MIISSOULA IN JUNE
Another two months have almost passed since I last posted on my blog. For whatever reason, that seems to be my pattern.
I left Virginia May 25 and after stops to see family and friends in Minnesota and Iowa, I arrived in Missoula the afternoon of June 6, the earliest I’ve yet been able to get back to our little house up in the south hills of town. I wanted to get here earlier this year because I can’t stay through September and the glorious month of October as we usually do. I have to be back in India by the last week in September.
The first week back always seems spent reorganizing the house and touching base with friends. Since then I’ve been writing a lot, but for my novel, not my blog. And the last few days have been spent hanging my exhibit, “TWENTY-THREE RANDOM MOMENTS, 1964-2002, that will open at The Darkroom Gallery on Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula, July 6 and run through the month. It’s a collection of mostly 13” x 19” prints drawn from work done in the United States, Canada, Peru, France, and Italy. So if you happen to be swinging through Missoula between 5:00 and 8:00 next Friday, stop in and have a beer with us.
Back in Virginia we got lucky and were not hit badly by Friday’s severe storm. Additional rough weather may come in this period of extremely hot and humid days often accompanied by storms with strong winds. Ani and Anthony were out of power at the house for Friday night and all day and night Saturday but there are no big trees down. Of course, these Virginia home emergencies always seem to happen when I’m not there. At least I’m not in India but I might just as well be as far as helping and assuring Ani that we didn’t fare badly compared to a lot of others. Terri told me this morning that a lot of the roads between Charlottesville and where they live in Batesville looked like “a war zone.” I’m not sure when it’s supposed to get better, at least cool down some. Out here in western Montana it’s getting hot and dry and it might get windy, too, and if we don’t get some serious rain soon we may be facing up to a fire season that has already hit hard across the divide in parts of eastern Montana.
I attended a wonderful event Thursday evening at Fact & Fiction bookstore in Missoula. Novelist William Hjortsberg gave an entertaining reading of his new book, Jubilee Hitchhiker, the life and times of Richard Brautigan, which weighs in at about 2 ½ pounds but I suspect I’m going to get more than my money’s worth ounce per ounce from this biography of the poet, novelist, and short story writer who in the 1960s and 70s became famous for his work and his often alcohol fueled erratic behavior. He also became for a while, rich.
Hjortsberg, who lives in Livingston, Montana, and was a long time friend of Brautigan and for a time his neighbor in Montana, related anecdotes, many quite humorous, about Brautigan and his quirks. He avoided the book’s dark, initial chapter which in the first two sentences reveals Brautigan’s September, 1984, decision to take his life in the living room of his house in Bolinas, California by firing a .44 Magnum hollow point bullet that blew off the top of his head. It turns out the weapon used was a nickel-plated Smith and Wesson model 28 revolver on temporary loan to Brautigan. The first chapter goes on to describe in detail the gruesome reality of what remained of Brautigan when his body was finally discovered after decomposing for more than a month. It also touches on the initial response of many of Brautigan’s friends and his publisher upon hearing of the death of someone many may had considered difficult but also a kind of genius for connecting with his times.
Brautigan was 49 years-old when he died. But by the time of that devastating pull of the trigger he had lost much of the popularity he once so enjoyed in his native country. He departed without giving any notice in the way of an explanation note. Novelist and Brautigan friend, Thomas McGuane was quoted as saying of Brautigan: “When the 1960s ended, he was the baby thrown out with the bath water.” And: “He was a gentle, troubled, deeply odd guy.”
Like many of my generation I recall enjoying Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, A Confederate General from Big Sur, and In Watermelon Sugar in the late 1960’s. Those paperbacks, some quite slim, are somewhere in my library back in Virginia and I wish I had them with me now to reread along with Hjortsberg’s book..
I met Hjorsberg briefly after the reading and again that night at the Depot bar where he and some of my Missoula writer friends and I had gathered for drinks and food. It struck me that night how fortunate I’ve been over the years to have enjoyed the work and friendship of some fine writers who either live now or have lived in Montana and how three of them have contributed forwards to three of my six books.
