"An Uncrowded Place": a young outdoorsman in Michigan
February 02, 2009
In this slim hardcover memoir, Bob Butz tells what it's like to live in northwoods Michigan as a guy trying to make a living selling stories to NYC how-to magazines. The freelance nut is always the toughest to crack.
Butz is a 30-something guy who likes to hunt and fish. It's neat that his usual hunting tool is a homemade selfbow. He even uses it for upland game and waterfowl. Wow!
Here are reflections on the slow life in a small town near Traverse City. A local business owner calls Bob to trap a beaver that's flooding his parking lot. Not many folks live slow enough to understand trapping anymore, but Bob takes the catch to a fur-trader who's even further off the map than he is. We meet people like this in Bob's writing. It's a town with one store, where you can show up in your PJ's.
...Then Bob and his wife have a child and things get trickier. But if we slow down even more, he shows how it all starts to fit together.
It's not easy, though. Work isn't steady, which causes marital stress. Something that many can relate to these days, eh? There's a lot of looking out the back window at an overgrown farm field.
The last essay is one of my favorites. It's an intimate small adventure. He floats a little river in the quiet, snowy winter on a bowhunting outing, camps in the snow, cozied up under a shrub...and has various kinds of up-close luck...
The writing is a bit Jim Harrison-y, from a guy who's still clearly young, with all its pro's and con's. It has something of a "quirky-yet-clear observations of a weird-yet-average guy" vibe. His main question is a good one: Can you make a living doing what you love? More Michigan writing is more better, I say. We have something to offer. Our culture mix has long been a distillation of the American story. Regional stories can be as good at revealing the bigger picture as the "national" work which comes from NYC or the isles of academia (which are really just other regions and are biased/provincial if they don't admit their small-town aspects, which they often don't).
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