There is flea market in Laramie south of Interstate 80. Much of it is a warren of eight by eight cubicles some of which are filled with little more than yard sale cast-offs while others contain what would be considered treasure vaults by collectors of one type or another.
Meandering through this motley, colorful, bizarre microcosm of life where the strange and familiar sit side-by-side is similar to reading “Claiming Ground”, a memoir by Laurel Bell. Almost every page contains some trinket that draws your eye and forces you to pick it up and turn it over and over in your hands to discover what manner of treasure you have found.
And, every so often, you find so wondrous a gem that you cannot bear to set it back on the shelf.
“I want to stand in the moonlit shadow of Heart Mountain and claim something solid and enduring. I want to be this mountain, but my life feels more like a hall of trick mirrors with a different view in each one.”
At 242 pages, “Claiming Ground” is not a long book, but it took me a week to finish it, despite the fact that I enjoyed it immensely. As with a flea market, I found myself tarrying too long in one place.
My only small criticism of the book is that much of it, although full of captivating prose, felt disjointed, like a collection of wonderful knickknacks which seem unrelated one to another. You are not drawn forward through the book.
That is until the final sixty pages. Throughout the book, Bell’s honesty impresses. At the end, it transfixes and impales; moving one’s heart in ways both painful and comforting.
I have found yet another writer who challenges me to grow in my craft. Christmas was yesterday and it is too late to wish for another gift. At the top of my list for next year is a wish to learn the crafting of a sentence as strong and lyrical as the hundreds that Bell has spread through “Claiming Ground”.