Kick starting a process of personal transformation, some venturers launch themselves on pilgrimages to ancient sites like Machu Piccu, Mecca, or Santiago de Compostele. Some, submitting themselves to nature’s chisel choose extreme destinations scaling Himalayan peaks, traversing the Australian desert, or crossing the Antarctic. Other foolhardy souls transplant to new environments inviting changes that reshape them as they confront the challenges that unfold.

Laura Bell, not to be confused with the actress Laura Bell Bundy, or the Australian teenage fantasy writer, chose to move from a well defined scholastic circle in Kentucky to the wilds of Wyomings Bighorn Basin shortly after graduation from college. Todd Wilkinson of The Christian Science Monitor describes her work.


The Christian Science Monitor
By Todd Wilkinson

For the past few decades, the American West has asserted itself as a powerful muse for contemporary, place-based memoirs, giving voice to a group of remarkable women writers that includes Annie Proulx, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Clearman Blew, Judy Blunt, Linda Hasselstrom, Gretel Ehrlich, and Annick Smith, among others. “Claiming Ground,” Bell’s debut, marks her elevation into that group.

Bell’s metamorphosis slowly unfolds in prose that is both rustically piquant and lyrical. She begins her journey as a wet-behind-the-ears college-age idealist, smitten with the dream of finding a real cowboy. But what she learns over time is that wisdom is hard earned and marked by humbling indifference from the natural world.

Perhaps the sweetest revelations are that, amid all her searching and setbacks – which include a failed marriage and death of a loved one – Bell’s parents never judge or abandon her. She realizes that next to family, the only thing resolutely permanent and undeceiving is the land.

Her theologian father validates her eventual decision to work as a professional environmentalist during a chat about redemption: “The idea of redemption has meaning in terms of the work you do, in terms of conservation,” he says. “You pay the price and redeem the land for future generations; the land is freed, saved.”

In both “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad,” Homer teaches us that the secret to enlightenment does not necessarily reside on the other side of the world. Rather, it is revealed through introspection, the kind distilled by Bell. Such introspection brings the simple, invisible elements – the important ones ready to be discovered at our feet – into focus.

Todd Wilkinson lives in Bozeman, Mont., and is writing a book about Ted Turner.
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