In 2003, the Pulitzer-winning author of The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain” bought 640 acres in Wyoming, which she dubbed Bird Cloud, after the shape of a hovering cloud that she considered a fortuitous omen. Proulx set out to create her dream home on this land, imagining large rooms with large tables holding large books; what she got was constant construction, unexpected costs and enough turbulent weather to knock the boots off a cowboy.
Equal parts Audubon lecture, history and mystery, Bird Cloud is at its core a story of Proulx’s self-revelation, and at its best when she explores the uncertainties of her new digs. Her observations and discovery of the land’s flora and fauna are the mirrors in which her own nature is revealed: She notices more about birds’ migration and nesting patterns as she, herself, migrates and nests. And though it may be necessary to know the past in order to discover a new future, too often Proulx gets diverted in reporting the known facts of her life, rather than seeking out new experiences.
With Bird Cloud, Proulx gives us her first work of nonfiction in more than 20 years, and a glimpse into what makes a person and a land. Her vivid imagery evokes the whipping Wyoming winds and the meandering Jack Creek as she tries to find her personal arcadia. In the end, however, the book is no different from the writer’s house: It’s beautiful, but not quite the place of dreams.