In the winter of 1980 I drove to Thomas McGuane’s place in Paradise Valley–not far from Livingston, along with my writer friend Steve Byers, who knew McGuane and introduced me to him–so I could ask if McGuane would consider writing a forward to my first book, Vanishing Breed, a collection of my photographs and writings about the American west and the cowboy to be published by New York Graphic Society/Little Brown Co. I projected for McGuane a tray of transparencies I wanted to include. Before the night was over Tom said he’d be pleased to write the forward for me.
Twenty years later novelist Richard Ford wrote the forward to my book Portraits of America. I remember meeting with Richard once to talk about the book in the coffee shop of a motel in Chinook, Montana, a town up on the Hi-Line where Ford then had a place where he could write and get in some bird hunting.
And two years ago– writer William Kittredge, who succeeded poet Richard Hugo as the head of the creative writing department at the University of Montana, and guided it for many years– wrote the forward to my most recent book, WILLIAM ALBERT ALLARD: Five Decades.
I have seen McGuane rarely over the years and about the same for Richard Ford although I recall a rather bizarre pheasant hunting trip in central Montana a couple of year ago; a planned meeting with Ford and two of his friends from Missoula. All of us brought dogs but my Buster was the only dog that came back without needing the attention of a vet, and the silly part is we never really did get out to hunt. It’s a long story.
But Bill Kittredge and his lovely long-time companion, writer Annick Smith, have become two of my really good friends here. I see Bill just about every week if he’s in town. Bill has been gracious enough to read chapters of my book as I progress and has been encouraging. Other writers I enjoy reading and seeing here in ZooTown, such as Judy Blunt, Dee McNamer and Bryan Di Salvatore, are all on the creative writing faculty at the University of Montana. Novelist David Gates arrived on the faculty last fall and I enjoyed some time with him at readings. And writers Robert Stublefield and Debra Magpie Earling, also on the creative writing faculty, have become very good friends I look forward to seeing and talking to during my days here.
There are many reasons why I love Montana and Missoula. The community of fine writers in the state and in this town in particular, is a big reason and I think it always will be. I hadn’t actually lived in a town for many years before we made our part-time move to Missoula five years ago. For more than half my life I had chosen rural settings in which to live, places where I couldn’t see my nearest neighbor, which pretty much describes our place on the side of a mountain in Virginia. So here I am–neighbors all around me–and I’m loving it because it’s Missoula. I do wish I’d made the move to Montana much earlier but then that might seem like I’m complaining which would be far from true. I feel very much at home here and one can’t ask for more than that and it’s to be appreciated, not soured by regret that it didn’t happen sooner.
It looks like it’ll be a hot Fourth of July and with the coming of dark the night sky will erupt with many loud, light displays. They’re big on fireworks here. In past years I’ve tried to sit on the little deck off our living room where it’s possible to view rockets and pinwheels bursting in the sky in four or five different areas of town, But each year when things start to go boom, Buster has run in a frenzy up and down the steps, circling the yard and barking endlessly into the night. Lizzy the Terrorist is less vocal but none the less on alert, should her fifteen pounds of aggressiveness be needed. This year I’m invited for a Forth of July dinner at a nice restaurant on the edge of town and I imagine we’ll witness the pyrotechnics after desert. But I’m sure the dazzling, blasting, and ground shaking fireworks detonated Wednesday night will drive Buster crazy if I leave he and Lizzy out in the fenced back yard by themselves. So I’d better put them in my writing room with the door closed.
That’s Wednesday, of course. Keep Friday the 6th in mind if you’re in Missoula. It’s a First Friday and there will be the usual art walk with the town’s galleries showing new work. My show opens downtown at the Darkroom Gallery on Higgins Avenue, 5:00 to 8:00. Come on by, drink a beer, look at the pictures, and say hello.