• Restoring the Shining Waters

    Restoring the Shining Waters

    David Brooks

    University of Oklahoma Press

    Norman, Oklahoma 2015


    I’ll never forget the encounter.  It was the late spring of 2008, and I was working away in my office when I got an always welcome visit from my friend Mike McGrath.  He was on the walking mall and wanted to show me something very exciting.

    Now the chief justice of Montana’s Supreme Court, McGrath was then finishing his second term as our attorney general.  He directed me to a web link that brought up a brief video taken by an underwater camera placed just upstream from the Milltown Dam site.  After years of policy, advocacy and regulatory work by a veritable alphabet soup of state, federal and local agencies and interest groups of all kinds, the dam had finally been breached just weeks earlier, on March 28, 2008.

    Restoring the Shining Waters

    Restoring the Shining Waters

    As attorney general, McGrath was right in the middle of it.  For his entire tenure as AG, items related to the issue crossed his desk.  I can only imagine the exciting nature of the legal briefs, technical meetings and references to federal law.

    The short video clip we watched had no sound and wasn’t the least bit fancy.  The opening seconds showed just water.  Then a shape emerged.  As the image became clear, we could tell it was a fish, a world famous Montana trout.  And it was swimming upstream, past where the dam had been, a feat that would not have been possible mere weeks earlier.

    When the video stopped, we both just sat there.   One of the most complex legal, environmental and cultural challenges of recent history was condensed in that simple video of a single fish swimming upstream.

    I remember the scene like it was yesterday.  Two middle-age dudes in business attire hunched over a desk looking at a computer screen – now idle – trying not to look at each other because, at least in my case, I was trying to figure out how a complicated issue of science-based public policy had caused tears to well up in my eyes.

    I can’t drive past the site without thinking of that day and the complicated matrix of activities that made it happen.  I knew some of the pieces of the puzzle, but really just the edges and the easy bits.  Enter David Brooks and his outstanding piece of history/journalism/academic research-turned book you just can’t put down. “Restoring the Shining Waters,” published earlier this year by the University of Oklahoma Press, is a remarkable book that tells the story of the Milltown Dam and the people and process that led to its removal and the restoration of this watershed so important to Montana and the American West.

    Brooks is an academic by nature, and I’m sure a fine one.  But don’t hold that against him when considering “Restoring the Shining Waters.”  While it will no doubt be required reading in many a college classroom at UM and beyond, Brooks has a gift as a writer that reminds one of James B. Stewart‘s “Den of Thieves” or Michael Lewis’ “The Big Short.” His research is detailed and yet it flows easily in a narrative that both hangs together and explores interesting territory.

    Take, for example, the attention Brooks pays to the messaging of the advocacy campaign to remove the dam.  My guess is most academics would miss that very interesting and compelling side street.  They would focus on the main highway of a story and, in so doing, miss a critical piece of the actual history-making components of this remarkable story.

    I’ll admit, readers of this book likely need to have at least a passing interest in Montana to be as enthralled by “Restoring the Shining Waters” as I found myself being.  It’s a very interesting story written by a truly gifted writer.


  • Ivan Doig

    A legacy undefined



    I spoke most of these words in August at an event sponsored by the Lewis and Clark Library Foundation to celebrate the posthumous release of Ivan Doig’s “Last Bus to Wisdom.”


    Pam at The Montana Book Company asked me to read a passage from the book and to give my perspective about Doig’s place in the literary landscape.


    When this magazine asked me to write an essay to accompany my review of “Last Bus to Wisdom,” I knew right away I wanted to take a similar approach.  I decided to reflect on those remarks, refine them and share them here – for better or worse.

    Ivan Doig

    Ivan Doig

    If you are a regular reader of this magazine, you will know that last December, Mr. Doig was kind enough to spend the better part of a half-hour with me by phone to talk about his 2013 book, “Sweet Thunder.” I was reviewing the book, and he was gracious enough to answer some questions for an interview that accompanied the review.


    During our conversation, we had the chance to visit about “Last Bus to Wisdom” and, as I read the advanced reader’s edition this summer, I reflected not only on that conversation – which I will always treasure – but on the larger question of Ivan Doig’s impact on writing, writers and the literature of the American West.


    This is a complicated subject, and my thoughts on this matter may be both bold and provocative.  So be it.


    I believe the impact of Ivan Doig’s writing will be better appreciated in 2115 than it is in 2015.  Many in the “literary establishment” would have us value more the work of writers like Ford, Russo, Updike and Cheever as the literature that defines a generation.  While I have a deep appreciation for all four of those exceptional writers, and believe they deserve a place as major contributors to American literature, I believe Doig will, over time, find a place on that list too.


