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Synopsis

As a young college student in the early 1970s, Laurie Wagner had never camped out, never gone hiking, and never lived without electricity or indoor plumbing. Yet she walked away from these comforts and headed for the wildest reaches of Montana to live with a man she had not met in person.

When I Came West is Laurie Wagner Buyer’s account of her terrifying and exhilarating years in Montana as she changes from a girl too squeamish to touch a dead mouse to a toughened frontierswoman unafraid to butcher a domestic animal. Living in a cabin far away from family and friends, with the nearest neighbor four miles away, Laurie finds herself caught up in two love affairs: one with the volatile Vietnam vet Bill and one with the untamed West—even as she recognizes, in the words of one neighbor, “It is plumb foolishness to love something that cannot love you back.”

While her relationship with Bill grows precarious, Laurie forges a lasting relationship with her surroundings: the rivers, the wildlife, and the people who inhabit such remote corners. Peeling away the romance of escaping to the wilderness, When I Came West reveals the brutality and bounty of a world far removed from modern urban life.

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