MTPR

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

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P.D.

"Ten years ago, my dad told me I would be inheriting his 30.06," writes Erika Fredrickson, arts editor at the Missoula Independent. "I nearly choked on my coffee. My grandfather, who died before I could meet him, had passed the gun to my dad, and my dad wanted to do the same. But I was a writer, not a hunter.

"Montana first told me a secret on the banks of Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula," writes photographer and writer, Jessica Lowry Vizzutti. "I was visiting in summer with my boyfriend as we made a cross-country road trip from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Montana and ultimately Los Angeles.  It was July, the perfect month for a Southern woman to fall in love with a snowy state.

Len Jenshel

Stephanie Land knew in fourth grade that she wanted to become a professional writer. She's written for the New York Times and the Washington Post about the obstacles thrown in her path by the challenges of single parenthood.

"For two decades I wrote horrible poems," Land writes. "I believed in soul mates. I devoured books. I drank too many jugs of wine. I sowed my wild oats.

Toni Truesdale works with people suffering from dementia. In "Behind The Locked Door," her book of essays and poems about Alzheimer's, she writes about "sundowning," the symptoms of restlessness and confusion when, at around sunset each day, patients begin searching for home and bygone family.

"My sweet, eighty-two-year–old friend repeats a sentence for the third time: “Well, I guess it’s time to go home; Mother will be waiting” I look at the clock. It's 4:30 p.m. and the shadows outside are lengthening; the sun is going down. Her mother has been gone for over twenty-five years.

Illustration by Jesse Wells

"My wife and daughter left Montana for our new home in Ontario while I stayed to pack our things," writes journalist, editor and recent University of Montana MFA graduate, Brendan Fitzgerald. "I was glad they’d gone ahead. It was fire season, and smoke had lowered the ceiling of the world, dissolved the mountains and filtered color from the sunlight. On the radio, someone said that spending more than an hour outside was hazardous. I spent two in the parking lot of the post office, hauling books from my car and packing them into boxes.

"Some of my most illuminating experiences of the West have occurred behind the wheel of a car," writes writer, teacher, and director of the Montana Book Festival, Rachel Mindell. "This is not especially romantic. Having lived in Arizona, Colorado and Montana and as a woman who loves to hike, to sit on rocks and to feel insignificant, I have continually averted the expression of a direct commune with nature. As a writer, I need expansive solitude to produce, a metal cage with windows and relative silence. To produce, I need to drive.

"This last fall, I was teaching a poetry class in Arlee, a small Montana town on the Flathead Reservation, just after the first snow fell on the mountains," writes musician-poet-teacher, Caroline Keys. "A junior high student in my poetry class, one in a set of identical twin brothers, turned in a poetry exercise in which he was asked to replicate one of the most famous and enigmatic poems titled "This is Just to Say" by the Modernist poet, William Carlos Williams. The assignment asked him to rewrite Williams's mysteriously potent form with something from his own life.  The student's poem began like this:

This is just to say
yes we have switched classes
you thought I was the other twin
and you have finally figured it out...

Mark Gorseth

"My father, and many fathers and their fathers before them in the last century, especially those working in the American West, were forced to travel away from home to provide for their families," writes poet Mark Gibbons. "They were sometimes gone for days, weeks at a time. My dad worked as a trainman for the Milwaukee Railroad, available to hop a freight around the clock every day of the year.

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.

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