    History is on my side.


    None other than Henry James derided a fellow author of his time as “the greatest of superficial novelists” and went on to call it an “offence against humanity to place” that same author “among the greatest novelists” of his time.   And James was not alone in his view.  William Wadsworth and others were offended by the author’s storytelling and plain language.


    The author in question?  Charles Dickens.


    Similarly, the now widely revered French novelist Honoré de Balzac was not initially fully embraced by the contemporary literary community.  His feverish production of novels was somehow deemed unseemly, and while he was credited as being one of France’s most prolific novelists, it has been the work of the authors he inspired – including Dickens – and posthumous academic reconsideration of his true impact on the novel as art for Balzac to be fully appreciated.


    I know what you are thinking – is this guy really comparing Ivan Doig to Charles Dickens and Honoré de Balzac?  Why, I guess I am – and I’m not crazy.  I’m not going to try to convince you that 100 years from now, every high school student in the world is going to read Doig the way they read Dickens. Nor am I going to try and convince you that the list of the writers Doig inspired, although many, can rival Balzac’s – Proust, Dickens, Poe and Wilde just to name a few.


    But I am going to challenge you to look at the similarities between these three authors and their work.  Sir Walter Scott called Balzac’s writing “observation and imagination.”  Which of us would not say the same about Doig?


    Mary Ann Evans – famous under her nom d plum George Eliot, said that Dickens had “the utmost power of rendering the external traits of our town population” – another perfect description of Doig.


    One of the undergraduate papers I wrote in college was about Balzac – particularly about his novel “Le Pere Goriot.”  Published in 1834, the book is set some years earlier – Paris in 1819 to be specific – and features a set of recurring characters from Balzac’s other works.  Sound familiar?




    Doig’s characters, his depiction of the American West, and the voice he gives through his writing to the working men and women of America, is compelling and important.  He has left for us – and for future generations – a set of stories that let us live in the time and place of his writing.  His stories, this place, seem familiar to us now and I believe that’s why they are without some of the significance that will be correctly attributed to his writing in years to come.


    My wife Julie and I were recently in Paris with a group of students from the Helena school district, and one of them took us to Pére Lachese cemetery.  It’s the last resting place of not only Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, but less famously Honore de Balzac.


    In his euology of Balzac, Victor Hugo said this about the impact of his friend’s writing, “Henceforth, men’s eyes will be turned towards the faces not of those who are the rulers, but of those who are the thinkers.”


    I believe the impact of Ivan Doig’s writing can be described with the same epitaph.


    Doig has turned the eyes of a generation of readers to the American West.  He has given us characters and landscapes with texture to endure through generations.  His books, like those of Dickens and Balzac, will endure because they are genuine and compelling.


    Future readers will feel a thrill of discovery as they open the pages and find themselves in a world that seems miles away and generations apart.  That will be when the final measure of Doig’s impact can truly be assessed – not by those of us too close to the stories and the scenery, but by those for whom a “dog bus” to Wisdom, Montana, seems as impossible to them as does factory life in the industrial revolution.


    Perhaps then, the title of Doig’s final book will have new meaning, as the “Last Bus to Wisdom” will be less a proper noun describing a destination than a common noun calling us to a journey of personal discovery.

    Last Bus to Wisdom

    Ivan Doig

    Riverhead Books

    New York, New York, 2015



    It was with very mixed emotions that I received the advanced reader’s edition of “Last Bus to Wisdom.” As always, I was excited to hold in my hand a new offering from Ivan Doig.  I knew I was in for a treat.  And yet, I also knew I was holding Doig’s last contribution to the literature of the American West.

    And what a contribution this book is.  It is almost as if Doig knew this would be his last book.  While it does not have the broad literary shoulders of “This House of Sky,” it has a personality that makes it accessible and charming.   As a reader, I found myself hearing Doig’s voice and imagining a twinkle in his eyes as he crafted this story of a raucous adventure across the Great Plains.

    “Last Bus to Wisdom” is the first person memoir of Donel Cameron and his escapades during the summer of 1951.  And what a summer it turns out to be.  The 11-year old Donel, also referred to as Donny, is living with his grandmother on a ranch in Gros Ventre, Montana, where his grandmother is the cook.  When his grandmother needs surgery, Donny is shipped off via the “dog bus” (Greyhound) to spend the summer with his grandmother’s sister Kate and her husband Herman in faraway Wisconsin.

