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Not so long ago many of us in the American West lived in ways driven by the ancient rhythms of seasons and weather and the doings of animals. A few of us still do. But it's a way of going to life which is clearly passing.

Yamsi is a good true telling of what that life, that way of doing things, was like. But it is not a recounting of lost times, which is to say it is never sentimental.

Yamsi is a book I keep on the shelf with the really fine books about the West I grew up in, like We Headed Them North by Teddy Blue Abbott and Wallace Stegner and Goodby to a River by John Graves and The Meadow by James Galvin.


Yamsi is a book I can't help but think about in personal ways. My brother and I spent the fall of 1967 sort of working on family properties which lay adjacent and downstream on the Williamson river from the ranchlands Dayton Hyde was buying from his uncle, Buck Williams. During the warm sweet weeks of September and early October we wandered the edges of deep timber along the swamplands of the Klamath Marsh, where the sunlight was golden all day long, jumping up waterbirds as we went, fixing some fence, but mostly loafing in the shade of great of great yellow pines and listening to the World Series on the radio.

Our family was going out of the ranching business. We were selling the cattle, and splitting up the properties on the Marsh. Pat and I were representing our father's interests. In November winter came down over that country like a hammer. The swamplands were frozen hard as metal. We tied nylon panty hose around our ears and went off on horseback, gathering the cattle to ship. But my brother and I didn't have much in the way of true responsibility. Clinton Bassey, as accomplished a horseman as I ever saw, had been taking care of our interests on the Marsh for decades, and he was getting the work done.

That was fine with me. My wife had taken our children and gone to California. I was burning bridges, getting up some courage to head out for a new life. It was an excuse for a lot of bad conduct. Artists didn't live by the rules, everybody knew it, and I yearned to turn myself into a writer.

What I didn't know was that there was a writer living just upstream from where we were on the Williamson River, that he had come of age in the ranch business, as I had, and that he was getting down to the task of writing a fine book about life in the shadow of Yamsi Mountain, about the men and women who'd come to the country before him, about his family and the birds and wild creatures he loved, the haying and winter feeding and horseback days in autumn, all the life I was so frantically preparing to forgo. His was an example I could have used.

Dayton Hyde was a man I many have spoken to once, or not at all. But I knew who he was. I recall waving to him pickup truck to pickup truck, as we passed on the dusty pumice roads. working men I knew on the Klamath Marsh said he was a rigid fellow. Dayton Hyde was taken to be a man who would never go off drinking with them, a distant man who disapproved of what they thought of as winsome cowboy barroom antics, and for reasons such as that, though they didn't know him, many of them resented him. Likely he wasn't paying them any attention at all because he had more significant things to worry about.

At that time, in that country, he was universally spoke of a "Hawk" Hyde. I imagined this nickname was a result of the strong sense of personal space and distance he carried with him; it didn't occur to me that it might have come to him because of his willingness to care for raptors.

Yamsi I think, must be a good book for young muddleheaded Western men to read while they're trying to figure out who and what they want to be. They might learn to pay strict attention to what they love, and less heed to the fashions of the world; they might learn to nurture their willingness to care for good horses and waterbirds and the play of children, and to give up on some of their single-minded acquisitiveness and rock-and-roll buckaroo craziness.

I could have been way ahead if I had at least talked to Dayton Hyde. From what I see int he mirror of Yamsi he might have been able to help me with the process of reinventing my self and purposes. His example might have helped me through years of floundering, if I would have listened, which is doubtful.


Nowadays, I think, all of us in the West should be listening to Dayton Hyde. The West, everybody knows, is going through a time of unsettling change. Our frontier is turning back on itself; our territories are being, like it or not, resettled again, this time by people who often come bringing money. Many old-time western people are feeling increasingly dispossessed, out of the loop; some are growing angry; a few threaten violence.

Westerners face two primary responsibilities as times change. We have to provide social justice four our citizens, and we have to find ways to preserve the place where we live and the creatures. These don't have to be contradictory agendas.

In Yamsi we see a man driven by our fundamental and commonly human impulse to take care. Our best future lies with constantly, in all our dealings, honoring that impulse. All of us in the West, particularly our lawmakers, should pay serious attention to this book. Dayton Hyde is telling us things we need to hear, through his example showing us the way. We need to take heed. This is indeed a fine book, and its time is here.

—William Kittredge

Member of AAUP