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.

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


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

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.

courtesy of the Hydaburg School District

Every year, Robert Lee spends time as a poet-in-residence at the Haida School of Hydaburg, Alaska. His students teach Lee as much about surviving the elements as he teaches them about self-expression. 

In 1913, Doug Midgett's grandfather gazed at the tableland around Sumatra, Montana and saw a hopeful future of verdant crops. Looking at the same land fifty years later, Doug's father, who grew up in Sumatra, saw perennial drought, searing heat, and stifling dust storms. Poet Gwendolyn Haste lived in Eastern Montana in the early 1920s and watched the losing battles of its farmers:

"...Seven full years, says the Book, and seven lean -

And we come in at the end of the full ones, I guess.

There ain't no crops where they's no rain.

Wildlife officials say bears are becoming more active as they search for food before hibernation

"In this city dedicated to the bear, I haven't seen a bear yet. Except in the airport lounge, where one such specimen is stuffed. Do you know the story?"

In our Clip of the Week, Poet Eduardo Chirinos, a professor at the University of Montana-Missoula, writes about bears - real, symbolic, and stuffed.

Listen to the entire episode of "Reflections West" featuring Eduardo Chrinos and Linds Sanders. Or hear more on your radio every Tuesday 8:30 p.m. and Wednesday 3:55 p.m.

Bud Cheff, Jr.'s family has been friends with the Conko family of Montana's Mission Valley for over a hundred years. Bud recalls a reunion between his grandmother and Eneas Conko in the front pew of the St. Ignatius Mission church.

A pregnant Erin Saldin narrated the details of her winter walks to her unborn child, imagining him as a character in a novel. "That imagined child is nothing like my flesh-and-blood daughter, who was born late, blonde, and wide-eyed." Saldin pairs her reflection with an excerpt from Marilynne Robinson's novel, Housekeeping.

LaVerne Harrell Clark, The University of Arizona Poetry Center

When writing about literature, teacher and author Robert Stubblefield sticks to the present tense, since "great literature never slides off into the past, but remains with us in an eternal present." Stubblefield's friend and colleague, author James Welch, creates a world in his historical novel Fools Crow "as clear and present as the gray vapor of our breath against the darkness."

During summer trips in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Tammy Elser, the daughter of an outfitter, learned to love camp coffee. Poet Luci Tapahonso's Navajo uncle drinks coffee from the red can, too:

Tom Mulvaney collection

Early in the twentieth century, long before Twitter, people sent snippets of news back and forth on penny postcards, sometimes transferring their own photos onto the front. In his book, Penny Postcards and Prairie Flowers, Philip Burgess has collected the postcards exchanged between his homesteading grandmother and great-aunt in Montana and their Norwegian immigrant family in Minnesota.

Joy Harjo

From her home in Pennsylvania, Toni Truesdale has never heard the call of the West. But her sister has. In spite of geographic separation, they re-create home around the kitchen table, wherever they are. Poet Joy Harjo's poem, "Perhaps the World Ends Here," sings of the kitchen table:

"Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

James Davenport grew up in Deer Lodge, MT, at a slower pace than his urban peers and without the surfeit of pop culture that informs their language. In his 1962 bestseller, Travels with Charlie, John Steinbeck observes that Montanans seem unaffected by television and the homogeneity overtaking other rural places:

Caroline Keys

Among the jobs Caroline Keys has held since moving to Montana: driving a tour boat on Flathead Lake.  Recently, she arranged a gig for her band on the boat she used to captain. She's reminded of a Salish story about ingenuity and re-arranged roles, collected by Bon I.

Paul Theobald admits he's tired of the pressure to remain rootless in order to "go far" in his teaching career. Wendell Berry names this cost of this pressure:

"That teaching is a long-term service, that a teacher's best work may be published in the children or grandchildren of his students, cannot be considered, for the modern educator, like his "practical" brethren in business and industry, will honor nothing that he cannot see."

Dale Gillespie grew up in Western Montana with a bias for mountains and water, but finally felt the beauty of the plains of Eastern Montana creep up on him as he watched a sunset Charlie Russell might have painted. In Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner reveals his own secret to "home:" 

Charles Finn

Each fall, black bears snap poet Alicia Gignoux's wild plums trees in half. One year, she salvaged a broken ten-foot tree, hauling it indoors for her Christmas tree. In an excerpt from his book, Wild Delicate Seconds, writer Charles Finn catches an October bear in the act of pilfering apples.

(Broadcast: Reflections West, 7/22/14 & 7/23/14)

Bradley Gordon

7/15/14 & 7/16/14: This week on Reflections West: In his youth, Toby Thompson stormed thirty saloons a day in search of the Great American Bar. In the dark of a recent December night, he experienced a revival at the New Atlas Bar in Columbus, MT. Poet Ken McCullough finds consolation at the New Atlas, too:

"Your conversation

Kathleen Welsch

7/8/14 & 7/9/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Literature professor Kathleen Welsch describes John Randall: a Winnebago born in prison, a tunnel rat in Vietnam, a wheelchair-bound warrior for the "little guy." Welsch excerpts a commentary about Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster from the Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples Council.

Michael Troutman/

7/1/14 & 7/2/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Four Corners area fiction writer, Erica Olsen, notes the distracting nature of Grand Canyon visitors' obsessions with cameras and technology. From his book, The Colorado, Frank Waters points out that "for all our technological achievements, our very lives tremble upon the delicate scales of nature."


American Heritage Center, John Clayton

6/24/14 & 6/25/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Author John Clayton marvels at the independence of frontier journalist, newspaper publisher, rodeo founder, homesteader and novelist, Caroline Lockhart.

6/17/14 & 6/18/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Historian Ellen Baumler, who witnessed Governor Brian Schweitzer's posthumous pardon of the 76 men and 3 women convicted of sedition under Montana's notorious 1918 law, reflects on WWI hysteria. Clem Work speculates on the convictions of two of the pardoned, William and Janet Smith.

Damon Falke

Jun 11, 2014

6/10/14 & 6/11/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Damon Falke, author, playwright and poet, returns to a bean field, where his nine-year-old self is practicing fly-fishing. Falke shifts the scene to shadows and "odd pickings" at "The Church at Yellowjacket."

6/3/14 & 6/4/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Missoula slam poet Linds Sanders writes about the strange presence of life in Henry, a stuffed buffalo. Poet Eduardo Chirinos, a professor at the University of Montana-Missoula, writes about bears - real, symbolic, and stuffed.

5/27/14 & 5/28/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Brandon Reintjes, Curator of Art at the University of Montana's Montana Museum of Art & Culture, contemplates artistic innovation and "Montana modernism." Tristan Tzara, a founder of Dadaism, instructs "How To Make a Dadaist Poem."

5/20/14 & 5/21/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Stephanie Land recalls how the cold of an Alaskan winter forced her to surrender to nature. Judy Blunt portrays the 1964 blizzard on Montana's Hi-Line.

5/13/14 & 5/15/14: This week on "Reflections West:" Kaya Juda-Nelson finds her place in nature. Navajo artist Tony Abeyta observes an ancient Pueblo village by moonlight.