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The Windshift Line: A Father and Daughter’s Story

by Rita Moir

Rita Moir’s memoir The Windshift Line has a prologue in which the five-year-old Rita is helping her father in his workshop, where he is making arrows. She is entranced: “I get to stand watching my father … where time can stop, where nothing else matters but work and beauty.” Work and beauty are themes that run throughout this book.

In the first chapter the adult Moir is mourning for Connor, a dearly loved dog whom she has had to put down because of old age. To deal with that loss, she retreats into transcribing seven hours of tapes that her dying father has made about his life. By the end of the book, the transcription is done, and her father, like Connor, has gone to his rest. In between there is much work – cutting firewood, building a community hall, and cooking – and some beauty in Moir’s observations about prairie, mountain, coulee, and the human condition.

The setting is the interior of B.C., the Hudson Bay watershed, and the area of Minnesota that often sends liberal Democrats to Washington. Often the descriptions quoted are from Moir’s biologist father’s academic work: details about glacial remains, the sorts of plants found in particular marshes, what fish were caught where and how many. Behind everything is the image of a “wind-trained tree” sculpted into a beautiful shape as it stands up to the force of constant wind. Moir would have us see both her and her father as such creatures – hardened, stripped to essentials, in touch with the rhythms of the universe.

Moir’s intentions are admirable, and at times her descriptions are riveting, but she puts too much emphasis on her struggle to get over the sadness of having to euthanize Connor. Lord knows I’ve cried when my dogs died, but this would have been a better book if the little girl who helped her dad had let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak, and concentrated from the beginning on human, not canine, loss.