In Search of Kinship: Modern Pioneering on the Western Landscape,
by Page Lambert
Review by John Henry
(Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1996)
In Search of Kinship is the story of woman uncovering and building connections: to a rural way of life on a small ranch in eastern Wyoming, to her and husband’s family histories, to nature around her and within her, and to a spiritual life based partly on Christianity, partly on “sacred ecology,” and partly on Native American wisdom.
Interwoven within the family’s story are Lambert’s observations and reactions to many topics: land-developers versus family ranchers and farmers; cattle-ranchers versus environmentalists; the morality and politics of hunting and meat eating; the history of Native and non-Native Americans in the west; landowners resisting government bureaucrats; our love of kittens, dogs and horses; how family relationships and work have been transformed by the economic revolution of the last two-hundred years; the difficulties of raising children when both parents work. But family, family history, traditional forms of rural life, and a spirituality that connects the natural and human worlds are Lambert’s main concerns
The story is told through short episodes, almost like a memoir which follows Page and Mark Lambert through courtship, marriage, finding a place, building a home, raising two children, and caring for pets, horses, sheep, and finally the start of small herd of cattle. There is a worrying tragedy of rabies with a family cat. There is the joy of a shivaree for the new neighbors. Saying “no” to a son who wants a video game machine. There is the time that family missed Palm Sunday church while waiting for the sheep shearer on his first visit to a new flock of ewes, but then conducted their own service in the family barn in the late afternoon. A litter of kittens is lost to a raccoon, or maybe to a marauding tomcat. Sheltered under a picnic table that is beneath a tree in the yard, the old family dog slowly dies, and a father and young son dig his grave, and a mother and her young daughter wonder if dogs can play fetch in heaven. Calves are born. Fences are mended. A wife worries about a husband working a fire-line for days and nights on a fire crew made up of both women and men.
But embedded within each episode of family and ranch life are wonderings about bigger things. While nursing a crippled calf that surely faces a short and difficult life, Lambert wonders about the insecurity of our own life and whether our time is spent in vain. A young daughter cherishes a factory-chiseled arrowhead and her mother sees the connection between Moses, the prophet of the stone tablets, and the Brule Sioux creation story, “Stone Boy.” Lambert reads in Black Elk Speaks where the great medicine man saw the sacred tree dying and his nation broken. And she wonders if her children will appreciate the life, and the vision, and the land, which she and her husband value so much. Lambert remembers her days as a girl riding her beloved horse, Romie, days when she began to understand freedom and womanhood; now her horse, twenty-five years later, is so old that he can barely step, and the woman wonders if part of own self will die with her horse, and if something new will be born in her soul.
So there are small stories of everyday ranch and family life in this book, and there are careful excavations into deeper and bigger things: living on the land, living with nature, passing on values and traditions from one generation to the next, seeking wisdom that only comes from the conversations between many generations and between many peoples, trying to live a unity between the spirit and the body, trying to keep faith between the past and the now, trying to find ways to see human life and the natural world not as enemies. I am skeptical about some of her answers, but in a quiet and noble way Page Lambert asks ambitious questions.