In the Arms of the Sky
Based on a true story, In The Arms of The Sky fictionalizes a brief period in the life of a world-traveling Englishwoman, Isabella Lucy Bird. A forty-ish spinster, Miss Bird is in the process of crossing the American continent after completing a tour in the South Seas. Before returning to her invalid sister in London, she is determined to visit Estes Park in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, described to her by a friend as having the most spectacular scenery in the world.
There, she meets “Rocky Mountain Jim,” Indian fighter and gunman, a mountain man in the purest form, right down to the scar on his face from a bear attack. Despite his animal-skin attire, Isabella recognizes Jim Nugent as a gentleman. He agrees to guide her to the top of Longs Peak, another goal for the intrepid Englishwoman. Thus, they are plunged into each other’s company.
Punctuated with quotes from Miss Bird’s book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, the story charts the development of the love affair between these disparate characters during Isabella’s four-month stay. Complications include Isabella’s loyalty to her invalid sister and Nugent’s fight against the land-hungry efforts of Lord Dunraven to turn Estes Park into a private game reserve. Why Nugent considers this fate more destructive than carving the same land into 160-acre cattle ranches is not clear until, near the end, Isabella herself begins to understand that “it was his [Nugent’s] lust for the land that was in itself driving him mad. He truly believed that such terrible change was on the horizon that even the mountains themselves could not survive it.”
In The Arms of The Sky is a unique take on the spinster and the outlaw tale. In staying faithful to the written record, however, the story does lose some narrative drive, and in parts it leans toward travelogue. Still, it is clear that Earl Murray has a great love of the majestic Rocky Mountains, and he imbues the story of Isabella and Jim with a tragic, romantic magic.