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Claiming Ground Hardcover – Deckle Edge

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272881
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #884,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A Kentucky minister’s daughter and a pretty college grad, Bell didn’t seem destined to live alone in the high, lonesome hills of Wyoming, herding sheep and cattle. But all she could conceive of doing was to feed her hunger for horses, dogs, and open space. Writing with the restraint and precision of someone who both cherishes and distrusts language, Bell recounts her Bighorn Basin sojourn, beginning with her brash arrival in 1977, on through long, grueling horseback days of epic heat and cold, rain and snow, and bracing nights in a small sheep wagon beneath the stars. The only woman among older male herders, many bedeviled by alcohol, Bell holds her own with tenacity and grace through punishing work and annealing solitude, love, and tragedy. In finely tooled, indelible prose, Bell moves through the decades, lovingly portraying her intrepid parents, damaged husband, beautiful stepdaughters, and all the animals that opened and healed her battered heart. Now working for the Nature Conservancy, Bell has created an exquisite yet humble praise song to a “wild-knit life.” --Donna Seaman


“Quietly powerful…Bell’s writing elegantly balances pain and love, solitude and family ties, finding solace both in human relationships and in relationships to animals and the Western landscape.  Big and open-hearted like the Wyoming sky, this memoir is a pleasure to read.” —Catherine Hollis, Sacramento Book Review
“[Claiming Ground] can be savored for the lyricism of its language, its insight intoa  distinct American region, and as a meditation on physical work and the role it played in one woman’s life.” —Julie Foster, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Redolent of wide-open spaces and valley bottoms where beasts find water in reedy swamps sheltered by cottonwoods…[Bell] writes so honestly and beautifully that I dared not skip a word for fear I’d miss another moment of grace or insight.  This is a book to savor, and to read and reread.” —Lois Atwood, The Providence Journal
“Open, honest, strong and unflinching.” —Leslie Doran, The Durango Herald
“Part lyrical remembrance of a deeply intense relationship with nature in a sweepingly majestic landscape, part unswerving self-analysis, Claiming Ground delivers both beauty and unabashed reflection….But it is not only a looking back; it is a guidepost to the possibilities ahead—the surprises that await us down our own trails.” —Linda Stankard, BookPage
Claiming Ground more than holds its own against any survivor narrative of failed love and misplaced ambition, against any epic quest for understanding and mercy and in language so tempered, spare and beautiful that it rivals any poem’s.  Worth is rarely the measure of a book’s success, but if ever a memoir deserved to be a bestseller, Claiming Ground surely does.” —Margaret Renkl, Chapter 16
“Bell’s extraordinary ability to impart a true sense of place on each page reveals a stark and stunning landscape populated with a playbill of peculiar personalities attracted to a life of solitude and hard physical work, and her life within this remarkable world.”  —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A work of descriptive virtuosity and a hard, honest pull through rough emotional terrain—an exemplary memoir.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“I LOVED Claiming Ground!  It is absolutely wonderful!  Generally I'm not a huge fan of memoirs, but I AM a huge fan of nature, animals, Wyoming and matters of the heart.  Laura Bell enhanced all of these for me with her tender and graceful prose.  Her story of living a mostly solitary life as a sheep herder in back country Wyoming, while searching for inner peace and a place and family of her own, touched me personally in so many ways.  I loved her descriptions of the Wyoming mountains and wilderness, the seasons, the wildlife; but the lessons she learned as an 'instant mother' to two young girls who had recently lost their biological mother, that is what grabbed my heart and squeezed.  The last paragraph, particularly the last three sentences are amazing!  I just cannot wait to tell others of her incredible story and especially to share this with book clubs.” —Linda Grana, Lafayette Books (Lafayette, CA)
“I began reading Laura Bell's Claiming Ground thinking I'd read a book about a woman living in those mysterious, gypsy-like sheep trailers that dot the Western basin and range.  Instead, I found the beautiful and moving story of a woman searching for place, a home, in the Intermountain West.  Her devotion to the land its people, and to her independence, is fierce and loving.  Her writing is powerful and full of grace. Bell's voice will be a welcome addition to the literary canon of the West.” —Catherine Weller, Sam Wellers Bookstore (Salt Lake City, UT)
“In prose both gorgeous and precise, Laura Bell perfectly captures the Western landscape and the creatures that still walk upon it.  The best memoir I have read in I don't know how long.” —Beverly Lowry
“In a sheep wagon, called an ark, parked under cottonwoods along a creek in Wyoming, Laura Bell began the life she came west to find.  Decades later, after seasons spent with sheep and cows and horses and dogs, after a failed marriage and death and grief, she now works to protect the place of her heart as a conservationist.  Love, she says, never seems to be enough until we decide that it is.  This is a wonderfully written, refreshing story.”
—William Kittredge
“Intriguing and eloquent, by turns guarded then vulnerable, and always written with honesty and keen observation, Laura Bell's Claiming Ground merges exquisitely the human condition of wonder, celebration, fear and longing with the western landscape that so arouses and nurtures these same senses.” —Rick Bass
“This is a book that compels you to the last sentence, both because of its sheer beauty and its profound meaning.  It goes deep and way out to the edges, in beautifully composed, exact prose.  It makes you think of Thoreau out in the woods, confronting the essential.  This is just a fresh, wonderful piece of writing, about the isolated and attentive kind of life almost nobody lives nowadays, or ever did.” —Kent Haruf
“First, it is the language you notice: phrases, whole passages composed with the musical authority of psalms.  Then it is the evocation of place, Wyoming rising from these pages as actual as a wild perfume.  But, start to finish, it is her honesty that keeps you up in the night, wondering at the frailty of what it means to be human and glad and brave and, at times, broken.  Laura Bell’s Claiming Ground is the finest memoir I’ve read.” —Mark Spragg

More About the Author

Laura Bell's work has been published in several collections, and from the Wyoming Arts Council she has received two literature fellowships as well as the Neltje Blanchan Memmorial Award and the Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. She lives in Cody, Wyoming and since 2000 has worked there for The Nature Conservancy.

