Tyler Perkins returns from the war in Iraq weighed down by what has happened to him. To his wife Angie he seems like a different man. So when Ty’s 86-year-old friend Soren Andeman drops strong hints that he’d like Ty to take him on one last hike to Clear Lake in their beloved Wyoming mountains, Angie urges him to go.
Right from the start this sentimental fishing trip — the story author Tom Morrisey tells in Wind River — has its complications. Why does Ty remove his wedding band before entering the lodge where his old flame still works? How will Soren hike all the way up to Clear Lake with his gimpy hip and fragile heart? The men do eventually get there but a few days later even tinder dry conditions and word of a roaming bear don’t deter Soren from setting out on the even more challenging hike to Cirque Lake. Why is it so important to him, Ty wonders? He discovers there are lessons for him too in the events that haunt the place.
The Wyoming mountain setting is one of the things that makes this story special. Morrisey has obviously hiked and fished in these places. His respect for nature and love of spending time in it is contagious. Throughout we feel as if we’re part of the action – fly-fishing, cooking on open fires, eating fresh-caught trout, sleeping under the lightning-washed sky, and hiking the high ridges.
The two main characters Ty and Soren come alive in Morrisey’s hands. Ty, seen first in his Stafford Virginia home then later in the mountains, seems authentic in both places. We can’t help but admire his loyalty and like him for the way he respects and takes care of his old friend. From our first meeting with Soren we are struck by his determination and stoicism in the face of pain. Later, when he tells a large chunk of his story in first person, his salt-of-the-earth personality becomes even more lifelike.
Morrisey’s writing style brings to mind realist paintings. His descriptions of nature are detailed and lyrical. His way of recounting the minutiae of the most mundane tasks puts the reader in the middle of the action. Note, for example, with how much particularity he describes the simple and familiar action of lighting a camp stove:
Soren put his thumb over the air hold and began pumping up the stove, building pressure in the fuel reservoir. He opened the gas orifice and turned the little striker in the burner bowl. Yellow flames danced up and Soren adjusted the burner, bringing it down to a ring of small blue flames. In seconds the stove began to hiss as the heat of the burner warmed the generator tube.
But the story turns out to be about more than nature’s grandeur and the joys and challenges men face when they interact with it. As Ty and Soren spend time together they confide secrets and learn about each other, themselves, friendship, loyalty, forgiveness, facing the past and the importance of truth. Thus Wind River becomes the story of a double exploit. Not only is it an outdoor adventure of a young man and his old friend revisiting their favorite Wyoming mountain fishing spot (fly fishers will find Morrisey an especially kindred spirit), but it’s also a spiritual adventure about finding the courage to face the past and live truthfully and responsibly in the present. Whichever side of the story you’re after, Wind River won’t disappoint.