January 2015

Space, in Chains

Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2011)

Kasischke - Space, in Chains
The past few years I have made it a discipline to read poetry every day. I tend to read one or two poems, most often out loud and let them sit for the rest of the day in the midst of all of my other activities. My routine is to read poems as my espresso machine is warming up for my morning coffee.

Laura Kasischke’s poems lingered throughout my days as I was reading the book. The images of daughter, wife, and mother are a bit unsettling. Her reflections on her mother and father demonstrate deep love with a dose of guilt and regret. That is, if she is writing about her own life and her own experience. There is just enough whimsey in her poems to leave me off balance. Perhaps I know here better for having read her poems. Perhaps I don’t know her at all. Perhaps she is just pulling my leg.

It is the not knowing that makes the book so delightful for me.

This is a book I could read again - several times.

Brother Van

Robert W. Lind, Brother Van: Montana Pioneer Circuit Rider (Helena, Mt: Falcon Press, 1992)

Lind - Brother Van
I grew up with Brother Van stories. Although we belonged to the Congregational Church, it was well known in our family that our mother had come from Methodist roots and we would be Methodist if there was a Methodist church in our town. As it was, we were happy in our church home and we had a lot of Methodist relatives. My mother came from a Montana pioneer family and the Russell and Lewis families were prominent members of the Fort Benton Methodist Church. I had met Robert Lind in my journeys to my home state and knew a bit of his work at re-writing the older Brother Van book, which I had read years ago. Somehow, however, I never got around to reading his book until recently.

The book is a kind of a hybrid. Lind attempts to tell the story of Brother Van complete with Brother Van’s feelings, thoughts and intentions. While I think Lind was striving to tell a true story, there are details in the book that he simply could not have known - so I know that he was speculating. Furthermore, there were a couple of details about my relatives that I knew of which Lind was unaware. Fore example, The Russells not only lived in Fort Benton, but also lived for a time in Virginia City when Roy Russell was court recorder at the territorial capitol. They certainly crossed paths with Brother Van much earlier than Lind knew. And there are some details about the mudpie story that I know from family lore.

It is too bad that Lind din’t know about the Russell journals. Roy Russell was an avid journal writer and our family has all of his journals, which contain details and information that is missing from Lind’s book.

All in all, it is a good read and a strong effort by a Methodist Bishop to capture some important history of Montana and one of that state’s most beloved preachers.

The Art of Stillness

Pico Iyer., The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (New York: Ted Books, 2014)

Iyer - The Art of Stillness
This tiny books is barely a TED talk, but it is beautifully put together with gentle photographs and an invitation to read slowly and quietly and process the invitation to slow down and disconnect from the world of constant motion and more than a little bit of craziness. Pico Iyer makes the case for learning to be still and to appreciate the creativity and energy that can come from just doing nothing.

The invitation, of course is to journey to the depths of life instead of constantly skimming on the surface. Grounding one’s life in stillness provides a challenge to those who are swept up in the constant busy pace of life. Along the way, Iyer issues the invitation to pay attention to what is going on, and look for meaning in places that are overlooked by those whose pace of life is somewhere in the fast lane.

It is a good read for a contemplative - or one who aspires to become more so.

A Paddleer's Guide to the Streams and Lakes of the Black Hills

J. Kelly Lane, ed., A Paddler’s Guide to the Streams and Lakes of the Black Hills (Rapid City, SD: Black Hills Paddlers, 2013)

Lane - A Paddler's Guide to the Streams and Lakes of the Black Hills
So a couple of disclaimers might be in order. First of all, the editor, Kelly Lane is a good friend of mine and I’m predisposed to like the things he does. He really cares about the quality of the water in and around the hills and he really enjoys paddling. He is a natural teacher and he likes to teach about paddling. Secondly, I pretty well know about the waters of my home turf and don’t need a guide. I bought the book to support the paddlers, who are a group of really good people. Then to the technical disclaimers: There are no lakes in the Black Hills. There are reservoirs, and some of them are fairly large. And it is a stretch to call some of the waters that they refer to as streams as anything more than trickles. But the book is hones and the truth is that when we have the right storm, there are flash floods that radically change stream flows. And in the normal course of events, there are some places that can be paddled if one is willing to really work at it.

I’m not much of a creek boater, though I have a good play boat. Most of my paddling in the hills takes place on Sheridan Lake, a reservoir a few miles from my home. When I get the hunkering to paddle down a river I tend to choose out of state locations. Having grown up in Montana, the Yellowstone and Missouri are more natural for me.

Still, it is a good and accurate guide written for paddlers by paddlers. There is a lot of potential for fun for those who are looking for adventure. There is also a good section on licensing boats and what has to be displayed where on our craft. South Dakota has some rather strange laws concerning titles, licensing, and bow numbers. All in all, it is a good book for everyone who wants to paddle in the Black Hills to own.