    Last Bus to Wisdom

    Last Bus to Wisdom

    The book starts in typical Doig fashion by grabbing you with an evocative first sentence that gives the reader a good sense of what kind of story and storytelling lies ahead.  Doig begins the book by proclaiming, “The town of Gros Ventre was so far from anywhere that you had to take a bus to catch the bus.”  Classic.

    I’m not going to tell you much about the actual story because part of the magic in this book is the surprising twists and turns.  In fact, I recommend not reading the book jacket.  I didn’t read it until after I finished the book and I think it gives away a bit too much.  Put a sticky note over it, or take the dust jacket off altogether and just enjoy the ride.  At first you might wonder how the “dog bus” journey is going to last for 400 pages, but that puzzle will be solved for you in due time and with great hilarity.

    As I read “Last Bus to Wisdom,” I kept comparing it to another classic memoir, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson.  The stories are very different, but the eras are similar and the styles (although Bryson’s is purportedly a true account) share a carefree voice that is funny and charming and smart.

    Doig though, as only he can do, gives his characters more than just a voice.  He gives them purpose.  With the ease we have seen in earlier works like “The Bartender’s Tale” and “Sweet Thunder,” Doig effortlessly imbues the story with teachable moments and thought-provoking encounters.  The characters will deal with race, class, crime, punishment, religion, sex and prejudice in a way that seems perfectly natural in a story about an 11-year-old boy.

    I laughed out loud more than a few times and found myself in wonder about Doig’s ability to weave together history and fiction.  I’ll say no more, other than to encourage you to read and remember the quote Doig features on the page following the dedication as just one cool example of how this special author constantly respects his readers by including details in this and each of his stories.

    I will miss not being able to look forward to what Ivan Doig has up his sleeve next.  At the same time, though, he has left us a great gift through his writing, a gift we can rediscover over and over.


  • The kids put on their pajamas after dinner, and the action moves to the living room hearth, where games like The Name Game begin.

    Last Best Plates – Giving Thanks: A Montana family tradition


    Photos by LYNN DONALDSON


    Three couples, seven kids under the age of 8, eight dogs, two doting grandparents, a roaring fire, multiple hunting excursions, snowball fights, board games, naps and, of course, an abundance of food.

    The kids put on their pajamas after dinner, and the action moves to the living room hearth, where games like The Name Game begin.

    The kids put on their pajamas after dinner, and the action moves to the living room hearth, where games like The Name Game begin.

    It’s a Vermillion family tradition, and one that encapsulates the spirit of Thanksgiving in the West.


    Here, it’s documented through the photography of Lynn Donaldson, one of the lucky family members.

    Seated at the children's table, the photographer's 8-year-old son Charlie Vermillion proudly displays the drumstick he scored.

    Seated at the children’s table, the photographer’s 8-year-old son Charlie Vermillion proudly displays the drumstick he scored.

    Each year, come sun, rain, snow or sleet, Donaldson’s in-laws ready their home in Sweetgrass County for the onslaught of giggling children, spirited adults and amped-up dogs.


    “It’s a pretty idyllic setting for a Montana Thanksgiving, with amazing views right on the Yellowstone River,” Donaldson explains.

    After decorating Yaya and Papa's Christmas tree, Pat Vermillion (right) holds sheet music for his wife Jen and 8-year-old daughter Josie as they perform an impromptu concert on their violins.  The photographer's husband (Dan) and son Ben are seated center.

    After decorating Yaya and Papa’s Christmas tree, Pat Vermillion (right) holds sheet music for his wife Jen and 8-year-old daughter Josie as they perform an impromptu concert on their violins. The photographer’s husband (Dan) and son Ben are seated center.

    Along with a grand feast for the Thanksgiving dinner, the family also enjoys casual meals together, along with adventures in the great outdoors.


    “It’s a time when we can all take a break from our busy lives, catch up and enjoy food, each other’s company and lots of laughs,” Donaldson says.


    Here’s a look at the Vermillion Thanksgiving through her lens, and the recipe her sister-in-law uses to prepare the pumpkin pie.

    The photographer's twins Ben (left) and Chase Vermillion (center) show everyone seated at the table the pumpkin pies their aunt Jen has made as cousin Josie (right) looks on.

    The photographer’s twins Ben (left) and Chase Vermillion (center) show everyone seated at the table the pumpkin pies their aunt Jen has made as cousin Josie (right) looks on.

