A number of years ago, I read Sharon Butala‘s best-selling account of her life on a cattle ranch in southwest Saskatchewan. She was in her mid-thirties when she married her second husband, and made the move from her urban setting to his more isolated one, from an academic environment to country living. As she explored her new life and landscape, she discovered a new connection with the natural world and reflected deeply on rural life, belonging, and home.
She called her book The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature, and near the end, she wrote:
In the city for short visits now I studied people’s houses, or the rows of condominiums or the new apartment buildings, assessing how close they were to each other, how big their yards were, what their occupants had for views, trying to imagine how I would live again in the city and what arrangement might be acceptable should something happen to Peter, or to the ranch. At home walking in the hills or down narrow country roads, I tried to imagine life without this space, this welcome, close presence of grass and sky. My dreams of the blossoming twig took on new meaning. For without my realizing it, instead of being unable to imagine spending the rest of my life in the country, I found to my surprise that now I couldn’t imagine how I might survive if I had to leave it to go back to the city to live. (183)
Flash forward to this month and the release of Where I Live Now: A Journey Through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope by Sharon Butala (Simon & Schuster Canada, 2017). Her husband, Peter, has died from esophageal and stomach cancer, their beloved native grasslands are now part of a heritage conservation area, and she has indeed returned to the city to live. What she couldn’t imagine at one time has now become her reality.
This book chronicles her “journey through love and loss to healing and hope” as expressed in her subtitle, but it is also much more. As in her earlier work, she takes her readers into the countryside, and she reflects on her experience both as a rancher’s wife and a writer. Although my own setting is thoroughly suburban, I resonate with what she says about the need for solitude to write and how the struggles in her writing life connect to her spiritual life.
I love the honesty and clarity of the author’s voice as she looks back on her experience with Peter and country living:
It was a terrible life; it was an enchanted life; it was a blessed life.
And of course, one day it ended. (xv)
This has been my lovely slow read over the last number of weeks, a story of love and loss that is lyrical and achingly beautiful.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: At one time, author Sharon Butala couldn’t imagine spending the rest of her life in the country, but later she couldn’t imagine returning to live in the city. Do you feel more at home in the country or in the city, and why?
Disclosure: I received a copy of Where I Live Now from Simon & Schuster Canada. The choice to review and the views expressed are my own.
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4 thoughts on “A Journey Through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope”
April, thank you for reviewing this book. My husband and I went to Mcnally Robinson to hear Butala speak about her book last week. I wanted to purchase it and read it right away, but we have been downsizing books of late, and I thought I would wait and get it some time at the library.
Unfortunately, in her interview with Maurice Mierau, Butala did not touch much on her grieving and loss, but spoke more about the fact that their ranch has become a heritage conservation area. I got the feeling that it was difficult for her to speak about the grief part and she sort of evaded that.
I took a memoir writing workshop with Butala a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I know her book will be a great read.
I would have loved to join you at McNally Robinson, especially since I’ve never seen Sharon Butala in person or heard her speak. I can imagine that it would be more difficult to talk about her grief, and I felt that in her book too.
I can appreciate your working at downsizing books which can make for some hard decisions. I love having my own books and supporting authors by purchasing, but I also think of the public library as an extension of my personal library. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Where I Live Now.
Could I read it? It sounds interesting.
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Definitely add this to your to-read list!