Issue 2:1 | Review | Thomas Rain Crowe

Book: Hunting From Home : A Year Afield in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Author: Christopher Camuto

Publisher: Norton | 2003 | $24.95 cloth | 320 pages
Reviewer: Thomas Rain Crowe


When outdoorsman and nature writer Christopher Camuto goes hunting, he takes more than his gun. He takes with him: all his senses and all his powers of observation, as well as deadly aim relating to reportage and what he will bring back to his readers--we who are lucky enough to share in the feast of this man's hunt. A hunter's hunter and a writer's writer, Camuto is one of those rare "birds" (much akin to those he stalks and hunts--quail, pheasant, turkey or grouse) who doesn't separate himself from his environment. In this case, the environment is in and around the farms, woodlands and streams of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where he makes his home.


Hunting From Home is Camuto's third book in the last decade, following previous signature classics Another Country and A Fly Fisherman's Blue Ridge, and is something of a nexus of the first two books, gathering in the best qualities of both and bringing them all back home--in and around the  two-hundred-acre farm "tucked into the rumpled upper end of what used to be called the Valley of Virginia about halfway between the trim-and-tidy college town of Lexington and the rough-and-tumble factory town of Buena Vista." In Hunting From Home Camuto takes the reader through a year of intense experiences: hunting grouse with his setter through snowbound forests in winter; wading trout streams in spring; closely observing birds and wildlife through summer; exploring the backcountry cutting wood, and hunting deer in autumn. While Camuto writes incisively about the hunter's paradoxical love of the game he pursues, he also hunts in the
broadest sense possible, searching out and witnessing the life of the things he loves--brook trout and black bear, hawks and warblers--with the idea of sharing the pleasures and preoccupations of a pastoral life lived with deep satisfaction, on his Highland Farm residence in the shadow of the Blue Ridge.


Never far from home, and with the sensitive insight of Emerson and the rapier-like thrust of Thoreau, in Hunting From Home Camuto is firing on all cylinders--synapses crackling, connected and engaged. "Perhaps staying is a way of passing through," he says, sage-like, and yet paradoxically before continuing: "The world is sacred because it is, not because it is a sign of something else....You take what wildness from a river you bring to it.  The wildness is there in many forms without you, but you must practice discovery to find it....Give yourself over to it and a river leads you to the fish.  What makes you a fisherman over time is being interested in the same things as fish. Being in a river gets you thinking like a fish!...The sound of the big river below sorting stones like a shaman....


While Camuto can write wisely with the best of them, ("I like things the way they are--tangibly mysterious, the known and the unknown set out in the open side by side.")  he can also dance rings around a soapbox. And watch out if he should actually climb up on one! "When the news fools chatter on television about the human genome, they miss the point. I don't need to hear that they have unlocked the secrets of fingers and toes, so that some biotech firm can clone more movie stars and athletes. I want to hear that they have found imprints of the Tigris and Euphrates in our genes!"


While this may sound a lot like other well-known patrons and protectors of the environment--such as Thomas Berry and Gary Snyder--Camuto is nobody's clone. In fact, for my money, Camuto is, pound for pound, word for word, the  heavyweight champion of Southern nature writing. His book Another Country is, in my mind, the canon and the standard by which all other nature books are gauged.  Hunting From Home simply raises the bar for this man's vault into literary history.


In this new book, with blackbirds "bursting," waxwings "gusting," buntings "clinging," kestrels "slicing," and swallowtails "festooning," he doesn't need anyone in the background chirping about his talents and accomplishments, as his song is all too evident in the text itself.  Champions don't need champions, they can speak for themselves. "The pinky-wide yellow beauties are the platonic form of the mayfly, their diaphanous yellow wings as pale as the pale evening into which they disappear. Unless, of course, a plump trout should slurp that diaphanousness down before dorothea takes flight."

Here, as always, I take the position that the artist (in this case, the wordsmith) should always have the last word. This is, I believe, as prudent as it is a proper courtesy. The "pudding" followed by "the proof."  For Hunting From Home there need be no exception made; and it ends, rightly, if  not prophetically, with these words: "Perhaps we are whatever we are doing when sunset catches us, working, walking, the ends of the earth all around us--on Highland Farm and on this hard-used planeteverything aspiring to be and to show us what it would. Either everything matters or nothing matters.  Either we are all always at home or all everywhere homeless."