Rock and Hawk

“This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Disinterestedness;

Life with calm death; the faqlcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.”

Robinson Jeffers, Rock and Hawk

Black Gyr on basalt in Iceland, taken by Kirk Hogan theee days ago

Maurice R. “Monty” Montgomery, 1938- 2017: RIP

My friend Monty was always a slightly elusive presence, even in his autobiographical sketch in Amazon, written by himself:

“M. R. Montgomery, known to the various government record keepers as Maurice R. Montgomery Jr., and to all his acquaintances as Monty, was born in eastern Montana in 1938, raised partly in California, and now lives near Boston for reasons that he cannot quite explain. Over the past twenty-five years he has written for the Boston Globe on every subject except politics, a clean record he hopes to maintain until retirement. Other than fishing and a little bit of gunning, he has no obsessive hobbies, although he has been known to plant the occasional tomato and a manageable number of antique rose varieties, these for the pleasure of his wife, Florence.”

He was sort of the unknown best writer I knew. ALL of his books were good, but two in particular, Many Rivers to Cross, about native trout, and Saying Goodbye, about eastern Montana and fathers and sons, are absolute classics. Saying Goodbye is the best book on eastern Montana I know.

Monty could write about anything. Though I didn’t get to know him until the 90s, I first wrote to him for advice on bird dogs in 1970s — he replied with a column called “Find a Gentleman With a Bird Dog”. He also wrote columns I remember on rutabagas and November.

In the end I couldn’t even find his obit in the Globe. Monty was erudite, kind, and generous as well as an undervalued writer. He will be missed.

Here is a fine tribute by Corb Lund about their mutual country.

James Lee Mansell, RIP

James was Floyd Mansell’s oldest son, with the woodsman’s heritage and ability one might expect. Perhaps even in extra measure; he was one of the best woodsmen and elk and turkey hunters I ever knew in his youth. I believe he was also a Golden Gloves boxer, as many of Floyd’s kids and proteges were. But he had a problem. Before such things were diagnosed properly, at least in rural districts, he was utterly dyslexic and never did learn to read. It was no lack of intelligence or dedication; he spoke Spanish, “Burqueno”- accented English , and Navajo; people tended to think he was Spanish, but he was a quarter Navajo, a quarter Choctaw, a quarter Scots- Irish, and a quarter Lebanese; with his handsome vaguely Asian features he would have looked quite at home in Almaty or any of the Stans…

James worked hard, played hard, and walked more than anyone I knew (he once broke his back in an accident, and was walking three days later!), and he drank. It finally killed him. He was nothing if not realistic about it, and made jokes about it until his last days. I would ask him why he had done something uncharacteristically dumb, and he would look at me and say “Steve… I was drunk!” It reached its peak of heartbreak and hilarity when he insisted on narrating, in a loud voice, in the supermarket at 10 AM, how he had managed to get bitten two times by a big diamondback, which he normally could have controlled with ease, as he was a serious snake collector. In each stage of the narration — anaphylactic shock from the antivenin, and getting bit again when he released it; I would say “I know James, I know”. He kept on going “You know WHY?” I said “Yes, James” in a quiet voice. “PUTA, I was drunk!!”

He remained incorrigibly cheerful, even as his horizons narrowed. After being lost in the Gila Wilderness for three days,he stopped going on extended hunts. Breaking his back, though he walked through the pain, made it still harder than it was. He still came by almost daily, pointing out birds and other creatures he had seen on his walks. Toward the end, his wife Bernice was trying to get me to write about him, saying “You don’t know him — he’s Floyd Mansell’s son!” James, sitting at a table a few feet away, kept saying “Bernice, he’s my friend Steve. I saw him this morning! Leave him alone!”

He left behind an enormous amount of good will and love, many brothers and sisters, his mother Wanda, and a grieving wife, and a wonderful bunch of children and grandchildren, some of them already accomplished naturalists and outdoors people. Although he lived his life on the margins, he’ll be missed by many,including me.

James and grandchildren.

William “Gatz” Hjortsberg, 1941- 2017

Chris Waddington, my old editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and now a happier man in his belovcd New Orleans (even though Katrina flooded his house) emailed to tell me that our mutual friend Gatz Hjortsberg died at his home in Livingston after a “short illness” i.e. pancreatic cancer (it’s a bad one; it’s the one that took down Bob Jones after he survived prostate cancer.)

As I said to Chris, our friendship was cordial, but not particularly close. Still, we were part of the same Montana scene and went to the same parties, where Michael Katakis would groan “Oh God, Gatz and Bodio are both here — nobody else will be able to get  in a word.” Probably true, and I think they’re all the better for it.  He was always known as “Gatz”, never Bill or William, apparently because of a youthful infatuation with the work of Scott Fitzgerald, especially The Great Gatsby. Besides, he wore all those cool hats.

He was utterly intrepid.He was one of Pat’s boys” at Sports Illustrated, and his first assignment was to ride a BULL.He did it, too.

Gatz was undervalued as a writer of books, perhaps because he was a writer of genre books in a  literary field. He followed his friend Tom McGuane to Livingston from grad school, because McGuane was the only writer he knew who fished. Among the schools he attended was Stanford, where like McGuane, he was a Stegner  Fellow; that is, someone whom Wallace Stegner abused. This was good company to be in; among the other people Stegner called bums, hippies, beatniks, and worthless were Robert Stone, Ken Kesey, and the lesser known but fascinating David Shetzline, who wrote one of the only two good novels I know of about  forest fires. Among Gatz’s books were the dark fantasy Alp and the darker sci- fi Gray Matters in the early years, and the Mexican thriller Manana recently. But his best knows was Falling Angel , which was made into a movie starring Mickey Rourke. He also wrote Nevermore where he wrote the following wonderful inscription in my copy:

He also wrote a puzzling biography of “Poor Old Richard” Brautigan, which took him about 14 years and was rejected by its first publisher. In the end it ran to 862 pages, any 100 of which were brilliant. I can’t help but think that Richard’s own words might apply: ” In this world, where there is only a little time to spend, I think I’ve spent enougth time on this butterfly.” *

No matter. Gatz Hjortsberg was a gentleman and a writer, and he will be missed.

*The quote about the butterfly is a close paraphrase. I’m not going to look it up at this hour!