4 stars. Bryce Andrews spent a year as a ranch hand on a massive Montana ranch, penning this eloquent, beautiful volume to celebrate the landscape and wildness of the region, and the character of those who work it. With a deft eye for detail and keen sense of language, Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West is much like the mountain land itself: gritty and lyric, harsh and appealing.
“The real work of ranching isn’t riding horses, moving cattle, shoveling shit, fixing fence, digging holes, or any other specific task. It is instead the process of toughening the body into something worn, weathered, scarred, and strong enough to do everything asked of it, and honing the mind until it knows precisely what it can and should ask of the body.”
Andrews chronicles his daily life on the ranch (hint: 20,000 acres represents a lot of fence keep repaired), conveying the drudgery of his workload in very readable prose. There is no glamorizing the life of a cowboy here; it sounds like backbreaking, demanding work. His writing keeps it interesting, in part because of the richness of his account. How many other authors can make a passage on building H-braces for fences interesting? Not many, I fear!
His story gains power as a pack of wolves, recently reintroduced into the area, begin to take their grisly toll on the cattle of the ranch. With a mix of fascination and dread, Andrews and his fellow ranch hands begin a hunt for the carnivores, culminating in an emotional encounter between predator and defender of the herd.
Throughout the story is his love of the land. His descriptions of mountains, gullies, and meadows are powerful and evocative. I feel that I saw the ranch through his eyes. His admiration for the wolves is palpable, and his heart-felt anguish of the plight of the wolves seeking to find equilibrium with ranchers is moving.
Those who love mountains and the wolves who roam it will appreciate this book, as well as anyone seeking to learn about the uneasy relations between ranchers, land managers, and predators in the area. Badluck Way is a beautiful book about grim places, work, and topics.