Book review: Michael Perry’s ‘Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time’

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Norwalk, 634; Ontario, 554; Wilton, 503; New Auburn, “Population: 485.” Besides similar populations, each of these communities has at least one thing in common: each has a volunteer fire department.

A nurse by training, Michael Perry discovered that he had the ability to write in a manner that entertained. Writing as an occupation means that you can locate nearly anywhere you wish. In Michael’s case, that meant going home; it was quite a change from his early days as a ranch hand in Wyoming. Michael still maintains that he holds the record for being the only working cowboy in all of Wyoming to graduate from nursing school.

“Population 485” is based on the author’s experience as a first responder and volunteer fireman. But it is also a “can you go back home?” story. Can a person who makes his living writing, with his “soft pink palms” regain a place among people who actually work for a living? In the café, you might hear, “He’s quite a worker,” or “She’s a helluva shot,” but you are unlikely to hear, “He crafts a lovely metaphor.”

As it turned out, Michael’s way of reattaching was to join the volunteer fire department. His training, experience and the fact that he was usually available during the day made him a natural. The book is about his experiences, but it is much more. It is also a meditation on life, love, death — the things that make us human. Read “Population 485” and you share similar experiences, both good and bad, of local first responders, EMTs and volunteer firemen.

In case you wonder about Michael’s writing ability, carefully read the first few paragraphs. If you find a better description of the change of seasons in a rural area or of a small town, please show it to me. You may have to look up the word “zaftig” though.

Near the end of the book, Perry says, “… I’m a wandering fool, but I’ve got the sense to keep returning. On this land, in this place, with these people, I am where I belong.”

My wife Arlis and I are hardly wandering fools, but after absences of two and 15 years, respectively, we’ve done the same.

P.S., This paperback edition of the book has a P.S., which gives an update on Michael, New Auburn, the One-Eyed Beagle and Michael’s brother, Jed.

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