In November, US magazine Harper’s published an excerpt of Proulx’s Bird Cloud, her memoir of building a rural home in a remote swath of Wyoming. The essay mostly concerned itself with birds – particularly the eagles that called a not-so-distant cliff home, and the various less mythic birds who lived in their shadow.
The excerpt possessed a hypnotic rhythm; the way Proulx catalogued the birds’ actions imbued the animals with a talismanic quality. The short bits about being snowed into her new home read as nothing more than grounding stakes to a more ethereal story.
Readers looking for that same warm tone in Bird Cloud will find it, but unfortunately not in book-length form. The majority of the book is about Proulx’s struggle to build her home, an attempt to carve her niche into the Wyoming earth while in her 70s. One certainly can’t begrudge Proulx the building of her dream home, but then Proulx can’t begrudge a reader who finds little to empathise with when the large Japanese soak tub’s installation hits a snag. Though she writes about the construction disasters, entrapping snowstorms and various other maladies with humour and candour, there’s a disconnect between the Proulx preoccupied with her domestic life and the one with her eye turned toward the cliff.
The rest of the book is comprised of a scientist’s love of the surrounding wildlife, and a historian’s interest in the land she now occupies. In this way, the book feels rather oddly divided: the humility that helps to create such beautiful passages about the landscape and its inhabitants is wholly absent from the sections about the big house and its lone resident.