I wrote a thesis on Wallace Stegner’s use of landscape in college, and my son, Matt, read from Stegner’s Wilderness Letter at my recent marriage in Capitol Reef. My experience with Stegner’s writing feels like my relationship with the land: expansive, personal, dangerous, vulnerable, sublime. Stegner drew me into his mountain valleys, glistening trees, waving grassland, and the beauty he offered encouraged my own relationship with the natural world. Stegner’s intimate depictions hold me in safety whenever I bare body and soul to the vastness of the western sky or the porous roughness of desert rock. Stegner takes me right into the wild lands that frame his writing, and in each puissant description of landscape I see a glimpse of his own deeply felt and intimate sense of place. Join his protagonist Susan Ward in the mountains above Leadville, Colorado, as she discovers strength and wonder in this excerpt from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Angle of Repose. Stegner said of the book, “It’s perfectly clear that if every writer is born to write one story, that’s my story.” Indeed, to read Angle is to learn of love and loss, adversity and triumph, past and present, all through the presence of place. Enjoy one of our favorite passage of this great American novel. ~Kirsten Johanna Allen
From Leadville: Chapter 3
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Pricey showed Susan some of the incongruous possibilities of Leadville. He had been the one delegated to take her riding, and they were down on the lake Fork of the Arkansas at a place where they must ford. It was a time of high water, the infant Arkansas was swift and curly. “Come on, Pricey!” Susan called, and quirted her horse into the water.
The creek broke against his knees, and then as he surged carefully ahead, feeling for footing.
His hoofs were delicate among the slippery bottom stones. Susan pulled her foot out of the stirrup of the sidesaddle and sate precariously, thrilled and dazzled by the cold rush going underneath. When the water shallowed, the horse lunged out, shedding great drops, and as she felt for the stirrup she turned to see how Pricey was making it. There he came, strangling the horn with both hands. From midstream he sent her a sweet, desperate smile.
She guided her horse through willows and alders and runted birches, leaned and weaved until the brush ended and she broke into the open. She was at the edge of a meadow miles long, not a tree in it except for the wiggling line that marked the course of the Lake Fork. Stirrup-high grass flowed and flawed in the wind, and its motion revealed and hid and revealed again streaks and splashes of flowers—rust of paintbrush, blue of pentstemon, yellow of buttercups, scarlet of gilia, blue-tinged white of columbines. All around, rimming the valley, bare peaks patched with snow looked down form above the scalloped curve of timberline.
All but holding her breath, she pushed into the field of grass. The pony’s legs disappeared, his shoulders forced a passage, grass heads and flowers snagged in her stirrup and saddle skirts. The movement around and beneath her was as dizzying as the fast current of the creek had been a moment before. The air was that high blue mountain kind that fizzes in the lungs. Rising in her stirrup to get her face and chest full of it, she gave, as it were, a standing ovation to the rim cut out against the blue. From a thousand places in the grass little gems of unevaporated water winked back the sun.
She heard Pricey come up and stop just behind her. His horse blew. But she was filling her eyes, and did not turn. Then she heard Pricey say, in his fine cultivated Oxonian voice, strongly, without the trace of a stammer,
Oh, tenderly the haughty day
Fills his blue urn with fire.
Who but Pricey? Where but Leadville?