This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

February 21st, 2005

De Ja Montana

I've been reading a book for pleasure. Now that may not be earth-shattering news, but quite often I don't take the time to read something 'just for fun.' It's more because I 'need to' for a book review, or maybe it is a writer who has been recommended whose work I haven't read before, or a subject area I need to research. (You might be surprised at how much of that gets done.)

So anyway, I received this book and thought I'd check it out. It's fiction, about fly fishing ('tho not everything I read is) and I have to admit here I have a strange way of 'checking books out'. I don't start at the beginning. My mother had an even stranger method, in my opinion anyway. She always read the last chapter first. She was an avid reader, but I thought the idea of reading the last chapter first was really odd.

I don't read the first chapter first because I believe the current crop of book editors are not really editors in the old sense of the word, but are more concerned with the possible after marketing of the book. Not to the book reader, but to those who would buy the rights for television or film use.

In theory, an author of a book has about three chapters to 'set up the book.' Over the rest of the book the author can add other characters, locations, twists and turns, but the major character(s) and 'feel' of the book are set in the early chapters. In television and film the writers don't have the luxury of time. It works against them. Surprise endings leave the viewer feeling cheated.

Anyway, that's why I don't read the first chapter first. I don't think it is usually the author's intent, but more the editor's recommendation for marketing purposes. Many authors have written a whole book just to get in one chapter which contained what they really wanted to say.

So where do I start - I open the book, somewhere in the middle and thumb back to the first page of the chapter I just came to. I read that chapter and if I like it, I read the rest of the book. If I don't like that chapter, I set it aside. I usually don't say anything to my husband JC, he can read it if he likes, or not.

What I find interesting on this particular book is I think I lived there. Well almost. The Montana town written about is really bigger than our little town, but close enough to swap out names for the most part. Montana people are Montana people. Most are not 'native' - the ones who are belong to tribes. That said, the ones who have lived there for their whole lives are part of a do-it-yourself society where you may not love your neighbor, and you wouldn't save him from a skunk, but you sure would save him from a bear.

We lived about eight miles east of Wilsall, Montana on a flat ridge, called a 'bench' below the Crazy Mountains and Grasshopper Glacier, which is about 40 miles from Bozeman by the back road. Wilsall, when we lived there, had two bars, two churches, one grocery store, one hardware, a Cenex which was also the gas station, a farm tractor and liquor store combined, and a post office. One of the bars had food. Sort of. It was also known to have live horses inside on the 4th of July when the rodeo was in town.

To say that Wilsall was 'laid back' is probably an understatement. There was a town dog. I don't think it belonged to anyone. It slept during the day in the middle of the crossroad of the main street. It was large and white. And well fed. Everyone drove around it.

In the winter people didn't usually travel too far because bad roads, unpredictable snow storms and getting stranded in bitter cold. New Year's Eve one year we did make it the 8 miles down to the Wilsall Bar which had live music and dancing. The music was western/country - what else, and really pretty good. Sometime before the stroke of midnight the lead guitarist sort of slid off the stage onto the dance floor. He never missed a beat, before he totally passed out, dead drunk. A volunteer from the crowd gently removed the guitar from the fallen musicians hands and filled his shoes for the rest of the night. Typical neighborly act. Someone tucked a coat under his head so he could sleep comfortably.

Cattle were still branded the old fashioned way. Rounded up, run through squeeze chutes for shots, ear tagged, branded and the steers neutered. Neighbors were expected to help - and did. When it was your turn, the neighbors turned out for that one too. The 'women' served a good hot lunch and the work was shared. I don't think outsiders know that way of life still exists. It isn't just in movies and books. It is real. As we were told when we first moved up into the 'high country' "Up here, we all get along."

If there was a problem, everyone was expected to help. There simply was no question about that.

I got a phone call one fall from a neighbor who asked if I could come and drive a wheat truck for him for the day. I had never driven a wheat truck, didn't have a clue. No problem Elton said, I'll show you what you have to do. This was a BIG truck. More gears than I'd ever seen. Drive it from the storage bins to the field where the wheat was being harvested, wait for the box to be filled, drive it back to Ringling to the bins, there was a man there who hooked up a suction device to get the wheat out, and then drive it back to the field, find the harvester and do it all over again. It didn't kill me and I helped out.

Another phone call another day asking if we could help out on a round up. We did. A couple of weeks later a stock truck showed up with a load of wonderful Texas river rock I had admired for a fireplace JC and I were rebuilding in our old house. It was the way of life. Since we weren't ranchers with either wheat or cattle, we were viewed as a soft touch I'm sure - no one took advantage of us, but they locals knew we would help out if asked.

One day we were coming back from somewhere and we were flagged down. And ordered to go up that road NOW. We did. We had on dress clothes, not the usual jeans. No matter. We ended up spending the next 6 hours fighting a fire until the real fire crew could show up. And yes, they really can do that. About a month later we each got a check in the mail! For our fire fighting service.

Surprising what reading a couple chapters in Travers Corners can dredge up. Almost like being there, again. While I haven't read the rest of the books in the series, I probably will dig those out and read them as well. I am struck by the real feeling the author captured about a particular area of Montana which we really loved. ~ DLB

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