Life on a Western ranch is fascinating to me. The backbreaking work. The closeness to nature. The isolation. That's why I couldn't resist picking up Lime Creek, the debut novel from Joe Henry, an established songwriter who has penned tunes for the likes of John Denver and Rascal Flatts. The beauty of this book lies in its simplicity. It's around 150 pages of vignettes taken from the lives of a Wyoming cowboy and his sons. It is broken into two parts each containing four chapters. The first half is told from the point-of-view of Spencer as he grows from a young man to a husband/father figure while the second part advances in time giving voice to his now teenage sons, Luke and Whitney.
I enjoy reading writers like Henry because they are truly word artists. The vivid images they paint in the mind's eye endure long after reading. In "Angels," you'll walk with Spencer and his fiancee, Elizabeth, as they make their way through the barrels of a general store to be married by the justice of the peace. In "Family," you'll feel the mare's head on your lap as the exhausted vet snores away after delivering a foal. In "Tomatoes," you'll feel the icy water of Lime Creek as Luke and Whitney struggle to fill an old-fashioned washtub on a cold night. In "Sleep," you'll hear the guitar strains of "Silent Night" as the candlelight twinkles from the Christmas tree in the barn. And that's just part one.
Henry also perfectly captures inner emotions especially those of fatherhood. When Luke and Whitney use their mother's tomatoes for target practice against a crisp, white sheet hanging on the clothesline, Spencer knows he needs to punish them, yet he tries to contain a budding smile slipping from the corner of his mouth. After reprimanding them for their mischief, Spencer can't help but feel the tug on his heartstrings when he encounters the exquisite peacefulness in the exhausted sleep of his two little boys.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can feel the palpable tension when Spencer confronts an adolescent Whitney for complaining about feeding the cattle in below zero temperatures. Whitney has a point for being upset when he witnesses a cow's frozen ear broken clean off. However, Spencer preaches gratitude for the life they're living when he relates a war story about a young soldier who died frozen to a machine gun. The boys are shell shocked from the tale and silenced by their father's first time use of a four-letter profanity.
Henry is able to flip perspective by contemplating what it's like to have such a father. When Luke and Whitney enter high school, they get into an argument with their football coach about attending practice. They make it clear that their first priority will always lie with their work on the ranch. They will not abandon their father by shucking their responsibilities whether the coach likes it or not.
While Luke is the more daring of the two - breaking his ribs in a playoff game, having his girlfriend sneak into his room, etc., Whitney displays a reliability of character that can be depended on. His devotion extends to trudging through a blizzard to unblock a heating vent in Luke's room on the chance that his brother might be overcome by carbon monoxide. They are a study in how the challenges of a hard life can mold a personality into something solid and strong.
Overall, in the land of the Neversummer Mountains, the warmth of humanity is shown to endure.
Lime Creek by Joe Henry is available for $20.00 at Amazon.com and at Joe-Henry.com.
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