    Pumpkin pie


    Pie Dough:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
    2 egg yolks
    3 tablespoons milk
    1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    2/3 cup heavy cream
    7 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
    6 1/2 tablespoons evaporated milk
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    Pinch ground clove
    Pinch salt
    2 eggs
    1 egg yolk
    Equipment: 9-inch pie pan

    Make the Pie Dough: In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and mix to combine. Add the butter and continue mixing until the mixture holds together when you clump it, and there are pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible.

    Meanwhile, whisk together the yolks and milk in small bowl.

    Add the yolk mixture to the flour mixture and mix until a dough forms. Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap well and store in the refrigerator for several hours. (The dough will keep for several days in the fridge and several weeks in the freezer.)

    On a lightly floured work surface, roll half of the dough into a 11 to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Line the pan with the dough and crimp the edges. Chill the pie shell for about 30 minutes.

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    Line the pie shell with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans. Bake the shell until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and beans.

    Meanwhile, make the Filling: Lower the oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium saucepan, mix together the pumpkin and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until reduced and thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream, milks, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, salt, eggs, and yolk. Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake until set, about 45 to 55 minutes. Cool and serve

    Recipe courtesy of Joanne Chang, the Food Network

  • Portfolio: Holiday happenings

    We gather during these dark months of the year, and in that community find light and warmth. All across Big Sky Country, families and friends give thanks for this blessed place we call home, and celebrate the season with traditions old and new.

    A mesmerizing snowfal

    A mesmerizing snowfall holds the attention of Jackson and Samantha Pelger as they watch from the warmth of their family’s home in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley. Photo by Kurt Wilson

    It’s a whirlwind of activities and obligations from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day: feasts, parades, parties, pageants, concerts and commemorations.


    Off we go, to Santa’s arrival downtown and Junior’s holiday pageant at school. There’s a potluck tonight at the neighbor’s place, and a cookie exchange tomorrow at the office. And a dozen packages to wrap and deliver.


    A trip to pick the tree is a magical time for children and can be the source of holiday memories for years to come. Here, Nya Wogsland waits to load a perfect evergreen she picked out one recent holiday season in a Missoula tree lot. Photo by Kurt Wilson

    Who hasn’t felt harried during the holidays, or wished for a nap? Whew.


    Let’s all take a moment this holiday season to breathe. And hold our children a little longer. Bake an extra batch of cookies for a friend, or for a stranger. Decorate a grandchild-size tree in the guest bedroom. Walk around the neighborhood, or drive around town, just to look at the lights. Let’s slow down. Give thanks. Remember, and rejoice.

    Toy soldiers get a final costume check before taking the stage at the annual holiday play at Dayton Elementary in Dayton. Photo by Tom Bauer

    Toy soldiers get a final costume check before taking the stage at the annual holiday play at Dayton Elementary in Dayton.
    Photo by Tom Bauer

    As he does every year, Santa sits behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevrolet station wagon with a toy soldier riding shotgun in front of Dave Gentry's home in Missoula Northside neighborhood. Photo by Kurt Wilson

    As he does every year, Santa sits behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevrolet station wagon with a toy soldier riding shotgun in front of Dave Gentry’s home in Missoula Northside neighborhood.
    Photo by Kurt Wilson

    Cowboy Claus and his border collie ride a stretch of highway near the ranching community of Ovando.  Kurt Wilson

    Cowboy Claus and his border collie ride a stretch of highway near the ranching community of Ovando.
    Kurt Wilson

    A soldier salutes after placing wreaths on the graves of veterans at the Western Montana State Veterans Cemetery in Missoula. Photo by Michael Gallacher

    A soldier salutes after placing wreaths on the graves of veterans at the Western Montana State Veterans Cemetery in Missoula.
    Photo by Michael Gallacher

    Wearing a Christmas tree costume, Tia Miller waves to a crowd along Second Avenue North during the holiday parade in downtown Billings.  Photo by the Billings Gazette

    Wearing a Christmas tree costume, Tia Miller waves to a crowd along Second Avenue North during the holiday parade in downtown Billings. Photo by the Billings Gazette

    Santa and Mrs. Claus wave to kids along Westgate Drive in Lockwood.  Photo by Bob Zellar

    Santa and Mrs. Claus wave to kids along Westgate Drive in Lockwood. Photo by Bob Zellar


  • The Butte witches weekend takes place in November each year. Photo by Thomas Lee

    For one wicked weekend each fall, witches rule Uptown Butte

    Photography of Thomas Lee

    By Jim Gransbery

    When shall we three meet again?

    In thunder, lightening, or in rain?

    When the hurly-burly’s done.

    When the battle’s lost and won.

