by Martine Leavitt
The struggle for survival may bring readers of adventure stories regularly to the brink of their seats, anticipating the worst and hopeful for the best outcome but always calmed by the fictional nature of the story. But, though a fictionalized account of a herd of bighorn sheep in the Rocky Mountains, Blue Mountain reads as authentic and harrowing as any biography of an explorer or a leader making life-and-death decisions for others. Blue Mountain may be about bighorn sheep but the story of Tuk and his herd mates is a heart-rending tale of life on the edge, an account of the struggle to survive in both the natural and man-made worlds.
The story of Tuk, a male lamb, begins on the lambing cliffs with the other new lambs– Ovis, Rim, Nai, Mouf, Sto and Dall–learning the story about the mountain's gifts to the animals. Lord Denu, the first bighorn, was gifted with tricky feet, strong jaws, and powerful horns, providing his descendants with the moniker of peaceable, since they did not fight but rather stayed in herds that helped protect their numbers. When the lambs and their mothers return to the main herd at the summer range, meeting the yearlings and the barren ewes, Kenir the matriarch declares that Tuk is reminiscent of the strong lambs of many years ago and has been gifted to them by the mountain to help keep the herd from dying. This is corroborated by his vision of a great blue mountain, so rarely seen that it is called story mountain.
This is a heavy responsibility placed on Tuk and, though he suffers ridicule from a yearling named Balus and others, one that he does not take lightly or is convinced belongs to him, especially after he fails to save a lamb from an eagle. But when a mother puma and her kitten put the herd at risk, Tuk uses his lamb horns to bat the kitten off a ledge, resulting in its death and its mother's vow of revenge. Ultimately, the king of the rams instructs Tuk,
"You must find a way west from the winter valley to blue mountain before she hunts again."..."Son, it is the only way to save the herd." (pg. 38)And so begin Tuk's journeys, the first being one of personal growth and learning so that he might lead the second one, a trek through inhospitable territories to one where the herd might thrive. Enduring food shortages, threats from wolves, men with shotguns, monster machines, and unusual altercations with a wolverine, a bear and an otter, Tuk brings them to a place where
Tuk saw that the herd would always be, and that he had been part of the always. (pg. 159)He couldn't have asked for a better legacy.
Martine Leavitt tells of her father, James Webster, and his love for the natural world and particularly the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep that he studied. Blue Mountain is her own story based on his notes of observations of these majestic animals through the seasons and years.
My story became a very different thing than his beautiful and perfectly accurate rendering, but we tell the stories we can. (pg. 164)As Tuk succeeds so nobly after questioning his own leadership as a bighorn sheep, I believe Martine Leavitt has honoured her father's research and reconfigured it into a splendidly beautiful and accurate saga. I'm sure he couldn't have dreamed of a finer gift.