Reflections West

Wednesday 3:00 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.

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

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