    That will be ere the set of sun.

    – The three witches –  Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 1

    In Butte, witches coven when early-setting sun tinges November snow.
    Cold? It matters not as a cauldron of “evil” brew warms their wicked little hearts before a pub crawl through the Mining City’s uptown.
    It’s all for fun and fantasy – and this year for charity – as the annual gathering with no official name has expanded its popularity in a 14-year run, attracting women of all ages to a costume party.

    Colleen Grady Riley  is the founder of the Butte witches weekend. Photo by Thomas Lee

    Colleen Grady Riley is the founder of the Butte witches weekend. Photo by Thomas Lee

    No men are allowed, except for a “sacrificial” hunk on the bus for entertainment on the ride up the hill.
    Conjured by Colleen Grady Riley after encountering witches from Helena hovering near the Met Tavern about 15 years ago, Riley said the post-Halloween party spawns creativity.

    “Some wear a black gown and cone hat every year, but competition has developed and some are very secretive about what they will appear in,” she said.
    “I have 14 costumes in the closet and I’ve written down every detail,” she laughed. No cackle here, just a coy smile when questioned about what this year’s apparel will include.

    To read the rest of this story and more Montana stories like this all year, subscribe today! 

    Kind witches

    The 2015 witches’ weekend event in Butte will include a charity event on Nov. 13. For more information, email Colleen Riley at miningcampwitches@gmail.com or miningcampwitches@gmail.com.

    • Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 2010

      Rocky Mountain oysters are a seasonal treat for some. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    • Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 2010

      Along with oysters, there is a large spread of potluck dishes and desserts. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    • Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 2010

      Rocky Mountain oysters are also known as prairie oyster or calf fries. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    • Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 2010

      The Jeresy Lilly Saloon is the last surviving business in Ignomar. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    • Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 2010

      Dutton family oyster feed

    • Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 2010

      People come from far and wide for the annual Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    The Last Best Plates explores a Rocky Mountain oyster feed

    This is the fifth piece in a six-part The Last Best Plates series about food and eating in Montana featuring the photography of Lynn Donaldson and the writing of Corinne Garcia. For more information, visit thelastbestplates.com.

    By Corinne Garcia

    Photos by Lynn Donaldson

    For the hardworking farmers and ranchers of Montana’s eastern plains, the long, hot days of summer mean long hours spent working in the fields and little time for much else.

    But before the summer days slip away, a late August celebration provides the perfect opportunity to relax and catch up with old friends and ranching neighbors.

    That’s what Bill Dutton and his cousin, Dave, were thinking when they started the Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 17 years ago.

    “It’s just a way to get people together,” Bill’s wife, Karen Dutton, explains.

    Bill, 68, and Karen, 67, run a cattle ranch halfway between Jordan and Sand Springs, where the ranchlands take over the horizon and your closest neighbor is likely miles away.

    It’s where Bill has lived his entire life, except for his two years in the service. The ranch that his grandparents founded and the neighboring ranch are now leased out to a large cattle operation, and Bill manages them both.

    The first two years of the annual oyster feed were held in Jordan before it settled into the Jersey Lilly Saloon. The saloon is the last existing business in the town of Ingomar, where Main Street is a dirt road that leads past a few clapboard buildings and heads toward more ranchlands.

    Built in 1914, the Jersey Lilly was once the town’s bank, transformed into the town’s watering hole in 1933. Although it has transferred hands a number of times, it’s still a gathering place for area residents.

    “Now they’re known for their beans and steaks,” Karen said. “And there’s still no indoor plumbing, so it’s not a real girly place to go, but it’s fun once in a while.”

    Bill explains that Ingomar used to be a sheep shearing capital.

    “The railroad went through there, and they had a big shearing plant in the early 1900s,” he said. “Ranchers would also go there to get their mail and supplies.”


    The Duttons typically arrive to the Jersey Lilly around 4 p.m. on the last Friday in August (Aug. 28 this year) to help set up.

    A Jordan local is hired to fry up the rocky mountain oysters (also known as prairie oysters or calf fries), and others start rolling in soon after, Tupperware in hand, as the pot luck-style side dishes and desserts start piling up on the inside tables.

    “The ladies all bring a dish of some sort, so there’s not just oysters,” Karen said. “A lot of the ladies don’t like the oysters, but the guys do.”

    She claims that rural cooks are the best, bringing everything from salads, meatballs and cold cut dishes to homemade pies.

    Bill does enjoy the breaded and deep fried bull testicles that are left over from the seasonal brandings throughout the area.

