The providence of solitude

Karen Chamberlain to read excerpts from her ranch memoir

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— Author Karen Chamberlain spent five years as the only human resident and caretaker on a remote ranch in southeast Utah. She was without phone, electricity or neighbors.

"It was a place where you could find your spirit," Chamberlain said. "I realized I was living a very unusual kind of life, and I wanted to write it down."

"Desert of the Heart" is the memoir Chamberlain completed about her experiences at Horsethief Ranch. She will read excerpts from the book, answer questions and sign copies at 7 p.m. Thursday at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.

"The main thread of it was living with a sense of wonder and surprise," she said. "And I never knew when guests would appear."

The ranch was a private retreat for the owner's family and friends. During her time there, several interesting characters, including a sex addict and a bipolar neighbor who drove his wife to a battered women's shelter and then killed himself on Horsethief Ranch, visited Chamberlain.

Her main companions were her dog and the 12 to 16 horses she cared for.

"I got to adopt, train and tame a wild horse," Chamberlain said. "And I got the chance to play cowgirl once a month with my nearest neighbor, who was a full-time grouchy cowboy."

Chamberlain took the job as caretaker to escape her high-stress jobs in Aspen - and to have an opportunity to write.

"I was working as a senior writer for the PBS TV series 'Wild America,' and at the same time establishing the Aspen Writers Foundation," she said. "You can only do those things for a certain amount of time."

Chamberlain's background in biology and studying nature helped her feel comfortable on the 7-acre ranch surrounded by BLM land and Canyonlands National Park.

"If you were to see this canyon from the air, you would hardly be able to see the house because it is surrounded by 60-year-old apricot trees," she said. "I had amazing experiences with bighorn sheep and deer and other wildlife."

The feedback Chamberlain has received after publishing the memoir justifies what she set out to do.

"The most frequent comment I receive is, 'I don't feel like I'm reading the book, I feel like I'm living the experience with you,'" she said. "That is a great blessing."

Chamberlain left the ranch only because the owner returned and she ran out of money. But the desert always will remain in her heart.

"It was a really rich experience all around, even in the winter when the dry desert fog would creep in for a minute," Chamberlain said. "It was such a hidden place. Sometimes, I thought I was dreaming it."

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