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.

Hemingway’s Guns– new edition

Silvio Calabi and Co. hav come out with a new ed of the already- good Hemingways’s Guns that adds the Cuban guns from the Finca Vigia (a uniformly ruined unshootable lot BTW) to the already good scholarship of the first volume. Two things are  particularly notable. First, most American rich folks back then shot good versions of the same guns as their less well- off contemporaries, not aristocrats’ or Best guns. Hem shot a Model 12, some 21’s, a Springfield, many Winchesters, and a humpback Browning; so did my father, and I have owned them all. The only real “Best” he ever owned was the Westley .577, and he disliked shooting it.

And though Patrick H debunked it long ago as a myth propagated by “Miss Mary” (I believe): Hemingway not only didn’t shoot himself with a Boss; he never owned a London Best shotgun! Calabi has done real detective work here, finding the remnants of the W & C Scott lock from the fatal gun.

For all fans of Hem and guns, (except perhaps those put off by the NYRB article that called the book “sick fetishism”– !)

And on another gun matter, congratulations to reader Phil Yearout, who just got published in Shooting Sportsman!

PS : Pauline shot a Darne 28!

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!

Tom’s tour- and Book

A friend in Alberta snapped this photo of Tom Russell and Ian Tyson in fine form at a concert up there.

My informant said that he told a story of bringing his Swiss Father-in-law over the Continental Divide at night to visit us and our hounds and hawks. It could have been a fraught scene — “Poppi” says that his only English was “Fuck you, cowboy”, which as Tom said “went over real big with a bunch of drunk cowboys demanding encores of “Tonight We Ride”, but our French wine, our posole, and our animals disarmed him, not to mention my ability to speak French, and he now sends us German articles on falconry.

This story and many others are in Tom’s wonderful new collection of essays Ceremonies of the Horsemen. There are portraits of Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, of Hemingway and Ian Tyson, Charles Portis and John Graves, and a piece on J P S Brown, a hard old man we both know who may be the best unknown cowboy novelist around. There is also that story about me and falconry, one about Gallo del Cielo (the “damn chicken song”) and the only English cockfight corrida I know, which will teach you all you need to know about cockfighting (and I don’t mean that sarcastically). It is a tragedy with laughs around the edges, although Tom has been known to claim that he wrote a version with a happy ending in which the rooster buys the Golden Spur Bar.
In the weirdest of these stories Tom ends up in the Swiss castle of Balthus’ widow, discussing their mutual admiration for Tex Ritter’s “Blood on the Saddle”. Buy this book! Nobody but Tom could ever have written it.

Recovering

Libby is doing well, although the broken rib really hurts when she she coughs, and she is going to a dentist today to plan tooth repair.

To certain complainers: I did not publish unattractive pics of Lib without her permission; I did ask, before I took the photos, and she gave it gladly, in the interest of the story. She is the least vain, most un- self- conscious person there is. I am the one who dreads most new pics, feeling like half of them make me look like I were on chemo (I will publish a couple today, as it is only fair). What makes anyone think i would EVER hurt Libby’s feelings, or that in a four- room house that she would be ignorant of it for more than five minutes?

The Cooper’s material was necessary to keep the new woman from sending the Feds or the warden after us. We’re perfectly legal, but an “invalid” with a book contract and deadlines, as well as the walking wounded, don’t need the extra hassle of official visit and explanations. I thought I would put all the facts, biological and legal, up front as a preemptive strike…

The justified (and funny) critic was Jonathan, who wrote in part that the post “…non-sequiturs into a thousand-word exegesis on urban raptors, then – oh yeah – completes the story about Libby!” I have always digressed, or as I say defensively, been “non- linear”, and I am getting worse. I’m just glad that someone who is currently in Tel Aviv, heading to Lebanon with his bicycle, is reading the blog.

Tom McGuane on Raptors

Novelist Tom McGuane, while noted for his horses and pointing dogs, has always had a feel for birds of prey,  notices them, and on occasion writes lyrically about them. There is a vivid set piece in the novel Something to Be Desired, in which which the protagonist, LucienTaylor,  takes his young son, who does not live with him, to lure a Prairie falcon in to trap on a pigeon, using a falconry practice to band the bird to study. The child is frightened, startled  by the bird’s falling from the sky like a hammer onto the  luckless bait bird, but Lucien is ecstatic, with the emotions of a true hawk trapper.
“There were feathers everywhere, and the hawk beat in a blur of cold fury, striking at Lucien with his downcurving knife of a beak and superimposing his own screech over the noise of James. “We’ve got him, James!” James, quiet now, looked ready to run. The hawk had stopped all motion but kept his beak marginally parted so that the small, hard black tongue could be seen advancing and retreating slightly within his mouth. ‘It’s a prairie falcon. It’s the most beautiful bird in the world. I want to come back as a prairie falcon.’ “

This is a man who has been there. Here is another lyrical piece, from the more recent Driving  On the Rim:

Good essay

Barry Lopez in Granta. The first quote is so often the writer’s dilemma.

