~ from cats, dogs and nature to the flowering of body, mind and spirit ~

Saturday, April 28, 2012


When I drove to Arizona from Maine in June 2011, I took what I thought would be a short-cut. Turning off of I-40 at Holbrook onto 77, at first it was a faster drive. I passed through Snowflake and Show Low, eager to soon arrive at our new home near Casa Grande. However, as I drove from Show Low to Globe the terrain rapidly changed and I found myself driving 25-35mph on narrow switchbacks along the mountain roads bordering the Salt River. Magnificent views! I couldn't help but stop to take pictures in spite of how tired I was after the nearly 2000-mile journey for the two dogs, five cats, and me.
Salt River Canyon

Why am I writing about this now? Because I was reminded of the splendid landscape while reading the latest of our Library Book Club's selection Filaree ~ A Novel of an American Life by Marguerite Noble. Ms. Noble was born in Arizona in 1910 and her novel is a fictional account of her mother's life in the Arizona Territory. My own travels cross-country seemed pleasant and even luxurious compared to those detailed in the book.

The first half of the novel takes place in what is now the Tonto National Forest--which is what I drove through on my way here. I will have to make another journey north this year to explore the land that Ms. Noble talks about through her protagonist Melissa; the road I drove from Globe to Show Low is south of the book's Filaree Ranch, with the Roosevelt Dam between them.

The book itself was a fast read, albeit a depressing one for the most part. Not just because of the hardships that Melissa endured, but because she didn't have any gumption (as her sister told her more than once) and could rarely find even a single moment of joy. And yet, who knows how each of us might respond to the kind of life that the author's mother experienced?

As stated in a review on the back of the book, Ms. Noble "tells her story in plain country American dialect" but there are glimpses of poetic flow as well such as

She looked at the filaree covering the yard. The rains had come generously at last, and it had responded. The land everywhere was layered with the plant and stippled with its blossoms, as if quilted in a green-and-purple fabric--a fabric fastened by the giant pins of the saguaro cactus.

Melissa also reminded me of how we often, in hindsight, see more delight in an experience once time has provided distance from the pain we experienced alongside it. She reminded me of the possibility of finding that delight right now rather than waiting for it to bubble up years or decades later. She saw her sister's joy in life, but Melissa simply couldn't reach into that space and embrace any happiness for herself. Near the end of the book, Melissa desires to return after leaving The Mesa years earlier:
Melissa lusted for the land, The Mesa land. It had been fourteen years since the wagon had taken her from that valley cradled between the Sierra Anchas and the Mazatzals. She wanted to tell Mary Belle [her daughter] about the hurting inside her, which compelled her to go back, to see the country that had taken so many years of her youth. Melissa longed to see Shug [her sister], to hear her laughter, to feel her love of life, her warmth, her caring, the support of her strength. She wanted again to see the distant jagged peaks, the endless sky, to touch again the broad flat earth cut by Tonto Creek, to walk in the country she had pushed from her thoughts for so many years.
All in all, I'm not sure I would recommend this book to everyone because I found it depressing and frustrating for the first half to three-quarters of reading. On the other hand, the details it contains of a woman's life 'out West' at the turn of the century are remarkable. As with everything else I've experienced and seen this past year, there are treasures and joy everywhere, in unexpected nooks and crannies.


  1. Wow, that is quite a view! I recently learned what filaree was when identifying tiny purple flowers I found along a trail. I love the poetic comparison of the plant to quilted fabric and also the pretty circle of cacti in the last image which reminds me of a jeweled brooch.

  2. It's hard for me to read a book where the protagonist has no gumption...

  3. It's an amazing drive, Diane...I'm eager to do it again and then go over into the Superstition Mountains.

    Vicki, glad I'm not the only one. ;-)


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