"Most of us exist in a world dominated by man-made artificial time," Ben Guterson notes, "a world in which clocks and calendars dictate our schedules even as they obscure the deeper rhythms of days and seasons." His objective is to help others break out of the 9-to-5, Monday-Sunday straight-jacket by alerting them to what Mother Nature is up to at different times of the year in the states that share the Four Corners: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
He succeeds. This is a wonderful idea enticingly realized - many readers will undoubtedly twitch to head out the door and down the highway, for a day trip or a regional vacation.Guterson, a high school English teacher in New Mexico, approaches his subject month by month (we can't entirely throw off the shackles of that man-made calendar after all). Wonderful mini-essays - on observing an eagle, the appeal of the saguaro, the beauty of the desert sky at night - evolve into practical pointers on where to go and what to look for, with maps and prose directions on how to get there as specific as a 10th of a mile.
The guide has handsome ink and pencil drawings on the pages beginning each month and sporadic black and white photographs. Still, it might be useful to keep, say, the prolifically illustrated "Birds of North America" or some such equivalent handy, both beside the armchair and on the road, for supplementary reference.
Guterson gave himself quite a broad and disparate territory to cover, and sometimes gaps result. Utah, for instance, makes no appearance in April or June. On the other hand, it is nice to know what it is possible to see and do within striking distance of our (again artificial) home provinces.
While the Beehive State seems sometimes to be the fourth among the four states surveyed, the author found much to recommend, from the feathered population of the Great Salt Lake and the Bear Lake cisco run to buffalo in the Henry Mountains and pronghorns at Flaming Gorge.
And, he writes:
"It would be difficult to find an autumn drive more scenic than the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway south of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains. Utah, to the surprise of many people, has spec-tac-u-lar mountain scenery, and the drive around Mount Nebo showcases the best the state has to offer." Then, on the next page, Guterson has superlatives for the fall glory of Logan Canyon. "Whether you begin on the east or west side of this drive, the route has color enough to satisfy even a New Englander."
"The Natural Year" will be a welcome addition to the portable library of any who share with Ben Guterson a flourishing curiosity and admiration for the deserts and mountains, and their inhabitants, of the Four Corners region.