Book Review: Bricks Underneath A Hoop Skirt July 1, 2018 / Editor /Colorado Central magazine 2018 July
By Carolyn White ISB 978-1-4897-1637-8(sc) 101 pages
Reviewed by Forrest Whitman
When I picked up this book I was immediately skeptical. A book about a young woman working with horses in the backcountry sounded like another “girl meets horse” story. Not so this one. White has an understated, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, style. Her descriptions of many years working for guest ranches in the back country are fresh and keep you turning the pages. Life lived in the pioneer way with no electricity and sometimes no running water, comes through clearly and with no embellishment. She’s also unusual. She doesn’t hunt and she doesn’t mind cleaning up a camp.
Real experiences sparkle in this book. As she’s almost pushed off her horse into the freezing water of a fast-moving creek, we feel her fear. But she doesn’t do what so many Western writers do. She doesn’t pray or have her whole life flash before her eyes. She just tells it like it happened. Not only that, she has a sense of humor about the skilled hard work she does to save her own life.
As she laughs at the hijinks of some of the guides and ranch hands, we have to chuckle. Her guest ranch apparently hired many green young men to work each summer. They fall off their horses. One forgets to cinch up his mule. When the mule leans down to drink he goes up and down, up and down, like a carnival clown. Another forgets that the signal to gallop is a hiss. That leads to humorous results. She is not judgmental, but she does laugh at some of the greenhorns.
As she talks of the deep meaning in the aprons her mother handed down to her, we have to be moved. That kind of bond is rare and perhaps best brought out in the real West. She promises more books of stories and hints that these aprons, as well as letters from her mother, will play a major part.
Carolyn White (not her real name by the way) wrote most of these chapters as weekly articles in The Fence Post and now and again here in Colorado Central. Sometimes the sorting into chapters is a bit forced, but the reader will hardly notice. You get the sense that life without electricity allowed her to slow down and not just write to the deadline each week.
White also writes some things about life with pack animals few know today. That’s also true of her piece on outhouses. She just keeps dishing up western backcountry knowledge. Who knew how taxing the break in period would be before a young pack handler could get the required permit. Her final test, at the end of guide school, was real enough as she scrambled to bring back some green horses to the pack string again and again. Her instructor noted that she could cuss like a professional.
Frontier knowledge she acquired included learning to cook. Part of that was learning to become friends with Maggie, the camp wood burning stove. She also had to learn how to erect a full backcountry drop camp, sometimes even in the below zero snow. Not only that, she had to clean the lodge floors after each inundation of muddy boots.
She also writes some things about the pack horse profession we probably didn’t know, like the differences between horses and mules. Mules end up being the most reliable. Not so her male guests. A good many of the men end up sounding like unreliable jerks. She’s not anti-male, but life in the backwoods camps can bring out the worst in some with that testosterone thing. She really did ride four miles out to bring back one guy’s pillow, which he then never used. Still she keeps a sense of humor even about this aspect of her job.
The reader will be richly rewarded by this book. It’s not at all a typical “girl in the backcountry” tale. Clearly she is a writer, and I look forward to the next compilation of her work.
One thought did keep intruding. Her backcountry way of life is threatened by the loss of wilderness and public lands. I often wonder what could turn our country away from the lethal spiral of selling off our public lands to extractive industry (won’t happen in this administration for sure). Carolyn White had no intention of writing a book to get involved in the wild lands cause. Still, that’s the effect of a book this well – written about a way of life so important. Our readers will love it.
SISSON LIBRARY NEWS Posted by normvance 11/15/2018
Colorado author writes book on her adventures in remote wilderness, and new home for CDs and EZ materials
By Carole Howard and the Library Staff
Carolyn Coleman Waller, writing as Carolyn White, is an excellent storyteller. Based on her abundant adventures “living the life of a modern day pioneer” at a primitive, isolated guest ranch in the Idaho backcountry and as an outfitter along the Salmon River, her stories seem to tell themselves in a lovely light style reminiscent of how she might share them in fireside chats and letters to family and friends.
