The Way Home

Essays on the Outside West

"A sense of place can be a complicated matter," writes James McVey in the prologue to his new collection of essays, The Way Home. Based on twenty years of living and traveling in the West, the collection includes essays on river running, backcountry skiing, fly fishing, and backpacking—all describing various attempts to engage in meaningful contact with the elements of wild nature, and to have a deep firsthand knowledge of a place. With an essayists breadth McVey engages ecology, geology, anthropology, psychology, and history as well as his own personal outdoor experiences to peer into the particulars of living in as complicated a place as the West. While the essays function within the tradition of western nature writing, they transcend regional issues insofar as they maintain a broader philosophical context that accounts for such global concerns as mass extinction and climate change.

The essays use backcountry experiences as occasions for reflection on such topics as nature and culture, conservation, and the human relation to the wild. They combine the naturalist’s commitment to landscape with the adventurer’s attention to technique and skill. The outdoor experiences function as ritualized activity, the purpose of which is to explore a specific relation with a place. As such, the essays consider certain nonrational ways of knowing the world, including a perception of aesthetics based on sensory participation with the more-than-human world. This gets to the heart of the essential connection in this work between its adventure themes and nature concerns--a connection very much concerned with issues of lifestyle and worldview. McVey describes his own journey in the West, traveling through the varying philosophical revelations wilderness presents—"a lifetime of questions"—finally landing on a conservation ethic, a feeling of home.

James McVey teaches classes in writing and literature at the University of Colorado. He is the author of The Wild Upriver and Other Stories, and Martha Maxwell: Natural History Pioneer. He currently lives in Eldora, Colorado.

Table of Contents:



1. Life on the Edge

2. Privately Idaho

3. A River Wild and Free

4. In Deep at Wolf Creek

5. Summer Ski

6. We Are Here, Who Are You?

7. Greenbacks

8. Ice Out

9. The Way Home

Praise and Reviews:

"Anyone who is concerned about the numerous, local and global threats to the environment will find in McVey a kindred spirit who has articulated the dangers and an ethos to deal with them."—Blair Oliver, founding editor of Front Range Review


"[The Way Home] ought to be read by politicians, corporate executives, every entrepreneur...and by all of us who have ever wondered who we are and what our role is in this magnificent and magnificently confusing world."—Gary Holthaus, author of Wide Skies: Finding a Home in the West

"I found myself smiling as I read descriptions of familiar places that become something more magical than real through McVey's appealingly descriptive prose. He's not just painting pretty pictures; he wants us to think. What better place to muse on the dangers of global warming than an essay about a trip to the Divide in search of glaciers? The collection succeeds because of McVey's deft sense of balance. He puts the reader into the scene and offers a pithy lecture here and there, all the while sprinkling in factoids that make you feel like you've just taken a hike (or ski, or fly-fishing expedition) with a friendly, knowledgeable ranger."—Boulder Daily Camera