Montana has a fine literary tradition with a strong sense of place. Our landscapes shape our culture and our art reflects the influence of big skies, wilderness, and nature. Humanities Montana created the Montana Authors Project (MAP) to explore the relationship between literature and landscape in an online, interactive way. It’s also a great way to enrich a road trip.
If you find yourself in Glacier Country, pick up Rick Bass’ The Book of Yaak. Go to www.humanitiesmontana.org/map/ for the literary map to find GPS locations for excerpts like: “The Yaak Valley lies within Montana's northwestern boundaries like the corner of something—like the edge of all things, making the center of a new thing. If you were to fall asleep and then wake to find yourself in Yaak, unless you'd been there before, you would not recognize it as being anywhere you'd previously been (21).
As you travel through Montana, take some time for the rivers. For a classic literary pairing, walk the banks of the Blackfoot with your phone and MAP will pinpoint scenes from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. He writes, “As the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other, I could feel patterns from my own life joining with them” (63). Or MAP can lead you to this spot in The Surrounded by Darcy McNickle: “At the creek's edge he sat on an old log and listened to the water which, though night had come, was still awake, swirling in eddies, slapping upon stones.... There were odors of the thimbleberry, of wet gravel, and, he thought, of fish, but that was imagination” (16). MAP deepens your experiences of Montana.
When you are ready for open spaces, find the place where the narrator in Perma Red exclaims, “I can see for miles and I can't stop looking or thinking about how lucky I am to see this country, to belong here” (Earling 28). Something about Montana ties us to this place, through blood, history, beauty, and a challenging landscape that builds strength and loyalty. Russell Rowland, author of In Open Spaces, takes possession of the land when he says, “Carter County, my county, forms the far southeastern corner [of Montana], sprawling like an old wool blanket spread carelessly across the ground, complete with ridges, wrinkles, hollows, and an occasional hole” (2).
Other sites on MAP highlight Montana’s ranches and plains to emphasize the character-building aspect of the open landscape. In Breaking Clean, Judy Blunt’s father snaps, "Get tough." Blunt “was learning then the necessary lessons of weeds and seeds and blisters” (3). A.B. Guthrie describes the land “to the east, where the hill and sky met” in The Big Sky (150).
Wherever your Montana travels take you, you’ll find rich literary representations on Humanities Montana’s Montana Author Project. With 16 books and over one hundred sites plotted, with pictures, excerpts and biographies, there’s plenty to explore each time you visit, and a new way to talk about the landscapes and people you meet.
From east to west, Montana offers literary treasures. As you delve deeper into your Montana adventure, consider former Montana Poet Laureate Henry Real Bird’s words from "The Evolutionary Alfonso Delupe":
Just to see
The awe of the mountains
Is good enough,
A view of Crazy Mountains.
Just to be is good enough.
You see, this was
A free country
Before America ever was.
Under the laws
The mountains, our Mother.
Find more inspiration on Humanities Montana’s website, including cultural events around the state and the full MAP at www.humanitiesmontana.org.