    “They’re just good to eat,” Bill said. “They’ve got a taste of their own, I don’t know how to describe it, but how can you ruin anything deep fried?”

    People grab drinks from the bar, pile food on their plates and pull up chairs by friends and family to wolf it all down.

    Some years there’s live music, and others, like last year, there’s a portable radio with music designed to draw couples of all ages to the dance floor.

    The Duttons, who claim they’re “old as dirt,” usually start the 50-mile drive home by 9 p.m., leaving many others behind to enjoy the revelry long after the late summer sun sets.

    “Some come that you know you’ll only see once a year,” Karen said. “It’s a good way to visit with people and use up all those calf fries, cause what are you going to do with them otherwise?”

    Corinne Garcia and Lynn Donaldson are frequent contributors to Montana Magazine. Garcia writes from Bozeman. Donaldson is based in Livingston.


    Recipe: Apple Pandowdy


    4 cups flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 cups vegetable shortening
    1 cup water

    6-7 apples, peeled and sliced

    1 ½ cups sugar

    1/3 cup flour

    Cinnamon to taste



    Mix crust ingredients. Put half of the dough in the bottom of a jelly roll pan (I have used a heavy duty cookie sheet with sides).

    Mix sugar and flour for filling. Put half of the sugar mixture over crust and then top with apples. Add the remaining sugar mixture and dab butter over the top. If you forget to put the sugar on the bottom crust, don’t worry, you can put it all over the top.
    Roll out the remaining crust and put over the top. Seal the edges, vent top to allow steam to release.
    Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
    Mix a small amount of powdered sugar, butter and milk to drizzle over the hot pie when it comes out of the oven.

    • Courtesy of Karen Dutton

  • Montana Book Reviews: Worth a Read

    By Doug Mitchell

    A blue suitcase full of memories at the center of a poetic work of fiction. A thought-provoking book about business that challenges readers to tilt their perspectives. A set of stories that help with reconnecting, dealing with death, a visit to heaven and offer a twist on the classic Western novel. Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a multifaceted set of books as broad as the Big Sky is wide.


    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

    Anthony Marra

    Hogarth – 2014

    I was introduced to Anthony Marra’s extraordinary book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by my college-age son Andrew. We were visiting my brother in Washington, D.C., and we took one of those father-son walks to catch up. We were wandering down Connecticut Avenue and stopped into a bookstore called Politics and Prose.

    As we were  browsing, my son went to the fiction section and took a moment to rearrange a shelf so one of the books – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena as it turns out – would have its full cover facing outward instead of just the spine.

    Curious, I asked about this peculiar practice. He told me the book he was rearranging was the first novel written by one of his professors and that, although he hadn’t read it yet, whenever he went to a bookstore he tried to highlight the book by giving it a bit more shelf space.

    While I had never heard of either the book or the author, I thought it only appropriate that I purchase a copy. Boy, am I glad I did.

    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is one of the best, if not THE best book I’ve ever read. Period. It is startling, challenging, important and poetic. Every page is a gift – even the cover – and I found myself regularly putting the book down in the middle of a chapter just to give myself time to reflect on the writing and to spend time with the feelings and thoughts the writing inspires.

    Set in war torn Chechnya, the book follows the actions of Akhmed, an artist turned failed physician turned reluctant activist, as he turns his life upside down to save Havaa, the 8-year old daughter of a neighbor.

    Havaa’s single-parent father, Dokka, has been taken by the secret police in the dark of the night, leaving Havaa and her blue suitcase behind; alone and afraid.

    This is where the book begins and where the book’s center can be found; in turmoil, relationships, decisions, despair and hope. From that center, we as readers go on a journey with Akhmed, Havaa and a cast of compelling, complex and very authentic characters who weave a tale that is at the same time depressingly stark and astonishingly rich.

    The cover of my version of the book captured this dichotomy perfectly. The entire cover was black and white except for Havaa’s blue suitcase. Perfect.

    I’m not going to tell you much more about the story, because doing so feels a bit like cheating you out of the many, many gifts Marra has in store.

    Take the suitcase. I’ve already mentioned it, and it’s on the front cover, so I think it’s OK for me to talk about it. In a lesser writer’s hand, the suitcase could just be a suitcase. But Marra transforms it and its contents into a story all its own.

    Havaa collected in the suitcase gifts given to her and her father by refugees seeking shelter in their home. Many of these items have special meaning to our story. You’ll be astonished by the connectivity between even little things in the book.

    The author has chosen every word carefully, and in so doing shows such a deep respect for the reader and for the characters he brings to life through his prose.