“As much as I believed I was fully present in the physical worlds I was
traveling through, I understood over time that I was not. More often I
was only thinking
about the place I was in. Initially awed by an event, the screech of a
gray fox in the night woods, say, or the surfacing of a large whale, I
too often moved straight to analysis. On occasion I would become so
wedded to my thoughts, to some cascade of ideas, that I actually lost
touch with the details that my body was still gathering from a place.”

“Existential loneliness and a sense that one’s life is inconsequential,
both of which are hallmarks of modern civilizations, seem to me to
derive in part from our abandoning a belief in the therapeutic
dimensions of a relationship with place. A continually refreshed sense
of the unplumbable complexity of patterns in the natural world, patterns
that are ever present and discernible, and which incorporate the
observer, undermine the feeling that one is alone in the world, or
meaningless in it.”

(Courtesy of Carlos Martinez del Rio)

Beebe

Will Beebe, naturalist, writer, inventor, New York socialite, jungle and ocean explorer, is a man whose like it would be hard to have today. But without his example, I don’t know if I would be the person I am. Tom McGuane also cites him as a childhood inspiration, not for writing (I think he slights him a bit here), but for adventure. He wrote his first book in 1905, a rather 19th century affair called Two Bird Lovers in Mexico, and wrote his last stuff for the Geographic in the early sixties. He was a friend to Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote the intro to (I believe) his second book, early, and to Father Anderson Bakewell much later, invented the Bathysphere and exploration of the abyss, shot flying fish with a 28 bore Parker, and married beautiful women…

I have intended to write on Beebe for a while, as I have a nice little collection of “Beeebeana”, but I was prompted by my correspondent, Kirk, one of the serious polymaths himself– geneticist, MD, gourmand, elk hunter, scholar of Icelandic history, sea trout fiend, student of esoteric lore (he is the only acquaintance of mine who has attended the Naropa Institute Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where he among other things read Conrad with William Burroughs!) Kirk, in a discussion of Kipling, asked me if I knew of the “Kiplingite” Beebe (who actually met Kipling when he was living in Vermont). When I replied that I did, and shared my modest collection, Kirk responded with the following:

“Since the first page I “self-identified” as a scientist.
A tiny sphere dangling deep in the dark with
a shaft of light on bizarre never-before-seen creatures.
My wife gave me Gould’s biography (out of print) this summer after hearing
her interviewed on NPR, and probably tiring of me
rave about William Beebe for 40 years (almost
from the day we met) i.e., why I do what I do.
What a combination – absolute scientific rigor,
wild bravery, aplomb everywhere (back of beyond to Vanity Fair),
work hard, party hard, a true advocate for women in
science (one of the first), smashing technical and popular writer,
bon vivant with no care for possessions or
wealth other than that needed for more science, genial
mentor to so many of the best of the best.”

Sing it, Kirk! Here are some things…

His first book:

A favorite, Pheasant Jungles — a signed copy. It was a VERY different time– read the caption (double click to enlarge)…

Books then were decorative- here are the endpapers of  Jungle Days  and The Arcturus Adventure. Both were published by Putnam, nature and adventure being mainstream in those days…

One of his most wonderful books is Pheasants, Their Lives and Homes – two volumes covering every species, in its natural home! Beebe, just after WWl and working for the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was given the kind of assignment that usually doesn’t exist even in fiction– to travel to Asia and collect and observe every species, paid for by the wealthy patron Colonel Kuser. The resulting volumes also used the great nature artists of the time– Knight, George Lodge, Fuertes. There is nothing else like them.

 


 This is only the beginning, early, land based. His dives in the Bathysphere, his ocean stuff comes later. His bio, by Carol Grant Gould, and the bathysphere book, Descent, by Brad Matsen, are absolutely  worth reading. His social life was amusing too- he knew father B,  who collected snakes for the Museum, and who used to keep a copy of the Social Register beside his Alpine Journal and his cocked and locked Colt Commander (“What good is an unloaded gun?” he would always say), in front of a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in his Santa Fe casita. I have joked that the American Museum , the Social Register, and the Explorers Club used to draw on the same crowd in the Thirties, and it is more true than not. To be continued…

Ahh, one more, from Beebe’s own Bathysphere book, Half Mile Down