No, Bird Cloud is about Annie Proulx in the same way that a dissected frog is about a microscope; only by inference, omission, and distance do we begin to see what it is that Proulx does not want to say plainly.
Her restless inquisitiveness infects all elements of the book: from her examination of her life-long rootlessness, to her historical digging into the ugly history of the land’s former owners, to the imperfection of all human creations. Her careful mapping of the property unearths faint reminders of its original inhabitants and their fate.
Her reading about the wild-fowl of the area leads her to the story of an infamous eagle-killer, who would roam the Wyoming skies in a helicopter, rifle in hand.
These anecdotes and forgotten histories are the only real path into Proulx's mind; she tells us very little of what she feels or thinks. Her troubled family history gets the slightest brushstroke: the centuries-long genealogy of her “hard to know father” is here, but any sense of what Proulx thinks of him is omitted. She recalls carrying one of a pair of sisters, twins, across the lawn as a child, but they never appear in the text again. She has a couple of children, but their father remains loudly silent.
It’s hard not to see her minute re-enactment of the house’s construction as a metaphor for her own life: beautifully conceived, carefully and painfully crafted, but in the end cold, lonely, and unsatisfying. Her similarities to her most iconic character, Enis del Mar, become distressingly clear: a wounded loner whose temporary retreats into the high country are ultimately upended by the brokenness of this mortal life.
By the close, I found myself seeing Proulx much as Proulx saw her beautiful, damaged homestead: “Wildlife has cautiously moved onto the property, several elk now spending the winter near Jack Creek. Owls enjoy the busque at the east end. Skunks wander around, eating insect and bothering no one. A sage grouse restoration project is in the talking stage; it would produce water and shade for these birds. The land has generously responded to the slightest care. I wish I had a lifetime to watch it recover.”
Soon though, the realities of this feral fortress of solitude wear on Proulx, and like her beloved pair of Golden Eagles, it is time for her to move on to someplace free of the stain of self.
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