    A couple of weeks ago I went into Book Passages, my favorite bookstore in the San Francisco Bay area, and found myself rearranging the display, much the way my son did in Washington, D.C.

    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena deserves a prominent place in bookstores and on the “must read” list of fans of good literature everywhere.


    Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers

    By Niraj Dawar

    Harvard Business Review Press – 2013

    For those of you familiar with my reviews, this book may seem a bit of a departure from the norm.  In some ways it is, and in others it isn’t.

    I like books that challenge me to think and I really treasure writing – fiction or nonfiction – that challenges me to think differently.

    Tilt, published by the Harvard Business Review Press, challenges the reader to both think differently and to use that new knowledge to inform organizational growth.

    Before you dismiss Tilt as just another “how-to” business book, give me a moment of your time to convince you otherwise.

    Is it a good business book? Yes.

    Is it more than that? Indeed it is.

    For me, and I think for many, the message author Niraj Dawar delivers so effortlessly in Tilt is transferrable to the work of community building, nonprofit work and advocacy. In its essence, the book is about taking a fresh look at how we do things and for whom we are doing them.

    I guess it’s kind of like the old time movie that shows the art connoisseur closely examining a painting and exaggeratedly “tilting” his or her head to one side to get the full picture.

    Without giving away the book’s premise, let me give you a CliffsNotes example. One of the stories Dawar tells is about the competition in the explosives sector as it relates to the sale of explosives to create gravel. The gravel producers need explosives to turn rock into certain sizes of gravel. They use explosives to do this and the competition for that business is fierce and highly price driven. One of the competitors, tiring of consistently having to reduce prices, decided to “tilt” their head and think a bit about what their customer really wanted. In thinking about it, they decided the company only wanted explosives as a mechanism to break rock into specific sizes.  The company decided to “tilt” its business model away from selling explosives and toward the customer’s need – guaranteed gravel of a certain size.

    This changed the competitive playing field from explosives as a product, to explosives as a service.  On this new playing field there was now only one competitor; the one that “tilted.”

    This is game changing stuff. Think about it. What if we took a similar approach to thinking about what “customers” want in the area of education? In the nonprofit world? In government?

    Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of business-speak in this book.

    You’ll learn about “playing in the consideration set” and about “cognitive inertia” and even get a primer on “network effects.”

    Thankfully, you’ll get that information in a way that makes Tilt read much more like a set of stories than a textbook. Dawar’s writing style is engaging and accessible, and I argue, very translatable.

    One of the first chapters demonstrates this transferability and sets the tone for the book.

    In it, Dawar walks the reader through an exercise to determine if an entity is “tilted” upstream or downstream. In his terms, upstream means tilted toward infrastructure and capacity and downstream means toward the end customer. This is a test in which nearly every enterprise can and, I would argue, should engage on a regular basis.

    There are good reasons to “tilt” both directions, but one should understand which way they are “tilting” and own and capitalize on that intentional decision.

    Dawar and his exciting book Tilt don’t presume to tell us how to think, but it provokes us to think, to wonder and to grapple with new ideas. Isn’t that exactly what a good book should do?

    moving through grief

    Moving Through Grief, Reconnecting with Nature

    By Jay Dufrechou

    Muswell Hill Press – 2015

    While I count Jay Dufrechou and his family as friends, (our kids went to school together here in Helena) I have to admit I have not been intimately familiar with his work. That’s why I was delighted when Dufrechou wrote me and asked if I would consider taking a look at his book Moving Through Grief, Reconnecting with Nature. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about his work and to delve into an area with which I don’t have a great deal of familiarity.

    Initially, I feared the book might be a clinical text that would be above my pay grade. Dufrechou has both a doctorate and law degree, and is a professor of transpersonal research ethics at Sophia University. So you can see how I might think I was out of my depth.

    But in the end, I was pleasantly surprised. Dufrechou’s writing style is bright and refreshing.

    He takes his subject – but not himself – very seriously and fills the book with personal stories that make the subject matter very easily accessible.

    The content won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the topic of connecting our emotional selves with the nature that surrounds us will resonate with all of us – especially those of us in Montana.

    Moving Through Grief, Reconnecting with Nature is a spiritual journey that has power, grace and a message that will be transformative for many readers.

    lucy's biggest fish to fry

    Lucy’s Biggest Fish to Fry

    By Tom Stockburger

     iUniverse – 2013

    I read this book in two big bites. Author Tom Stockburger is a talented writer and University of Montana graduate who shares his story of losing his wife to cancer.

