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IN BRIEF

Environment

April 18, 1993|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

RIDING THE WHITE HORSE HOME: A Western Family Album by Teresa Jordan. (Pantheon: $21 ; 281 pp.) This is one homesick cowgirl. And the best way to tackle homesickness, as Mole found in "The Wind in the Willows," is to go home. The call of a place is too strong sometimes to ignore, and it muddies up the rest of our daily discomforts with its disproportionate yearning. Jordan was raised mid-century on a Wyoming ranch "50 miles northwest of Cheyenne, 50 miles northeast of Laramie, and 26 miles southwest of Chugwater." Chugwater! Named after the Indian practice of running their cattle into the creek. The cattle would emit a chugging sound as they hit the water and died. The ranch was sold in 1978, "exactly 90 years after my great grandfather first arrived."

The homesick feel of the book also comes from the loss of Jordan's mother, but it was born out of a period in Jordan's life in which she wandered from place to place and relationship to relationship just not feeling right, feeling like her creative spirit had been killed. This is the sound of a country song. Her memories of grandfather Sunny and the ranching life are drawn with a stoic's eye: "There are a few rules to ranching that mustn't be broken. One is that you rise at 5:30 each morning. In the winter, this means that you sit at the kitchen table and drink coffee for hours before it's light enough to work, but you get up early because a neighbor might drive by and know you were still abed."

The real reason, says Jordan, that her family let go of the land in 1978 was because they lived in a culture that taught that "professional life is more respectable than one tied to the land." So Jordan spent a good part of her adult life yearning to go back and learned by writing and remembering how to "value a sense of place," and "how thoughtlessly--even contemptuously--we are taught to cast it aside."

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