Deep Creek – BookBar Book Review
“For now,” writes Pam Houston in Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, “I want to sit vigil with the earth…I want to write unironic odes to her beauty, which is still potent, if not completely intact.”
If a vigil is “a period of keeping awake…especially to keep watch or pray,” then I would call Houston’s latest work a vigil to our changing planet. Part memoir, part history lesson, and part warning siren, the essays in Deep Creek feel like a love letter—to growing older, to work one loves, to friends, to travel, to animals and the Earth, and, most of all, to her 120-acre ranch.
Purchased with 5 percent down and a signed hardcover of Cowboys Are My Weakness, Houston’s ranch in Creede, Colorado is the collection’s anchor. Houston explores the parental abuse and neglect of her childhood, her writing career, travel, and the fragility of the Earth under the threat of climate change, all through the lens of place.
Deep Creek strikes a delicate balance between despair and optimism, such as in the essay, “Diary of a Fire,” which details the wildfire that threatened to destroy Houston’s ranch in the summer of 2013. Though her ranch and her animals were spared, Houston does not hesitate to state the unforgiving truth—the earth is being destroyed, and we are the ones destroying it.
And yet, on the other side of this despair is an unwavering sense of the sacred. Walking through the burn areas after the fire has been extinguished, Houston senses a holiness and a beauty in the fact that life remains. The hope isn’t that people will be okay, because it feels like we may have already passed the point of return in that respect, but that the Earth will be—once she “finally gets sad and mad enough to shake its most determined parasite off her back.”
It’s a somber thought, but a truthful one. And the willingness to look at what’s difficult is a strength of Deep Creek. Whether it’s her difficult upbringing or the realities that accompany stewardship to the land and its animals, Houston does not turn away. The ranch has helped her to heal from the difficulties in her life, and it holds the space for what may yet come.
I heard it said once that to love is to pay attention. If that’s true, then Deep Creek is a work of deep, true love. Written in beautiful, detailed prose, it’s easy to find yourself walking next to Houston through deep snow drifts on your way to check on the horses during a storm, or immersing yourself in the vast solitude that is a night spent staring up at the Milky Way.
Most refreshing, (and herein enters my personal bias), is reading a story of a woman who finds nourishment and healing in something other than a man. Romantic relationships take up very little space in Deep Creek, and it’s evident, as Houston writes in a nod to her previous work, “I finally realized I could be the cowboy.”