After 45 years of alcohol and drug abuse — consuming more than 40 ounces of vodka a day at the end just to maintain — celebrated...

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“What the Stones Remember: A Life Rediscovered”
by Patrick Lane
Shambala/Trumpeter, 259 pp., $22.95

After 45 years of alcohol and drug abuse — consuming more than 40 ounces of vodka a day at the end just to maintain — celebrated Canadian poet Patrick Lane checked himself into a treatment center in 2000.

Two months later, emerging “barely detoxed,” Lane began a diary of remembrance and revelation that would become “What the Stones Remember: A Life Rediscovered.”

Lane’s small-town boyhood was one of startling extremes. There was, always, poverty and violence: from the murder of his father by a disgruntled employee to the casual rape the boy witnessed of a drunken Native American woman by three men; from the beaten child’s body he discovered in the town dump to the sundaes he would cadge from old men to let them sexually abuse him.

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“I thought then that what my family and I went through was normal,” Lane explains. “We were leading what I thought was an ordinary life.”

But there was also a wonderfully varied natural world that the boy could explore with almost total freedom, first in the mountains of southeastern British Columbia, then on the Okanagan desert plain 120 miles north of the Washington line. It was there that his effortless, voracious curiosity was equally matched by a near-endless range of flora, fauna, geology and water formations.

If he could not then put words to what he saw, he would give expression to them later, as he has in this memoir.

The author, though, does not make it fully clear just how young Patrick, with only a high-school education and with such odds against him, arrived where he is today intellectually, other than mentioning the bedtime stories he loved to hear his mother read to him and his competition with his brothers for book knowledge. That is the reader’s loss.

Yet it is clear that in these vivid, intersecting worlds of nature and language, Lane has found true self-expression and a certain transcendence from the pain he seems destined to carry with him always.