KNAU's Latest Southwest Book Review: Small Rocks Rising, By Prescott Author Susan Lang

Jul 29, 2014

It's 1929, and the first thing Ruth Farley does when she arrives at her homestead in a Mojave Desert canyon is to climb out on a pinon branch and rip down a rusted tin can wired there.

Small Rocks Rising, by Prescott author Susan Lang.
Credit University of Nevada Press

The second thing she does is to put a drop of pine pitch on her tongue, taste it and smile. With those two actions, Susan Lang, author of Small Rocks Rising, shows us what lies in Ruth Farley's heart: action born from reverence for the desert, and deep connection with that place.

Susan Lang knows Ruth Farley and the Mojave in her bones. Ruth was her mother and the little homestead in Pipes Canyon was Susan's home. Running barefoot on desert sand, foraging chia seeds to eat, climbing on the granite boulders of the canyon prepared Susan Lang to write Ruth's story with details not imagined, but lived; the ripple of gold-lavender sunsets, the violence of a rare flash flood, the way the full moon suddenly lifts up above a canyon wall carried me back into the year I lived a few miles from the homestead. And to the story of a single woman - in some ways, any single woman - who brings her full attention and strength to surviving.

Ruth single-handedly moves a huge boulder that blocks her home site. She designs, lays out and builds her cabin. She faces - courageously - into the aggression of local ranchers who are running cattle up the canyon through her spring. She feeds herself from the plants and creatures around her. And she glories in the surprises the canyon gives; a delicately painted ancient shard, a tiny stream flowing over pink-marbled rocks, the friendship of other homesteaders.

Ruth finds love in the arms of a local Native American man, a passion which fate and violence take from her. But even that bright tenderness is paled by the faithful love between Ruth and the desert; a love that is both as ordinary as a woman baking biscuits on a campfire and as astonishing as the sight of small rocks rising. Susan Lang is a mistress of her craft, a writer who gracefully blends the daily and the magical. In Ruth Farley, she has given us an unforgettable woman, a woman who sits patiently with the floating rocks and learns the true magic of their flight.

Small Rocks Rising is the first in a series. Lang's following books, Juniper Blue and Moonlily, are no less faithful to the story of a remarkable woman living with courage and wonder.