Jennifer Savage moved to Montana from South Carolina fifteen years ago for what was to be a one-year job. She has never left. "An old friend recently told me, “I suppose you are as much Western as you are Southern, since you’ve lived so long in Montana.”
There was a time when she and I lived around the corner from each other, in a town neither of us were from in a place where it rained steadily and the firs grew tall. I wonder if, for her, the West is preserved in a marinade of mid-twenties angst, 2 a.m. whisky and the faint scent of the real life that waited for her in her beloved Baltimore. For me, the West is home and has been since the day my Western-born husband and I stepped into the pasture of a farm on five acres just north of Missoula.
I have an image of Seth pulling wire and sinking posts at arm’s length while our baby girl slept in a sling on his chest. Looking at him, I knew I’d found everything I came West to find.
A few weeks ago, in our pasture, I walked a line of fence freshly righted by our neighbor. With one hand on a well-sunk post, I ran my finger along a tightly-strung strand of wire stopping on a metal-sharp barb.
My friend was right, I thought. At least close to right because place can be complicated.
Sometimes I think I will never be as much anything as I am Southern no matter how many times I breathe in a cottonwood spring. I dream in drawn out vowels and dropped i-n-g’s. And, yet, I choose to live where the July night air is thin and crisp, where a sturdy fence is still a compliment.
I can’t help but think we’ve created our own territory, Seth and I, a new geography with a postcard view of the Mission Mountains in the distance and a pot of collards on the stove. And it’s in this place, in the quiet of the night, belly to back, that we live together."
Savage pairs her reflection with a poem by Sharon Olds, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984 and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2013. Like Savage, Olds depicts two people uniting to create a personal landscape.
After we flew across the country we
got in bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 7/13/16 and 1/18/17. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)