A stunningly beautiful book, The Carry Home is the chronicling of Gary Ferguson’s grief after his wife Jane dies in a canoeing accident, but it’s also a story of life in nature, of environmentalism, the culture of the West, of wanderlust, and what it means to truly love. Spending much of their lives trekking around the country reminded me of Kerouac’s On the Road; the detailed descriptions of nature felt like Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim on Tinker Creek, and the journey from grief to acceptance felt like the self-help book I had not yet discovered—one not mired in self pity. I loved every aspect of this book which alternates among many stories: the canoe accident and its search and rescue; Gary and Jane’s childhoods; their early days living in run-down mountain cabins and 25 years of traveling in the same van; stories of the West like the Sagebrush Rebels of the early 80s declaring war on environmentalism and the constant war on wolves; the stories of Native Americans; and the many many stories of life on the trail, much of it in and around Yellowstone.
It’s hard not to contemplate and compare their intimate relationship with our own—the regular conversations they have about goals and fears and vulnerability. The way they easily share innermost thoughts and book excerpts and the effect of past experiences. In one of their conversations about life and work, I stopped in my proverbial tracks when Jane talks about her search and rescue operations as an EMT and people getting lost which leads to the realization that they aren’t in control which often leads to “baffling behavior”: She says to Gary, “It was the anxiety about what might happen rather than what was actually happening that sent people off ambling in circles” (190). That seemed like a prudent metaphor for life, well beyond people getting lost on a wilderness rail.
Ferguson invites us on his journey to distribute his wife’s ashes in five different remote locations throughout the West, and there is so much to learn from, love, and contemplate about a meaningful life on this journey.