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'Breaking Wild' Explores Dark Spaces In Nature And In Ourselves


So I was chatting recently with the author Diane Les Becquets about one night when she was hunting with a bow and arrow in the backwoods of Colorado.

DIANE LES BECQUETS: I was bow hunting by myself covered in elk estrus, camouflage paint.

GREENE: And elk estrus - just a - this comes up in the book, but explain it for our listeners just so they know.

LES BECQUETS: I mean, my understanding is that it's really elk piss. You know, you're covering yourself with the scent of a female elk so that you are luring a bull elk.

GREENE: OK, so we should clarify that you, actually - not just your character in the book, but you - have covered yourself in elk urine.

OK, so this is the first thing you need to know about Diane Les Becquets. She loves the outdoors. She was living in Meeker, Colo., hunting, hiking, writing books until life took a turn. She got divorced and said goodbye to her beloved Colorado to take a teaching job in New Hampshire to support her three sons.

LES BECQUETS: I eventually met a logger who was a forester out there. And I got married - fell in love, got married, and he passed away from brain cancer. He was in my life for two years.

GREENE: I'm so sorry.

LES BECQUETS: Thank you. But he also - he had a lot of dark places in his life that he was trying to overcome. And I could see him with those struggles toward the end of his life really trying to overcome that. And in many ways, I thought, you know, that's kind of like hunting, right? You're hunting that prey. And that prey were these dark spaces in his life. They're our own demons.

GREENE: And her newest novel is about exploring these dark places in nature, but also in ourselves. "Breaking Wild" is the story of two women. Amy Raye is a hunter who gets lost while tracking an elk, and Pru is the ranger trying to find her. Here, Diane Les Becquets reads from the book at the moment Amy Raye spots her prey and draws her bow.

LES BECQUETS: (Reading) The elk turned his head, his eyes frozen at a direct point with her own. Seconds moved between them like rainwater through mud. The arrow sailed, cleared the trees and made contact with the animal, its impact like a sharp clap against plywood. The elk pivoted and sprang in one broad leap back into the wall of timber from which he had emerged, his body crashing through the woods, snapping and breaking limbs.

GREENE: It is so clear in this book that you love nature. I wonder what you tell people who can't compute the idea of someone loving animals but also hunting them.

LES BECQUETS: That's not an easy question to answer. I know that the hunters who I have surrounded myself with have a true reverence for animals. And they cry when they take an animal down. There's something very spiritual about it. And they see animals as gifts to us. If we take an animal down, we should use that animal for our own sustenance. I mean, people buy cattle meat at the grocery store. I bet the respect that animals are shown through hunters is much more - if I use the word beautiful - than what you see in slaughterhouses.

GREENE: I want to ask you about the American West. For people who don't spend a lot of time there, they might see a movie like "The Revenant," which is nominated for the Oscar. And it's a place that is so often depicted as, you know, the terrain of men. Were you consciously, in this book, you know, putting two skilled outdoors women at the very heart of this landscape to show that it really is not always that?

LES BECQUETS: Absolutely. Absolutely - what I loved living in Meeker, Colo., was I met one woman after another who was so brave, so courageous, so strong. And these women were inspiring to me. I remember having a ranching woman. She was in her 70s. But she'd be up in the middle of the night calving and working and then coming in and feeding all of these men lunch. And I love that. I love women who aren't afraid to use their bodies. I love women who are strong mentally and emotionally, but also who have a physical strength to them. You don't have to have a large frame to have that kind of physical strength and courage. So yes, I wanted to show that and especially women who have a relationship with the natural world.

GREENE: And do you have that same relationship? I mean, I know one of the women in the book - she says that the wild spaces allowed me to hear the whispers of something much greater than myself, and I couldn't get enough of it. I mean, does that describe your relationship with these wild spaces?

LES BECQUETS: Absolutely. I remember so many solo hikes; so many backcountry trips. Literally, I would look at the landscape, and I would think, this is the body of God. When I have gone through periods of loss, I find my comfort outside. But not just, you know, outside, I'm going to go get some fresh air. I need to use my body in a physical way.

GREENE: It is such a metaphorical book. And I'm not going to give too much away, I hope, by saying this, but there's such a dramatic scene where Amy Raye realizes that she would have been closer to being rescued had she stayed put rather than be on the move. Is there a moment in your life where you really compare it to being in the wilderness and having to make one crucial decision - whether to stay in a place of safety rather than take a risk - that really speaks to this book?

LES BECQUETS: You're a really good reader because I'm so glad you picked up on that. For example, last night I was getting to visit with my son who lives in Boulder. And we talked about this. You know, life gives us so many choices. And I think some of the biggest grief I have is when we see people who have reached a point in their life, and they end up nowhere where they thought they would have been, meaning it's really sad. They lost opportunities. And we talked about - life is a risk. If we protect ourselves too much, nothing will happen - nothing at all.

GREENE: I don't know if I've ever read a novel that, after speaking to the author, it feels like it could have been a memoir in so many ways. I mean, you talk about being a mom with such a close relationship with your sons, being someone who loves the wilderness, being a bow hunter. Did you ever wonder what it would have been like to do this as a memoir as opposed to writing a novel?

LES BECQUETS: I had a lot of people tell me, you still have that memoir in you and you need to write it. There's definitely a lot of pain in there. And there are a lot of things I would like to cover. But for now, I think I will write autobiographical fiction.

GREENE: And what is the difference? Like, what does it do for you as a writer - you know, doing it this way versus, you know, writing very personally?

LES BECQUETS: It frees me up because I care so deeply for the people in my life not to have to inflict any shame or hurt on anyone else.

GREENE: That's the writer Diane Les Becquets. Her new novel is called "Breaking Wild." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.