Clara Hume’s novel Back to Garden is newly published by Moon Willow Press. The book takes place near the end of the century and follows a dozen people living in a time when climate change and ecological devastation have resulted in not only a lack of natural resources necessary to live (fresh water, arable soil, healthy forests and oceans) but also when, due to economic collapse, a lot of items we take for granted have come to a halt, including disease control, global communication, and defense. It’s every man for himself.
Beginning with a small group of survivors on an Idaho Mountain, appropriately termed Wild Mountain, descendants of a few ancient and honored homesteaders are struggling to keep their mountain healthy for living. From sunup to sundown they must care for crops, fish, horses, water, chicken, sheep, and nearby wild species. It is no accident that the group manages to grow apple trees and a garden, a hats-off to Daniel Quinn’s references to the biblical Garden of Eden in Ishmael.
The group leaves their homestead to find lost family members, while other ranchers on the mountain care for their homes temporarily. During the harsh journey across the country, the group picks up strangers who are lonely and struggling. The characters’ flashbacks to personal demons, along with personal growth, is sometimes sad and sometimes humorous but is always enlightening and redemptive.
The book, while introspective, gives a frightening view of where we’re headed unless everyone starts taking climate change seriously. The book doesn’t focus on climate change, and hardly mentions it, but does look at how people in the future are innately connected to their natural environment and thus are inspired to preserve it. The story-line is compelling, and the characters are unique in the way they react to their environments and others in the surrogate family. There are also a few nods to literary ecologists such as Henry David Thoreau, Robinson Jeffers, Bill Hotchkiss, Jack Kerouac, and and Michael McClure.