When Bill Gruber left Philadelphia for graduate school in Idaho, he and his wife decided to experience true rural living. His longing for the solitude and natural beauty that Thoreau found on Walden Pond led him to buy an abandoned log cabin and its surrounding forty acres in Alder Creek, a town considered small even by Idaho standards. But farm living was far from the bucolic wonderland he expected: he now had to rise with the sun to finish strenuous chores, cope with the lack of modern conveniences, and shed his urban pretensions to become a real local. Despite the initial hardships, he came to realize that reality was far better than his wistful fantasies. Instead of solitude, he found a warm, welcoming community; instead of rural stolidity, he found intelligence and wisdom; instead of relaxation, he found satisfaction in working the land. What began as a two-year experiment became a seven-year love affair with a town he'll always consider home.
In 1972 Gruber left his job as a New York journalist for graduate school at the University of Idaho, where in simplicity and solitude, he and his wife would homestead their 40 acres in rural Alder Creek. At first, their days "were full of emptiness," Gruber marveled; he could hear "traces of conversation" nearly half a mile away and, standing on his porch, listen to the falling snow. But even if the population was sparse, neighbors knew each others' business and were remarkably tolerant of each others' idiosyncrasies. People distrusted hippies, but "hippies were always somebody other than the person they were talking to." As Gruber settles in, he meditates on the aesthetics of junked cars ("a peasant's version of garden statuary"), the Zen of felling trees or the dangers of the chain saw, which with "diminutive innocence" was "forever looking for ways to get you." Now an English professor at Emory University, Gruber is so confident in his writing that he doesn't hesitate to reach for an obscure term (e.g., simulacrum, tessellation, bricolage, lipogram) if it makes his point more precisely. Nor does he have qualms with enjoying the dated idiom of his rural neighbors, with their iceboxes, davenports and parlors. While Gruber's writing is a gift, even better are the simple but profound truths he shares: "We sometimes forget that the most important thing we can do with our lives is to make them models for somebody else to follow." Gruber's Idaho is like the Troy first and famously uncovered by 19th-century German archeologist Schliemann: in actuality, there isn't a whole lot there, but the author makes it seem full and magical, all the same. (Aug. 15) Forecast: Winner of Bread Loaf's Bakeless Prize, this trim volume deserves wide readership. It's a "guy's" memoir so nuanced and literate that women will enjoy it, too. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.