Indeed, those letters are the sources of several of the tales. Others were shared in her magazine stories and a weekly newspaper column. Now they are gathered and expanded in “Bricks Underneath a Hoop Skirt,” book one of a series she is writing about life in the rugged backcountry without telephone, electricity, hot running water or normal mail service. Each chapter has its own charm.
You’ll savor stories about recovering from falling into a freezing river when her horse stumbled in a flood; learning to train mules and saddle horses tied together for trail rides; caring for city slicker guests, dedicated guides and wranglers at a remote guest ranch without modern amenities; and generally surviving – even thriving – in harsh weather and primitive conditions. One of her best tales documents what happened on the frigid winter day the U.S.P.S. orange bag of mail dropped from a small plane sank out of sight in the deep snow.
“It’s not a life for sissies,” Carolyn says in an understatement. But her enthusiasm and endurance skills make clear she is fully competent to make it in a world of hunting, fishing, mule-packing and wilderness survival. “There’s always a need for a good camp cook,” she said in a recent interview.
Born and raised in Ohio, she is a graduate of Ohio University with degrees in English and creative writing. For the past 15 years, Carolyn has lived in the small town of Cedaredge in Delta County, Colorado with her husband John, two dogs and three cats.
She is a frequent visitor to Pagosa Springs and she has donated a copy of her book to your library. It’s the first of a series of multiple memoirs she plans to write, the next one titled “Trucks Are For Girls.” Her inspiration comes from her own letters, every one of which was saved by her mother, who died last December at age 98. “They are a never-ending source of stories,” Carolyn said.
Deborah Sanders, award-winning author of "A Matter of Panache."., on "Trucks are for Girls, book two":
I loved this ! Because I have not (yet) read Book One, I have no idea how a girl from Ohio wound up in the West living and acting like a modern-day Annie Oakley (who also was from Ohio, oddly enough), and I don't really care (though I AM curious). I'm just glad she did because this memoir of her life as a sometimes lipstick-wearing, mostly horse-riding/pistol carrying, rough and tough outdoors young woman who can cuss with the best of them and loves sleeping under the stars grabbed me at page one and held me until I turned the last page.
Trucks are for Girls is written in a casual, intimate style that makes it feel like the author is regaling you with tales of her life while sitting around a campfire together—something I imagine would be great fun to do because a reader can't help but like and want to spend time with this woman who can spelunk through caves, break horses, live on her own in the wilderness, and back up a full-sized truck with a horse trailer hooked up to it (this seriously impresses me. I can’t even back up my car without the risk of hitting something). Throughout the entire book, the word that kept coming to mind was competent. As in, this woman is so competent at so many things! If she wasn’t also incredibly likable and human, that might feel intimidating, but she is incredibly human and likeable, so it doesn’t. It just feels admirable.
I cannot wait to read the first book, "Bricks underneath a Hoop skirt." I have a feeling once I do, I will reread "Trucks are for Girls" and just hold my breath waiting for the release of Book Three.
July 2, 2018
Ms. White's tales are so human, so humorous, that I felt I was hearing a gifted storyteller spinning yarns around a campfire.These tales are true and take us to place and lifestyle most of us have never experienced. I read the book in one sitting, and laughed aloud so many times. So if you want to walk in the shoes of a spunky cowgirl long ago, here is your chance. I hear there are more tales to come, and I can hardly wait to read them. Enjoy! Very human.
June 22, 2018
This book transports you straight to the backcountry of Idaho and Montana. It’s a fun read for anyone who fancies that they could right it for a bit. Or for those who have done it! Small world story that after Reading this book I actually met a guide who had been with her on one or more of these trips and he love the book as well! Read it just for the talk of the showers and the stove alone!
August 4, 2018
I knew Carolyn when we were horse-crazy girls. She grew up to do exactly what she was made for! This book reads like you were there with her for her adventures on an isolated ranch. I hated getting to the end...I just wanted more. Fingers crossed that this is just the first in a series. I cannot wait to read more about her adventures. A true pioneer woman and a really good writer.