    Lucy’s Biggest Fish to Fry  gives voice to a story all too common in today’s world. All of us know families we care about who are today going through what Tom, Lucy, Keely and Kyle Stockburger went through beginning in 2009 when Lucy was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

    While I am sure the book was a catharsis for Stockburger to write, it is much more than that.

    It is a wonderful and frank discussion about the decisions, emotions, victories and defeats this disease brings to people and families and communities around the world.

    I want my kids to read it. My wife, Julie, and I are healthy now, but who knows. By sharing his experience so openly and eloquently, Stockburger provides a road map of sorts from which we can learn a great deal.

    While I cried when Lucy died, Lucy’s Biggest Fish to Fry is not in any way a sad book. In fact, it is inspirational and empowering in its focus on hope and family and love.

    just over the ridge

    Just Over The Ridge

    Aud Steinfeldt

    Sweetgrass Books – 2015

    Fort Smith native and current Reed Point resident Aud Steinfeldt’s debut novel, Just Over The Ridge, is at its best painting the magnificent landscape of Montana.

    Set in north central Montana, the novel is on its face about the life and times of its main character John Tousette. Under the surface though, like Montana itself, it covers a lot of ground.

    While it wasn’t my favorite book of the summer, Just Over The Ridge is a good story and Steinfeldt is clearly a writer gathering her considerable talents.

    If you think for a minute, though, that you are picking up a modern day Loius L’Amour feel-good western story, you will be sorely mistaken. This book is dark at times, and the hero doesn’t act the way we expect our fiction heroes to act. While I found myself uncomfortable at times with the direction of the story, I tip my cap to Steinfeldt for not letting Just Over The Ridge be just another formulaic novel.

    That said, this book has plenty of the things we have come to expect in a western story – guns, hunting, love, lust and alcohol.

    In the end though, I think it is a book about redemption and I’m interested to see what Steinfeldt has in store next.

    Doug Mitchell is the Montana Magazine book reviewer. He writes from Helena.

  • Jana Waller is the host of Sportsman Channel's Skull Bound. Photo by Jim Kinsey

    Skull Bound: Florence duo showcases hunting adventures on Sportsman Channel show

    By Perry Backus

    Jana Waller grew up as her father’s shadow.

    From the time she was old enough to walk, she tagged along on his hunting and fishing adventures in her home state of Wisconsin and beyond.

    Through him, the young girl experienced dawn’s first light streaming through a meadow and the excitement of seeing a deer appear from its shadows. She heard the sound of a pheasant’s wings pounding hard as it rose from the edge of a corn field and felt the excitement as her father’s shotgun swung across the horizon tracking the colorful bird.

    • Scroll down to watch a video from Waller’s favorite Skull Bound hunt

    But most of all, her father taught her to appreciate the tranquil feeling of being outdoors and to fully understand what it means to be close to the natural world.

    So when the other teenage girls started to worry about the latest fashions, Waller focused on honing her skills with a bow. She shot her first whitetail from a tree stand she shared with her dad and her high school boyfriend.

    Waller took Billings native and former U.S. Navy SEAL Bo Reichenbach on a hunting trip.  Reichenbach lost both legs while on duty in Afghanistan. Photo by Jim Kinsey

    Waller took Billings native and former U.S. Navy SEAL Bo Reichenbach on a hunting trip. Reichenbach lost both legs while on duty in Afghanistan. Photo by Jim Kinsey

    “Early on, I fell in love with the peace and serenity that you find in nature,” she said. “And then you couple that with the excitement and adrenaline that happens when game suddenly appears and the woods come alive all around you. I also find it incredibly rewarding to put meat in the freezer.

    “Hunting pushes you and challenges you in a way that non-hunters will never understand,” Waller said. “There is challenging weather and steep hills that seem to never end. You learn patience. You see the natural in a whole different way. I love the entire process.”

    • Season 5 of Skull Bound will debut on the Sportsman Channel in January 2016. You can view and download episodes of the show here.

    To read the rest of this story and more Montana stories like this all year, subscribe today! 

    Jana Waller’s favorite Skull Bound hunt

    By Jana Waller

    One of the most popular questions I get asked is, “What is your all-time favorite hunt?”

    It’s difficult to name only one because every hunt produces its own sense of spontaneity and emotions.  However, if I were only able to take one memory to the proverbial deserted island it would have to be our 2014 Montana elk hunt with retired U.S. Navy SEAL Bo Reichenbach.

    Reichenbach lost his legs after stepping on a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2012. We met at a fundraiser in Missoula, where money was being raised to help him build a home in his hometown of Billings.


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