. I breathe in the warm, familiar scents of my body and stained clothing--a mixture of woodsmoke, leather, and horse. I think again of the thin canvas wall of the tent. It is black inside. It is black outside. If a hungry bear stands in that blackness the smell of me could draw it against the tent wall. I think of a grizzly's nose pressed against the tent. I think of its mouth watering, scrims of thinning drool sheeting from its black lips. I pull my knees into my chest and flex and imagine my body as unalterable as a knot of steel. I nearly laugh. I've become too old for bullshit fantasies of invincibility. I am now sixteen. I know that if a bear wants me for a meal it can open and spill me as effortlessly as an actual can of beans. Excerpted from Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.