A nicely tart travelogue set in Big Sky country.
Montana has fewer than a million year-round residents, but at times it seems as if every one of them has written or is writing a memoir. This account is, at first glance, more of the same, populated by the obligatory outdoorsmen, Indians, and cowboys. But Holt (Knee Deep in Montana’s Trout Streams, not reviewed) quickly distinguishes himself. Not only is he a better than average writer, he also has an ironic sense of his own shortcomings—he’s an acrophobiac who worries about lightning, smokes too much, and knows the insides of too many barrooms—and a barely controlled rage about all manner of local-interest subjects (from the “Californication” of Montana to the New Age cooptation of American Indian culture). His ill temper carries much of the narrative, as Holt takes shots at “fools who think they’ve discovered spiritual enlightenment” the minute they pull their $40K SUVs up alongside a teepee, and as he denounces the rapacious ways of latter-day colonialists like media mogul Ted Turner (“buying up the West for his own pleasure under the guise of raising bison and saving wolves”). In the company of his companion Ginny Diers, whose well-made photographs adorn the text, Holt travels to some truly wonderful places—the Crazy Mountains, the Missouri Breaks, the flanks of the Yellowstone—but his notes on their beauty are less interesting than his certitude that such places will disappear if Montana’s development craze continues. He holds out hope, though, observing that history is cyclical, and that one day “the glitzy ski resorts and all of the expensive fly-fishing guides will find out the West’s ultimate truth, when the weather turns truly fierce for a series of winters or droughts kill off the trout”—whereupon, he prays, the carpetbaggers and movie stars will move on and leave Montana to worthier souls.
Holt’s acid portrait is for anyone who cherishes the truly wild West.