photo by Lynn Woodward
photo by Lynn Woodward
Freelance writer and Nugget reporter and columnist Craig Rullman has published a collection of essays titled “The Bunkhouse Chronicles: Field Notes From The Figure 8 Ranch.”

Some of the essays contained in the volume have appeared in The Nugget; others were collected or created specifically for the book. All of them center around questions about the relationship of people to the landscape, specifically of the American West.

“I think we’re living in an in-between time,” Rullman mused. “We’re watching the old myths that have sustained us for a very long time either die off or fade, and I think we’re in the process of building the new myths that we’re going to live by for a long time to come. It’s a really intense and unsettling time.”

Rullman likes the title “The Bunkhouse Chronicles” because it evokes the sense of men sitting around telling yarns and hashing out some of the fundamental matters of the human condition.

“Having lived in a few bunkhouses, it’s kind of a place for conversation, for storytelling, for asking questions,” he said.

Rullman continually circles back to the belief that “the answers are sometimes outlived by the questions.” The questions of how a republic crafted in the 18th century can sustain itself in the 21st. Questions around how a fragile ecosystem like that of the American West can sustain millions of people who live and work on it — with more coming in all the time.

“It’s the most fundamental relationship we have — with the ground we live on,” he said. “It’s probably more important than ever that we take care of it.”

We live our day-to-day without thinking much about questions like, Where does our water come from? and What will we do when there’s not enough to go around? When those questions arise, it’s because the situation has gotten acute.

“The tap turns on and we don’t think about it too much,” Rullman says. “You don’t think about your left thumb until you bang it on a door jam — then it’s all you think about.”

Rullman is already at work on his next project.

“It’s a collection of essays about the ‘closed frontier’ after Frederick Jackson Turner and the 1893 speech he made (‘The Significance of the Frontier in American History’),” Rullman said.

The essays explore, in part, what happens to communities that grew up in frontier conditions as they try to adapt to change. Rullman cites his own home country in Lassen County, California, which was once rich ranching and timber country. Now its main industry is prisons.

“Timber and ranching collapsed — then what?” Rullman muse. “Warehousing humans. Warehousing wild horses. The mom-and-pop stores disappear and the big box stores take over.”

Rullman wonders if the character honed on the frontier can actually adapt to such changes.

“Adaptability has been one of the hallmarks of the West,” he said. “That’s one of the questions I’m asking: As we homogenize everything, how can you do that?”

Rullman cites local support in bringing “The Bunkhouse Chronicles” to life. Sisters photographer and graphic designer Lynn Woodward shot and designed the cover. And Rullman appreciates his experience working with Nugget editor Jim Cornelius.

“It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas around and be back in the bunkhouse a little bit talking about ideas,” he said. “Writing a column has been a really good way to hone my craft. You have a word count and you have to cut away a lot of fat.”

Rullman acknowledges that not every column can be a home run, but, he jokes, “it’s like baseball — if you hit three out of 10, you’re going to the hall of fame.”

Rullman is also well aware that not every reader appreciates his outlook. He still thinks they ought to pick up a copy of the book, “because it might surprise them. Assumptions are a funny thing — in both writers and readers.”

“The Bunkhouse Chronicles: Field Notes From The Figure 8 Ranch” is available online through the usual sources, directly through https://smokecreekpress.com and locally in Sisters at Paulina Springs Books. Rullman plans an author event at Paulina Springs on June 22.