Reflections West

Wednesday 4:54 PM

Reflections West is a weekly radio program that presents the thoughts of writers and scholars on the American West. These thinkers pair their own thoughts with a passage from literature and history.

Tasha LeClair & Beth Loffreda: The Invisible West

16 hours ago
Nick Romanenko

After a lifetime of hearing about the American West's preferred myths, Tasha LeClair, who grew up in Wyoming, tends to feel invisible:

 “When I write about the West I feel as though I'm poking around the perimeter of a vast blank place where words don't live.

Joseph Grady & James Welch: Building A Face

May 19, 2015

Joseph Grady, who is Blackfeet, was adopted and raised by a non-Indian family near Seattle:

"I went to school to learn that I was brown, because skin color was not a concept nurtured by my adoptive parents. I wasn’t confronted by race as a child, not directly at least until I started school.

Milkweed Editions

Archaeologist Sara Scott is fascinated by the petroglyphs of the West:

"The crunch of limestone under my boots echoes up the canyon as I walk through its narrow passage in the Big Belt Mountains near Helena.

Megan Calvert, an undergraduate at the University of Montana-Missoula, grew up in the shadow of Montana's Mission Mountains. The gothic influence of 19th century American poet Edgar Allan Poe underlies this reflection on mountains, solitude, and comfort:

Karli Larsen & Paul Zarzyski: Duped By The Earth's Edge

Apr 29, 2015

Karli Larsen is no stranger to U.S. Highway 2  between college in Missoula and home in northeastern Montana: 

"Over one thousand miles of radical backdrop, several weather systems and small intermittent towns make the round trip from the University of Montana to my home town of Culbertson, Montana more a voyage than a trip.

Naomi Kimbell & Willa Cather: Shedding Walls And Windows

Apr 22, 2015
Ammodramus

Naomi Kimbell has always been fascinated by the view looking north from Missoula of the Rattlesnake Mountains:

"As a child, I used to walk home backward so I could keep my eyes fixed on my section of the Rockies called the Rattlesnake.  I don’t know what it was I thought I wouldn’t see if I turned away but I knew I wanted the shape of the ridgelines in my eyes, though looking and seeing were never enough.  I wanted more than looking could give me and to be a part of what I saw.

Cassandra Falke & John Keats: One Sublime Moment

Apr 8, 2015
William Hilton the Younger. (British National Portrait Gallery)

Cassandra Falke recounts a sunlit moment shared with a coyote, above Santa Fe:

Micah Fields & Richard Hugo: Taking Stock

Apr 1, 2015

In the poetry of Richard Hugo, Micah Fields recognizes his own fascination with the ways that suffering is portrayed in art:

Clare Menahan & Annie Dillard: Startled Into Enchantment

Mar 25, 2015
Biographile

Clare Menahan recalls a vivid encounter with a great horned owl:

Carson Becker & Stephen Dobyns: Shades Of The Past

Mar 18, 2015
courtesy of NMSU

Playwright Carson Becker reflects on the legendary packs of wild dogs that used to roam Butte, Montana:

Philip Greene

Co-host David Moore remembers "driving the river road toward Duncan's Mills in the hills of the Coast Range of the Bay Area of California. My older brother would shriek and call it the "weee!" road for all its curves and plummets rising and falling. I remember standing on the back bench seat as a very small child while the grownups drove and smoked and talked in the front. (This was the Fifties.) The curl of cigarette smoke still looks and smells like comfort to me.

Amon Carter Museum

Historian Ellen Baumler tells how Western artist Charlie Russell got his beloved horse, Monte, the bay pinto known originally as Paint:

Flickr user, Michael Lusk

Lowell Jaeger - poet, teacher and former co-host of "Big Sky Radio" and "Storylines Northwest" on MTPR - writes about migration: "Since the beginning, humans have migrated from place to place, crossing borders, sometimes legally, often not.

In 2014, journalist and fiction author Adrian Jawort launched Off The Pass Press and its inaugural publicationOff the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century Montana American Indian Writers, Vol. 1

courtesy of the Wilderness Institute, University of Montana

Karin Schalm recalls: "I moved to Montana when I was 25, fleeing my grief. I was searching for a new sense of home. In the wilderness of the Rocky Mountain Front, I felt a familiar sense of belonging among the rocks, icy creeks and wind-bent trees.

Jordan Konkol got a summer job helping geologists explore for platinum in Alaska. He recalls a moment from that remote place, standing on a high ridge in summer daylight at 11:00 p.m., "...feeling silence extend in every direction. I recalled a line of Joseph Conrad: "this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.""

Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" describes the "darkness" in the Thames River, downstream from London:

courtesy of the Lahey family

"You come to Butte, Montana direct from seven exhausting years in the city, seeking solace, expecting blight, and finding home."  Missoula native Regan deVictoria fell for Butte "as you do a man with a harelip despite deformities, and later, because of them." Poet Ed Lahey was born to a family of Butte miners in 1936. From his adopted home of Missoula, he looked back at The Mining City:

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Visits to poet Stephen Behrendt's favorite places in the West linger in his memory and imagination as "places of mind," where blue skies and the fragrance of sun-baked evergreen needles connect him more intensely to his surroundings than the "whitish Great Plains summer sky, heavy with humidity" of his home in Nebraska.

From Behrendt's poem, "Tracks:"

Montana Historical Society

Thoroughbred horses are Catherine Melin Moser's passion, but moving to Montana, she discovered something she hadn't know: winners of several of America's preeminent horse races in the 1880s and 1890s were raised on Montana bunch grass. Racers Spokane, Ben Holladay, Tammany, and Scottish Chieftain were raised by Montanans Noah Armstrong, Samuel Larabie, and Marcus Daly, and were winners of the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and other races.

A Brief History of Butte, Montana

"In 1864, men in a hurry journeyed to the region known as the headwaters of the Missouri. Called by gold, they were in a rush to acquire and ascend, whether through gold-mining, freighting and selling goods to the miners, raising wheat and cattle, organizing and leading a new government, or other, less reputable means."  Ken Egan describes the collision between native cultures, with their traditions of gift-giving, oral history, and piety, and a burgeoning population of American opportunists. 

Lindsey Appell

"We were told coal would save us, the same year we learned about boom-and-bust economics in our social studies textbooks." College-bound Lindsey Appell couldn't wait to leave Roundup, Montana for Missoula, but soon she began to feel "the pull back to the prairie. The scent of wet sagebrush sends a shiver of longing through me now...There are no true sunsets in a bowl of mountains. No blood-orange autumn skies, casting harsh shadows across grizzled ponderosa hills and sandstone crags."

Annick Smith's dog Bruno "rode shotgun" as Smith drove from Montana to the Midwest, visiting her ninety-seven-year-old mother in Chicago. That trip inspired a memoir featuring Bruno as a central character. Smith cites poet Mark Doty's thoughts on writing about animals: doing so is an attempt to "bring something of the inchoate into the world of the represented." The Pima chant, "Dog Song," begins at nightfall with a dog watching butterfly wings fall from the sky:

"Our songs begin at nightfall

"My grandmother has no fingerprints. Her hands are lean, soft on the back, and wrinkled.

Mark Gorseth

Mark Gibbons began his "relationship with booze" at "watering holes, western bars, those dens of iniquity, as integral a part of the western landscape as horses or teepees...Fueled by alcohol late into the night, bars surely held unpredictable wildness, danger and vice; but in small western towns, the bar was the social center of the community." Poet Ed Lahey recalls a working-class Butte bar in "The Ballad of the Board of Trade Bar:"

Larry Miller

Lynda Sexson shares a Zen parable of the West, involving a baby and a pack of compassionate coyotes. Her tale mirrors Gary Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra:"

"And he showed himself in his true form of

SMOKEY THE BEAR

  • A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and
    watchful.

Stephanie Land grew up in Alaska and thought she was ready for anything the extreme climate could throw her way. She recalls the night in Gold Stream Valley when winter proved her wrong. Judy Blunt's memoir, "Breaking Clean," tells the story of "practical rather than humane" decisions that ranchers along Montana's Hi-Line had to make after the devastating 1964 blizzard.

Flickr user, Granger Meador

Kaya Juda-Nelson left Missoula for college in Boston, excited to leave. But when events brought her back to Montana, instead of finding herself lonely or bored, she found that silence and spacious views provided "company as well as solace." In Tony Abeyta's essay, "Tsankawi's Trail," the Navajo painter describes an ancient Pueblo village in New Mexico "where spirits of past and present parallel infinitely:"

Damon Falke

Nov 12, 2014
courtesy of Damon Falke

Poet and novelist Damon Falke's West is a region that begs us to stop and look closely. Falke remembers a mysterious cemetery, perched on the rim of a plateau, where as a young man he would stop and watch and wait, not quite knowing why. In his poem, "Dove Creek" Falke reveals the deep observation practiced by his father, on trips into the desert:

"...There was my father,

Hunched over a cache of stones,

Sorting them out like so many bones

courtesy of Mayapple Press

Tessa Heinemann loves digging up history. On an archaeological dig in the old gold-mining town, Virginia City, MT, she discovered 150-year-old remnants of toys, jewelry, and medicine bottles. "I find it incredibly rewarding to transform the experience of casual tourists. They hold artifacts in their hands and begin to imagine the bustling streets of a real community."

courtesy of the University of Montana

Tamara Linse - "a writer, cogitator, recovering cowgirl" - grew up on a Wyoming ranch where adult women told dumb blonde jokes. Linse's book of short stories is called How To Be A Man. "They thought of themselves," she writes of the ranch women, "as profoundly set apart, a sort of third gender - not quite a man but definitely not a woman.

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