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Tucson Weekly Naturalist's Selections

Stephen Bodio Reveals A Continuum Between The States Of Nature And Society.

By Mona Mort

JULY 6, 1998: 

On the Edge of the Wild: Passions and Pleasures of a Naturalist, by Stephen J. Bodio (Lyons Press). Cloth. $25.

STEVE BODIO INVITED us into his querencia in his 1990 memoir of the same title. Once inside, as if we readers were guests on a first visit to his home, he showed us his falconry, his hunting dogs, his food, and above all, his relationship with his late-partner Betsy. What emanates from Querencia is how much Bodio loves the things he loves.

The same resonance emerges from his new book, On the Edge of the Wild, a collection of essays written primarily over the past two years. Bodio attributes his close association with nature in part to his hunter-gardener grandparents, who served him risotto with songbird sauce; they also nurtured in him a respect for all living things.

Bodio grew up hunting, fishing, and eating what he killed--a living example of the primordial human hunter who killed for food, clothing, and shelter. Bodio writes of a time when he dropped out of college in the Boston area to live in a camp near a salt marsh, surviving off his immediate surroundings. Since his late-teens, he's passionately pursued his interest in keeping falcons and other raptors as a way of securing food for humans. During his recent visit to the Old Pueblo, he showed photographs of his trip to Mongolia last February, where he visited nomads who fly eagles for hunting--a tradition thought to be about 6,000 years old, and the subject of his next book.

Most of the selections in On the Edge of the Wild have been published previously, in magazines ranging from Northern Lights to Seasons of the Angler. Here Bodio's true character is faithfully revealed: His intimate connection to wild areas and the beings inhabiting them is an extension of, rather than the more common substitute for, his strong connections to family and friends. (The small, remote town of Magdalena, New Mexico, is exactly where we'd expect to find Bodio, straddling the two worlds of wilderness and human society.)

Reading Bodio's work--much like that of Thomas Mann or Virginia Woolf--confers the gratification of having an insider's peek into the psyche of another human being.

The 24 essays are divided into seven sections: The Country, Raptors, Sport, One Review, Three Books I Love and Why, and Food and Life. Bodio's enthusiasm particularly comes through in those expositions on falconry and food, subjects near and dear to his life and livelihood.

One essay thoughtfully addresses the great hunting debate and covers three books, including Gary Nabhan's Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy. Recipes in the Bodio essays--reminiscent of M.F.K. Fisher's approach to cooking--reveal the author's ancestral risotto secret; a kick-back-and-drink-a-beer-while-you're-cooking-this-chili recipe (originally published in Redneck Review); and reflections on eating meat.

Also of interest to fans of Bodio's own writing is the "Books" chapter. Among his revered tomes are T.H. White's The Goshawk, Gavin Maxwell's Harpoon Venture, and Rob Schultheis' The Hidden West, of which Bodio writes, "Only a few authors get as close as Schultheis does to the flesh and bones of the Southwest--Chuck Bowden, Tony Hillerman, Leslie Silko, maybe sometimes Ron Querry; on different subjects Gary Nabhan, James Corbett, Ed Abbey, and Aldo Leopold. He's that good."

This most recent of Bodio's seven books is more generalist than those such as A Rage for Falcons, or even Querencia. It's as if he's switched from a telephoto to a wide-angle lens in his view of life. By doing so, he sets more bait for readers, and perhaps increases his chances of capturing them for good. Don't read On the Edge of the Wild unless you want to be tamed by Bodio in the same way The Little Prince tamed the fox: Once this connection, replete with heartache and joy, is established, it'll stay with you forever.


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