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.

Reflections West podcast

Ways to Connect

Flickr user, Don DeBold (CC BY 2.0)

"The draft haunted me during the Vietnam War, and for us college kids standing naked that morning, awaiting our pre-induction physicals, it was a vulnerable moment," writes Toby Thompson, author and writing teacher.  "We’d boarded an Army bus for the ride to a nearby fort, where medics and physicians waited to decide our fitness for duty. A few boys were gung-ho, but our majority hung our heads in resignation or prayer, hoped for 1-Y or 4-F status.  Either meant you wouldn’t have to serve.

Flickr user, Neal Sanche (CC BY 2.0)

"My close friend from high school died recently as the result of a car crash from three years ago. He had been driving to Missoula," writes Erik Kappelman, a student at the University of Montana.

"A short time ago I drove that same road with my pregnant wife and four-year-old daughter. We went to our family's ranch outside of Big Timber; the place is falling apart after my parent’s divorce, after years of disability and alcohol. I think to myself: when that homestead collapses after one hundred years, it will finally be over.

Crissie McMullan, the executive director of Mountain Home Montana, considers the connection between homelessness and the environment. The absence of a warm bed and warm meal can trump the healing potential of time spent in wildness, writes McMullan:

"I first started caring about the natural world in my late teens, a time where I felt confused about who I was and who I wanted to be. Sometimes I was so tangled up inside that I couldn’t breathe. I sought air in the most literal way: outside, among trees, between mountains, beneath a big sky.

"The trouble with giving away a place name is that then we can guarantee someone else will go there," points out poet, Damon Falke. "No matter how remote the dirt road that winds its way to the overlook where the sunsets are eloquently perfect, someone else will seek and find the same road.  When we expedite this process of finding, we (or someone) will begin to advertise our places through a precise network of signs and signals.

"I have no deep physical roots to a particular place, nor did my parents before me," writes anthropologist Sally Thompson in her manuscript, True North at the Third Pole: Exploring the Indian Himalayas. "The graves of my ancestors lie unremembered in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Connecticut.

"Years ago I served as an expert witness for archaeology in the Taos Pueblo water rights case. After I presented a status report of my research, the governor of the Pueblo stood up and said he wanted to note a significant difference between my culture and his: curiosity. Euro-Americans want to dig things up, dissect them and verify everything. Indian people already know who they are and they don’t need the physical evidence of the past to prove it.

Cornelius Marion Battey (PD)

“For seven days in June 2015, Rachel Dolezal captured the news cycle,” writes University of Montana professor, Tobin Shearer, for "Reflections West."


“Dolezal had led Spokane's NAACP and taught Africana studies, but lost those positions after her parents outed her as a white person. Dolezal had presented herself as black for years.


"The man I fall for can be hard to reach," writes author and creative writing professor, Rachel Toor. "When he goes out, he goes far. He fills his bottles, stows food he’s prepared, some of which he’s killed and cured, makes sure his skis are waxed, bike tires filled, boat leaks plugged. He brings extra batteries, toilet paper, and some weed. Some of his clothes and gear, worn but trusted, have outlasted his dogs. He always has a dog, named Rio, or Bridger, or Finn, usually a Lab.

"The year before I started middle school, my parents made me watch a videotape of a professor talking about problem students who engaged in “'negative attention-seeking,'” writes Melissa Stephenson.  "I didn’t understand why my teacher had sent this video home. Mrs. Dolk had short blonde hair like Princess Diana, and sometimes I imagined what life would be like if she adopted me. I tried to impress her with jokes and high test scores. But as we watched the video, I realized my favorite teacher didn’t much like me.

David Allan Cates

"Sixty years old and riding my bike no-handed across the Higgins Street bridge into downtown Missoula, feeling my stomach churn with the anger and fear that has choked our civic air — but also the with the miracles of hot wind and flowing water," writes poet, novelist and teacher, David Allan Cates. "Despite my spread-arm victory pose, I carry a feeling of lost-ness—of emptiness that’s also a kind of balance—a wound, that’s also, somehow, a spring.

"I grew up in Tacoma, a port city on Puget Sound," writes poet, essayist and co-owner of Missoula's Montgomery Distillery, Jenny Montgomery. "We lived on Puyallup Indian reservation land, but there were few signs that this was so. Our neighborhood overlooked ancient salmon fishing waters but was completely inhabited by whites.  There were no Native kids among us at school yet our mascot was the Warrior—a childlike, cartoon brave who wore a single feather on his head and a floppy loincloth.