Heart Songs and Other Stories was the first Proulx book I read, and I was hooked. Then came Postcards, The Shipping News, Accordion Crimes, three collections of Wyoming Stories, and now, Bird Cloud: A Memoir.
It’s not a memoir in the traditional sense, but no matter. I’m such a Proulx fan, I’ll read anything she writes. If there are details about her life she’d rather keep to herself, she has that right. We learn enough: she’s shy, she likes to watch birds, she’s interested in geology, history, archeology, paleontology, and ornithology, to name but a few. Her collection of books would fill a library. She’s an ”All But the Thesis” PhD. She lived in Japan for several years; her family moved frequently when she was young. She’s been married and divorced a number of times, and she has three sons and a daughter.
Bird Cloud is the story of Proulx’s love affair with Wyoming and her efforts to build a house where she could live out her life surrounded by the things she loves. But not cows. She and the James Gang, her builders, are constantly chasing them off her property. They either break through or jump over her fences, cropping the grass and sinking their hoofs into the soil, killing the native plants Proulx would like to re-establish.
The story of the actual construction of the house is sandwiched between stories from her childhood, a genealogy that confuses the reader as much as it does the writer, and a brief history of Wyoming. The final chapter is an account of the year Proulx lived at Bird Cloud.
One of Proulx’s strengths as a writer… oh, how can I single out just one? She has so many! – one of her strengths is that she, the author, never intrudes on the story. Yet when you read one of her novels, essays, or stories, you know where her sympathies lie. She loves the eagles that nest in the cliff behind Bird Cloud. She does not like the professional hunters who wiped out whole populations of big game so they could display the heads in their English mansions. She is impatient with workers who are less than competent in what they do. She has disdain for liars, cheats, and ignoramuses. She is less than happy with the realtor who told her the county would plow the road to her house when the snows came.
Proulx spent one full year living at Bird Cloud. At the end of the year, before the December snows of 2007 shut her road, before she could be “jailed at the end of the impassable road,” she fled to New Mexico. The last line of the book is one of the saddest lines I’ve ever read. “… I had to face the fact that no matter how much I loved the place it was not, and never could be, the final home of which I had dreamed.”
Bird Cloud is now up for sale. Asking price, 3.7 million. There’s a grainy picture of the house online, but the realtor will not send you a brochure unless you fill out a form. Not many people can afford a house that costs that amount of money, but I just might fill out that form and see what happens.