June 24, 2018
Can you believe that someone chose to live in a place without electricity, running water, heat, phones or what most people consider necessities. Not only did Carolyn do it, she LOVED it and was able to share her experiences with a lively bit of humor in each chapter! A fantastic book will have you chuckling and eventually laughing out loud.
May 18, 2018
I have known Carolyn since around the time she came out of the back country (ca 1990) and have seen some of the places she describes in her book and have heard her tales of the places and people describes and have met some of those people (Zeke, Ray and Carol Arnold, her surly unnamed neighbor and his daughter Spring), too. She has lived (survived and thrived in) the Idaho backcountry and her way of describing her experiences therein brings them to the rest of us in such detail one can almost smell the cooking happening on Maggie the woodstove, hear the chatter on the backcountry radio, and hear the clomping of the crews' cowboy boots (and the mess they made) on the wood floors of the lodges, cabins, and porches. Horses, mules, and narrow trails, dudes, hunting camps, and things that happen in the backcountry (Idaho or other states, for that matter), can be once-in-a-lifetime experiences (the rest of us shaking our heads in disbelief that things like that COULD actually happen to ANYONE) and Carolyn has shared some of those experiences THAT REALLY DID HAPPEN TO HER! We lived near one another in Lakefork Idaho and I've heard some of Carolyn's other stories -- can't wait for the next volume and more volumes to come so as to hear again those experiences and more!
May 15, 2018
I wish I could give it more stars. I usually gravitate to a totally different kind of book, but the short story format drew me in and i am hooked. Her stories are real and full of truth and laughter that we can all identify with weather we are seasoned hunters or "Wanna Bees", which happens to be my favorite chapter. I laughed all the way through. I look forward to the next installment. Buy this book, you will not regret the purchase!
July 5, 2018
I really enjoyed this book it is so full of humor, and real everyday life problems. That have to be solved with common sense and not technology.R.U. from Colorado
Having read Carolyn White’s BRICKS UNDERNEATH A HOOP SKIRT, we are eagerly looking forward to reading her next book. Carolyn’s style of writing places the reader in her shoes (or should I say boots) and brings back humorous memories of the past. It’s a must read!
May 15, 2018
A delightful read, full of fun stories of the author, friends, fellow staff and paying ranch guests at a totally off-grid lodge and base camp in the mountains of Idaho. If you're a city slicker like me, you'll also learn how it's done as you accompany White, driving a team of horses to go get hay for the winter, firing up and cooking 3 squares on Maggie the wood stove, trudging through waist deep snow trying to find where the airplane-dropped mail bag landed in the pasture, and lots and lots of other adventures. Written in essay style, it's an easy read that'll have you chuckling and "wow"ing all the way through. Perfect book in which to curl up and lose yourself in another world ! Well worth the price, and would make a great gift for others !
"I love this girl’s grit! She can entertain a housewife, cowgirl, cowboy, outfitter, mechanic or anyone who would read her book. She writes with strength, vulnerability, humor and feeling."
Barb Cobb, Dental Lab Technician
"This book was even more entertaining than Carolyn's first book! After reading Bricks Underneath a Hoop Skirt, all I wanted was to read more of her adventures. She certainly delivered with Trucks are for Girls. I didn't want it to end & cannot wait until 2020 for the next installment! A good, fun, read. Loved it!"
Trish Speaks, self-employed
'"Very entertaining! I found it hard
to put down!"
Heidi Nufer, retired sales rep
"Carolyn White's stories are very entertaining. I thought Book Two was even better than the first because she shows a more vulnerable side."
Luke Browning, retired farrier
Carolyn has a knack for finding unusual stories and she loves to connect with people who march to their own drummers. You might find inspiration in this book for your own 'out of the box' experience or hobby. At the least, you'll enjoy spending time with the subjects of these fine stories."
Editor & Publisher,
FARM SHOW magazine
Don't let the self-depreciation in Carolyn White's humor fool you; she writes about the West with knowing detail that can only come from riding deep and living rough in its forested depths. Along the way, the people she encounters are as entertaining as the horses, and both species get up to no end of antics. Here you have beauty, hardship, and laughs, way out in the wilderness.