Mary's Way A Memoir of the Life of Mary Cooper Back

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9780967173405: Mary's Way A Memoir of the Life of Mary Cooper Back
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Mary Back wore many hats during her 86 years - artist, naturalist, wife, Wyoming pioneer, dude rancher, airplane mechanic, hiker, hunter, author, and philosopher - to name a few. Her passion for life is captured in this memoir, based on her letters and journals. Compiled by her niece, Ruth Mary Cooper Lamb, Mary's Way invites you to see through Mary's eyes as she makes her way from the mountains of Vermont, to Berea college, nestled in Kentucky Mountains, and finally to Art School in Chicago. After falling in love and marrying artist-cowboy Joe Back, they head for the Wind River Valley of Wyoming in 1935. Their struggles, first to survive, and then to become successful full-time artists make for absorbing reading. Mary's spunk and ability to see the good around her, help her develop a unique philosophy, centered in the interconnectiveness of life, that will capture you, heart...and soul. Mary left a rich legacy, though she and Joe left no children:

The Wind River Valley Artist Guild... celebrating fifty years of

annual exhibits in 1999...

Hundreds of folks motivated to try their hand at art...

Mary's own paintings of Wyoming...

Joe's books, sculptures, and bronzes, that wouldn't have happened

without Mary's support...

Mary's book, Seven Half Miles from Home, Notes of a Wind River Naturalist... Her love-based theology

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About the Author:

My dad, Milton Cooper, eldest son in a family of six, doted on one of his younger sisters, Mary. I grew up knowing this aunt was special. While we always lived on the east coast, my dad kept in touch with Mary and her husband Joe, after they moved to Wyoming from Chicago. My father saved all her letters and our family visited when we could. I came to love and respect Mary (and Joe) during my own visits to them as a child, teenager, and adult. Mary helped fashion my religious beliefs during one summer when I lived with them, helping out in their studio-store. Starting in 1933 Mary's widely spread brothers and sisters kept in touch through a round-robin letter which circulated from family to family. It still continues today. These letters form the backbone of this memoir, offering a unique window onto Mary's life and thoughts. Coupled with all the other letters kept by other family and friends, it is possible to take an extensive trip through Mary's life, using her own words. Drawing on all this, I have composed this look at Mary's life. Writing has become one of my joys, since retiring from a career as a nutritionist. My husband and I moved to an isolated valley in the Adirondacks of New York State ten years ago. We live off the grid, striving to define what we really need to live happily, but lightly on the earth. My observations of the natural world have been published in a variety of regional publications, including Adirondack Life, Adirondac, The Glens Falls Post Star, and the New England Writers' Network.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Written as Mary rode the train into Chicago as an art student:

"On my way to the city each day
I pass a vista -
Fields there are, and brambles,
And brown and purple grasses,
The blue and yellow and gray of dug up earth.
And crooked elm trees, and a river.

But it is all cut up with heads of people,
Great lumpish heads of people in the car.
People who never even see my vista,
And I long to push them away -
Elbow them -
Knock them off -
Wipe them out -
So that I may have the clear view
And feel the fresh spring breeze
And see the patterned gray sky -
Is it these other folks who are self-centered -
Or I?"

Written soon after Mary and Joe arrived in Wyoming in 1935:

"Candlelight shines on my paper, faintly illuminating out white collie, Lady, just composed to slumber on a chair. The glow is reflected from a washtub on the stove and from the tall tower of two cans soldered together that are used for a flour bin, and makes just visible the rough log walls (lit only by contrast with the black holes of the windows).

Outside I can hear Joe's ax as he gets wood ready for breakfast. Lava Creek murmurs over stones. The wind makes music in the pines. Except for these things there is a great silence, punctuated by the occasional hooting of a horned owl.

It's half a mile to the quiet highway, quiet for many a mile before it comes to any bustle of life... You might think there'd be some loneliness, but it's not so. The log walls, the purring fire, the little gentle loyal dog, the finest man in the world, makes a combination that means home. This is our ranch..."

Written in 1939 as the Backs sought to run a dude ranch, and still be artists: "(As I worked in the rock garden yesterday) I felt like Archimedes. There was a (big prong of a rock) right by the kitchen door, so I decided to eliminate it. I dug all round it at the bottom, and gee whiz it was big! About the dimensions of a heavily upholstered two-seated bench, (made of) very fine lava, no big holes to make it lighter. Joe wasn't there and I was mad at it by then, so I got a crowbar, and, by taking all afternoon, got it pried triumphantly out. I'd raise it on one side a couple of inches, put a rock under it, then go round to the other side and do likewise. So when it was out the hole was all filled with the rocks, and I was hardly tired at all. I was sure impressed by the power of a lever. With a little brick-sized stone for a pivot, I could lift that enormous thing by the pressure of one hand, and hold it with my knee while adjusting the stones under it. Yes, sir, I was sure that if there were only something for a pivot, I could move the world!..."

While hunting elk and moose each fall provided most of their meat, as the years past, Mary found it a struggle to kill other life in order to maintain her own: "There are always mixed emotions during a hunt, and a now familiar pattern of thinking... There is the excitement of being up in the thin crisp air of the high mountains, the stiff climb bringing the blood singing in the ears, the breath-taking spread of country underfoot. There is the frustration of a long day's hunt for nothing, the exciting sudden chance at a shot, the sharp agony of actually taking life, the hard bloody work of dressing and dragging out, the period of remorseful appreciation when the doe lies by the jeep, her slender legs and delicate feet describing precise shapes, her insides gone, her gentle bunny-like face composed and quiet... There is no way out of this trespass against life, no way but Jesus' 'Give us this day our daily bread - and forgive us... our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'. It's a sin to eat if you have a grudge against anyone. Every possible effort of kindness is necessary just to earn the right to eat. So, as always, in the end I just give up, accepting my position in life, and thankful that I am close enough to elemental facts to see vividly and sensitively this all-pervading unity of life, hidden from so many by the multiple complexities of modern life..."

Mary wrote eloquently about this unity of life: "Resurrection was the miracle under my eyes this afternoon as I stepped on the soft old corpse of an enormous cottonwood, its body against the shore, its mouldering limbs reaching out into the stream. It cut off from the rioting current a little backwater deep and black. It fed the roots of a small thicket of rusty and raspberry-red willows, whose long scarlet roots dangled on down into the water below. The roots had caught and held a variety of small limbs, leaves, and punky old limbs. Grass and iris were tangled among the willow roots... A school of tiny trout flashed in the mossy shelter of the backwater... And the end is not yet. A tiny cottonwood sprout was starting, too..."

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