A graceful spirit-of-place study, set in territory widely thought to belong to God.
Montana is a place where weary urbanites from both coasts come to find themselves—a modern development that is a source of much grief to longtime Montanans, who now have to wait for a stool at the local diner. Travel writer Heminway (African Journeys, not reviewed), a frequent visitor to Big Sky country, is well aware that one acquires true Montanan credentials only by tracing claim to the place over several generations, but that did not keep him from buying a little ranch (carved out of a larger ranch and onetime hippie commune) and sinking some Montana roots of his own. No instant cowboy, he thoughtfully reflects here on the harsh realities of the place: the deadly cold of winters that last for seven months, the desolate plains littered with hundred-year-old broken wagon axles, cattle skulls, and the ruins of homesteaders’ shacks, etc. Shrugging off the attendant bad vibes (for, he writes, “Montana had become my drug”), the author cheerfully attempts to become a good neighbor, only to have his efforts challenged at every turn by a particularly irascible rancher with whom, by story’s end, he has forged an uneasy détente sometimes bordering on friendship. Heminway’s reflections on the once wild but increasingly settled landscapes of Montana are well-crafted and often lyrical, with only a few false steps (mostly in the direction of lapsing into reverence whenever American Indians enter the scene). Although sometimes overawed by the beauty of his newfound nirvana, the author is always brought back to his senses by the hardened old-timers, who, without really meaning to, help him “penetrate the astonishing bond between landscape and people, and to understand how nothing, in the end, is perfect.”
Useful reading for city slickers contemplating a move to their own home on the range.