Where Rivers Change Direction

The Fruit of Stone

An Unfinished Life

Bone Fire

Where Rivers Change Direction
Mark Spragg grew up on the oldest dude ranch in Wyoming, a place of unrelenting winds, pitiless blizzards, fierce rivers, and the men who work there have to be tough to survive. He writes lyrically of this world, its animals - horses, bears, elk - and of its people, in particular his parents and John, an old cowboy who became his mentor.
University of Utah Hardcover, 304 pages, 1999
Riverhead Paperback, 304 pages, 2000
ISBN 978-1-5732-2825-1
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BookSense Top Ten (March/April 2000)
Library Journal Books of 1999
Publishing News (UK) Books of the Year
Mountains and Plains Book Award (nonfiction)
Community Reads/One Book selections:
Teton Valley, ID
Fort Collins, CO
Casper, WY
Port Townsend, WA

starred review

A rare accomplishment in 'sense of place' literature, this deftly evokes life in the wide-open of Wyoming's Continental Divide...[His direct, spacious, tangible prose vibrates with the fragile crisis and joy of a man face to face with nature and himself.

starred review

A piercing voice from the heartland, this resonant autobiography weds the venerable Western tradition of frontier exploration of self and nature with the masculine school of writing stretching from Hemingway to Mailer.

Everything is approached with a boy's generous and unwearied heart... The essays have an urgent feel about them and a sense of weightiness.

Beautiful and poetic… a moving, lyrical, sensuous elegy to (Spragg’s) Wyoming childhood and manhood.

The cruel, punishing sound of wind; the rich, earthy smell of horses; the bitter joy of boy becoming man – Spragg’s spare but sensual essays will resonate not only with males and horse lovers, but also with anyone who treasures an examined life.

Spragg paints a vivid portrait of life in the American Outback... an evocative snapshot of a severe, unforgiving landscape... Spragg's finely wrought essays are easily equal to much of the beautiful fiction beginning to define the region.

author of Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

Here is a book for women to read to learn the hearts of men. Here is a book for men to read to curse what they have lost. This soulful book walks us to a place of restoration through the wide open of Wyoming. Mark Spragg is a trustworthy guide on the page and in the world. His words, his stories are a fine example of blood-writing, every sentence alive.

author of Lonesome Dove

Mark Spragg’s essays exhibit a fine sensitivity. This is a book that deserves many readers.

author of Riding the White Horse Home

Spragg’s essays delve more fully and truly into relationships with land, with animals - both domestic and wild - with humans, and with the self than anything else I have read in the broadening literature of the rural West.

author of The Solace of Open Spaces

Stirring, evocative, finely nuanced, gritty-marvelous!

Adopting Bear

I don't know why I've come awake. I listen for horses. I do not hear their bells, their steps on the frost-stiffened ground. I listen harder. I listen for a bear. I listen for the huffs, snorts, the coughing of a bear come into camp. There is only the deep silence of the night. I imagine a bear standing quietly by the side of my tent. A grizzly. Waiting. Aware of me. The thought of a bear thrills like a horror film escaped from its theater. My own murder stands vividly in my imagination. The dark night grinds down hard. I imagine a bear's small, dark eyes watering and intent in the cold air. I imagine a bear's nostrils flexing, breathing in my scent, its gut grumbling, whining for the taste of me. I think of a bear's teeth, its claws. I listen for the clicking of teeth. I think of the thick, dish-shaped skull--the brain inside that skull anxious for extra prehibernation calories. I pinch my chest, the back of an arm. My body seems soft as lard. I think of myself as food. I pull my woolen watch cap more tightly against my head--over my ears and eyes--and curl my face into the throat of my sleeping bag. I am wearing long underwear--top and bottom--and socks. My jeans and shirt are rolled against my feet at the bottom of the bag. I breathe in the warm, familiar scents of my body and stained clothing--a mixture of woodsmoke, leather, and horse. I think again of the thin canvas wall of the tent. It is black inside. It is black outside. If a hungry bear stands in that blackness the smell of me could draw it against the tent wall. I think of a grizzly's nose pressed against the tent. I think of its mouth watering, scrims of thinning drool sheeting from its black lips. I pull my knees into my chest and flex and imagine my body as unalterable as a knot of steel. I nearly laugh. I've become too old for bullshit fantasies of invincibility. I am now sixteen. I know that if a bear wants me for a meal it can open and spill me as effortlessly as an actual can of beans.