I think learning to love and commit to a place is very similar to learning to love and commit to another human being. Much of it is accidental (like nearly getting killed by a pheasant) and instinctive, deeply spiritual, and beyond our capacity for expression. Much of it is also a matter of choice, of conscious searching, hard work, and articulation. There are moments full of elation and sentimentality and humor and other moments full of self-doubt and even despair. Learning to respond successfully to the challenge of committed love—for people or places—begins in childhood, which is a big part of this memoir. I grew up surrounded by several generations in a family who, despite serious challenges and personal losses, remained dedicated to their communities and to each other. So I had that example from very early in my life. Nevertheless, I spent most of my adolescence wanting to leave home, which is nothing unusual for a young person in America today. I was guided back home by the land itself, by the beauty and fragility of its native habitats, but also by stories about that land told by my family, by writers past and present, and by my own articulation of life in this place. It was also a matter of recognizing what I refer to in the book as a state of kinship: “the familial embrace of nature, body, and spirit.” Kinship is not something you choose, it is something you are given. The choice is whether or not to return that embrace and live fully within it. Ultimately, Man Killed by Pheasant is meant to reach out to others who may not identify themselves as environmentalists or midwesterners, but who are likewise seeking to settle more deeply within the kinships that define and sustain them.
Excerpt from "Mole Man Lives!" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships
Between my eighth and fourteenth year I grew approximately six inches. Which is to say, not at all. There is never a good time to be a short boy in America, but the late seventies and early eighties were especially challenging. The Randy Newman song "Short People (Got No Reason to Live)" was immensely popular, as were Troll Dolls and Gnomes. Gary Coleman ruled. Then there was my own sister, Carrie Anne, who was two years younger than me, but who'd had the audacity to grow two inches taller—the rogue cornstalk towering above the bean plant. That's how it felt sometimes, and there were moments when I would've appreciated someone ripping her out of my life by the roots just to be rid of the comparison. And the danger. Almost the very instant my sister stepped into the hallways of Fort Dodge North Junior High School, she commenced telling the most monstrous bullies that her "big brother" was going to pound them straight.
"Carrie Price?" I'd say as one after another of these bullies shoved me against lockers. "Never heard of her!"
John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships