Where Rivers Change Direction

Where Rivers Change Direction

by Mark Spragg


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It is a voice that echoes off canyon walls, springs from the rush of rivers, thunders from the hooves of horses. It belongs to award-winner Mark Spragg, and it's as passionate and umcompromising as the wilderness in northwest Wyoming in which he was born: the largest block of unfenced wilderness in the lower forty-eight states. Where Rivers Change Direction is a memoir of childhood spent on the oldest dude ranch in Wyoming—with a family struggling against the elements and against themselves, and with the wry and wise cowboy who taught him life's most important lessons.

As the young Spragg undergoes the inexorable rites of passage that forge the heart and soul of man, he channels Peter Matthiessen and the novels of Ernest Hemingway in his truly unforgettable illuminations of the heartfelt yearnings, the unexpected wisdom, and the irrevocable truths that follow in his wake.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573228251
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/2000
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 452,255
Product dimensions: 5.26(w) x 10.98(h) x 0.83(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Mark Spragg is the award-winning author of the memoir Where Rivers Change Direction, winner of the 2000 Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, and the novels The Fruit of the Stone, An Unfinished Life, and Bone Fire. His books have been translated into fifteen languages.


Cody, Wyoming

Date of Birth:

March 20, 1952

Place of Birth:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


B.A. in English, University of Wyoming, 1974

Read an Excerpt

I don't know why I've come awake. I listen for horses. I do not hear their bells, their steps on the frost-stiffened ground. I listen harder. I listen for a bear. I listen for the huffs, snorts, the coughing of a bear come into camp. There is only the deep silence of the night. I imagine a bear standing quietly by the side of my tent. A grizzly. Waiting. Aware of me. The thought of a bear thrills like a horror film escaped from its theater. My own murder stands vividly in my imagination. The dark night grinds down hard. I imagine a bear's small, dark eyes watering and intent in the cold air. I imagine a bear's nostrils flexing, breathing in my scent, its gut grumbling, whining for the taste of me. I think of a bear's teeth, its claws. I listen for the clicking of teeth. I think of the thick, dish-shaped skull--the brain inside that skull anxious for extra prehibernation calories. I pinch my chest, the back of an arm. My body seems soft as lard. I think of myself as food. I pull my woolen watch cap more tightly against my head--over my ears and eyes--and curl my face into the throat of my sleeping bag. I am wearing long underwear--top and bottom--and socks. My jeans and shirt are rolled against my feet at the bottom of the bag. I breathe in the warm, familiar scents of my body and stained clothing--a mixture of woodsmoke, leather, and horse. I think again of the thin canvas wall of the tent. It is black inside. It is black outside. If a hungry bear stands in that blackness the smell of me could draw it against the tent wall. I think of a grizzly's nose pressed against the tent. I think of its mouth watering, scrims of thinning drool sheeting from its black lips. I pull my knees into my chest and flex and imagine my body as unalterable as a knot of steel. I nearly laugh. I've become too old for bullshit fantasies of invincibility. I am now sixteen. I know that if a bear wants me for a meal it can open and spill me as effortlessly as an actual can of beans.


Excerpted from "Where Rivers Change Direction"
by .
Copyright © 2000 Mark Spragg.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A vivid portrait of life in the American outback.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“A discovery… what makes the book so affecting is that everything is approached with a boy’s generous and unwearied heart.” –Big Sky Journal

“The cruel, punishing sound of the wind; the rich, earthy smell of horses; the bitter joy of boy becoming man—Spragg’s spare but sensual essays will resonate not only with males and horse lovers, but also with anyone who treasures an examined life.” –Utne Reader

“A piercing voice from the heartland, this resonant autobiography weds the venerable Western tradition of frontier exploration of self and nature with the masculine school of writing stretching from Hemingway to Mailer.” –Publishers Weekly

"This is a book that deserves many readers." –Larry McMurty

"Here is a book for women to read to learn the hearts of men. Here is a book for men to read to curse what they have lost. This soulful book walks us to a place of restoration through the big wide open of Wyoming. Mark Spragg's words, his stories are a fine example of blood writing, every sentence alive." –Terry Tempest Williams

"Stirring, evocative, finely nuanced, gritty-marvelous!" –Gretel Ehrlich, author of The Solace of Open Spaces

Customer Reviews

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Where Rivers Change Direction: A Memoir 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Spragg is an extremely gifted writer. He brings the truth to the writer's cliche of bringing the reader into the life of the story. I couldn't put this down. There is nothing particularly astonishing about this man's life, but the story is so well told, with emotion and insight to humanity that few writers can put to paper. A critic remarks that a teenager could not relate to Spragg's experiences and recommends this book for adults only. I couldn't disagree more. My 13 year old son absolutely loved this book and couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mark Spragg writes so clearly, honestly, and unaffectedly. A near kin to Wallace Stegner but without professorial angst. A western version of Wendell Berry but without a larger cause. Spragg shows Zen-like understanding of a life in rugged Wyoming settings. His humor is sparse and dry, and he offers deep secrets of his own heart while escaping the reader's attempt to own him as a kindred spirit. I haven't read a better book, or a better written book, in years.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mark Spragg is a wonderful writer. His sense of place in the modern west of his native Wyoming is impeccably rendered. The trouble is, because these essays were written and printed elsewhere as separate pieces, that "place" thing is done over and over - the flora, the fauna, the rocks, the rivers and creeks, the cold, the wind, etc - to DEATH in fact. This very redundancy in the book dropped it from a five- to a four-star rating. The coming-of-age aspect of the story, Spragg maturing from a small boy to a middle-aged man who sees his parents divorce and his his own marriage fall apart, then watches his mother die a slow and painful death from emphysema, is handled like a master. You wanna read what it's like to to grow up out on the high plains near the end of the 20th century? Then this is a good place to start. Mark Spragg writes, in many ways, like a poet. His love of language is clear. WHERE THE RIVERS CHANGE DIRECTION is a darn fine book.
peartreebooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The absolute best memoir I've ever read. Mark is an amazing wordsmith.
donkeytiara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When you think of western poetry, you think of waddie mitchell...but the poetry of western life...this is it. One of the most eloquent, breathtaking books i have ever read... this man is in love with the land, and it shows in every word. Absolutely beautiful.FAVORITE QUOTE: I walk out on the frozen ground, careful that the wind does not blow me east. I feel that insubstantial, and that elemental.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The sentences are breathtaking, you breathe the author's air, you feel his soul connect to these places. It is a excercise in masculine prose that is so exquisite that will take your breath away. It is not hard to read...it is hard to put this book down....for all the right reasons. Writers, read this book to be inspired beyond words. Readers, read this book to be transported into WHY people write...and what it's truly like when they get it completely right.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While reading Where Rivers Change Direction it returned me to the Wyoming that I lived in for 14 years.Mark Spragg's writing is right on the mark when it comes to the landscape and natural beauty of this great state. Having moved away from Wyoming I can return any time I want just by reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not a professional reviewer but I am a Wyoming native. I love this book. If you read, read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Downriver from the Wapiti Valley, the Shoshone wends it's way below the town where I grew up in the 50's. Mark Spragg's wonderful book took me 'home' to the everlasting wind and dust of the Wyoming landscape and the people it breeds. Spragg captures its uniqueness in language as beautiful and as sparce as the countryside itself. This book is a sensitive, often humorous, rendition of what it means to be a Westerner, and a terrific read!