Customer Reviews

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This book is well-written, and mostly of interest to me because the writer led a very unusual life - especially for a woman.
Snow Gram
Finally yesterday afternoon when I returned from my library trip I was able to read uninterrupted for an hour and really get into this book.
Tina Says
There are frequent moments in reading this book, such as when the stillness of the land Ms. Bell inhabits, that it is infectious.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By CGScammell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It takes a tough woman to live the life of a rancher/sheepherder. Laura Bell's memoir offers plenty of descriptions of such a brutally lonely and harsh life.

The memoir starts out excitingly enough. Fresh out of college in 1977, she heads West with her sister for the summer, falls for one of the guys on an archeological team, and decides to move there to herd sheep. It's an interesting adventure.

The prose is honest. There are pages of cold blowing winds, drunken men stumbling into camp, of bleeting sheep and neighing horses and blue heelers who don't want to listen. Livestock and landscape dominate this memoir, as well as the sadness over the years of losing friends and family members.

But somehow things started to unravel on page 95. The years go from 1979 to 1990. It's obvious the years of her marriage she mostly avoids, mentioning only that her husband had turned into an alcoholic and that is why the marriage faltered. This memoir left me with more questions than answers. Subsequent chapters intermittently fill in the gaps with small scenes with the two daughters from her husband's first marriage, one who later meets a tragic and sad end.

The best parts of this memoir are the sad lines describing the deaths of loved ones, of ranch friends she meets in the late 1970s who up and die without her knowing it, to men who contract wound infections and pass away in the hospital, of other headstrong and independent women and of course the more intimate deaths of family members. It's as if Bell's entire life has been so sad (but it hasn't!)

Perhaps Bell shoud have left out the years she spent in Utah working as a masseuse. She wanted to write so much about her life out West that this story turned from a memoir to a sketchy autobiography.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Elaine Casteel on November 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first heard of Laura's book thru a book review. One of the lines quoted from Laura's book caught my attention where she described Wyoming...."And how, when you're used to sheltering hardwoods and rolling hills, the bare-bones immensity of Wyoming can make you feel like a sacrifice left on a slab for the gods to pick clean." Having moved from back east to Wy.over 18 years ago, I felt that she captured my own feeling for this place. Its a place to be experienced not just seen, and she captures the humbling sense of a wild, rugged land that presents all of its beauty and dares you to stay. One of the first things I noticed about Wy. was the women, single women who had moved here, miles from a shopping center, and claimed it as there own. I was one of those women, so I can appreciate Laura's journey. I also knew some of the people mentioned in the book so it made it even more interesting for me to read. I loved her writing style. She says more in one sentence than most can say in a paragraph! If you've ever thought of stepping outside your comfort zone pick up this book and journey with her, you won't be disappointed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tina Says VINE VOICE on May 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Laura Bell's memoir Claiming Ground is one that grew on me as I that I wish I had been able to read without interruptions the entire way through. This weekend started with a sleepover at my house and the reading time I found was not large chunks of time, but just moments in-between getting, helping, finding things for a group of girls. Finally yesterday afternoon when I returned from my library trip I was able to read uninterrupted for an hour and really get into this book.

Bell's writing is beautiful, and it is no wonder that her book is on Barnes and Nobles' Discover New Writers Summer 2010 list. In the 1970s Bell became a sheepherder in Wyoming's Big Horn Basin after graduating from college. Her life there was one of solitude, an only woman among other males in the profession. Bell writes of the beauty of the land, but also of the hardships she faces. Decades pass and Bell experiences a marriage that eventually fails, different jobs, heartache and joy all the while looking for a place to make a home.

I truly did love this book, and uncharacteristically, I really tried to slow down my reading and enjoy Bell's writing (I will admit that usually I am a very fast reader- looking over my TBR stacks and knowing I must be quick in order to get through the other items I have waiting).

"...but what he couldn't have known then was that these were just two of a generous handful of seeds that would germinate and start up the trellis, sending out runners and binding us together (82)."

This is a beautiful, honest memoir - definitely worth my time. My only regret is that it took me so long to get into it and find some quiet time to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Chris Wren on October 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
Laura Bell has led one of the most interesting lives I could imagine. Her book is about her life in Wyoming, much of it spent tending sheep by herself in the harsh wilderness of Wyoming. Its really no wonder that she took to writing her tales. The book is written in such a way that it is easy to picture, or even transport yourself to her camp in the mountains. She is able to describe a place that few of us are lucky enough to have seen, let alone live.
She chronicles her life, her loves, and of course her tragedies. It is tough to put this book down, because you want to know how she makes it through everything. I was lucky that a professor assigned this book for our class to read, otherwise I would never have known about it!
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