As a young college student in the early 1970s, Laurie Wagner had never camped out, never gone hiking, and never lived without electricity or indoor plumbing. Yet she walked away from these comforts and headed for the wildest reaches of Montana to live with a man she had not met in person.
When I Came West is Laurie Wagner Buyer’s account of her terrifying and exhilarating years in Montana as she changes from a girl too squeamish to touch a dead mouse to a toughened frontierswoman unafraid to butcher a domestic animal. Living in a cabin far away from family and friends, with the nearest neighbor four miles away, Laurie finds herself caught up in two love affairs: one with the volatile Vietnam vet Bill and one with the untamed West—even as she recognizes, in the words of one neighbor, “It is plumb foolishness to love something that cannot love you back.”
While her relationship with Bill grows precarious, Laurie forges a lasting relationship with her surroundings: the rivers, the wildlife, and the people who inhabit such remote corners. Peeling away the romance of escaping to the wilderness, When I Came West reveals the brutality and bounty of a world far removed from modern urban life.
“A tour de force, brilliant, utterly candid, and unforgettable.”—Dale L. Walker, author of Eldorado and Pacific Destiny
In the early 1970s, Buyer, a restless young college student yearning for the outdoor life—though she’d never even been camping—became the mail-order companion of a man 13 years her senior. Bill was a Vietnam vet from Whitefish, Montana, determined to live off the land with no modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing and electricity. She endures loneliness and physical hardship, occasional volatility and abuse from Bill, but what she missed most was the companionship of women. Four miles from their closest neighbor, she learned to appreciate solitude and endure Bill’s taciturn moods. She also learned to set traps and skin animals, to avoid grizzlies and stand up to mice, to adapt to the temperament of rivers and streams and animals and seasons. Though her attachment to Bill eventually fades, she never tires of her love for the remoteness of Montana and later Wyoming. Buyer is poetic in her descriptions, documented with photographs, of the physical beauty and challenge of life in the western wilderness. —Booklist
Buyer, a novelist and poet of the West, offers a memoir account of her initiation into traditional backcountry ways in an isolated Montana homestead with a Vietnam veteran survivalist in the 1970s-80s. The romantic city girl with dreams of going back to the land learns to break horses, chop wood, track and hunt, butcher animals, and tan hides. Her day-to-day life, her isolation, and her physical and emotional dependence on a hard and sometimes cruel man recall the lives of countless frontier women of the previous century. Her journey from girl to woman, her struggle to become independent while holding on to her dream of living close to the land, will inspire all readers.—Book News, Inc.
[A] beautifully crafted memoir of a young city woman who gave up college to live in the Montana wilderness with a man she had never met. Brims with engaging stories of the friends she made and the ones she left behind during her thirty years living off and with the land. Readers. . .will be captivated.—ForeWord Reviews
Few women in the 20th century set out to ‘homestead’ as Laurie Wagner Buyer has done. This personal story has many lessons about challenge and hardship. Clearly the author kept a journal and the words she wrote became a way to center her life. The power of this book is Laurie’s lyrical writing, and . . . she is absolutely one of the best writers I’ve ever read. This is a book you won’t soon forget, written by a woman who has endured privation, loneliness, physical and emotional trauma…all of which she survived, in part, by putting words on paper.—Candy Moulton, The Fencepost
A revealing account of how this naïve young college student traveled from a pampered life in Chicago to the West in 1974 to live remotely on the North Fork of the Flathead River, 86 miles from Kalispell, with no electricity, indoor plumbing, no telephone, no close neighbors—with a surly man she’d never met. She was as inexperienced with matters of the heart as she was with preparing food or setting a mousetrap. And that makes this detailed reminiscence fascinating, viewed as it is through the long lens of insight and age that nearly 40 intervening years allows. When I Came West affords readers a privileged look into the fragile life of a young woman brimming with promise and naïveté, and on the cusp of personal change that feels so familiar at times. . . addressing the inevitable transformation we all undergo. Lucky for us that Laurie Wagner Buyer recognized she had something to say—and had the skills to share with us all these years later.—Big Sky Journal
From the very beginning of her beautifully wrought, ethereal memoir, author Laurie Wagner Buyer reminds us of both her broken-wing fragility and her toughness. With the grace of a poet, Buyer describes in detail the rough beauty of the frontier she comes to treasure.—Roundup
A personal memoir so riveting it reminds the reader that the truth really can be much stranger—and more compelling—than fiction. Wagner Buyer shifts the physical and emotional effortlessly, painting a picture of raw beauty, sometimes painted over pain. It’s a lovely little book.—January Magazine