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Another Page: The books of Emily Carr

O. Alan Weltzien

By O. Alan Weltzien

I have just been reading the four (short) nonfiction books written back in the early 1940s by the great British Columbian painter Emily Carr.  I have long wanted to read the first and shortest of those, Klee-Wyck.  For anyone interested in getting the feel of temperate zone rainforest; of Haida Indians, totem poles, and the British Columbian coast and Queen Charlotte Islands, this little book is indispensable.  Many years ago I toured Carr’s home in Victoria, B.C., and I’ve never forgotten the impression her canvasses left on me.  Carr is a staggering painter, almost like a rainforest Georgia O’Keefe, and her evocations of forests and tribal peoples are enduring and remarkable.  Carr often writes as she paints:  impressionistically.  She sketches quickly and surely, and her metaphors often spring off the page as she forever charges with life the scene she’s evoking.  The brooding presence of totem poles aged by chronic rain clings to the reader as it did to the writer.

The other three volumes – The Book of Small, The House of All Sorts, and Growing Pains – all trace her autobiography.  “Small” was her self-chosen nickname in her large family, and this volume chronicles her childhood.  Carr ran a boarding house for twenty-two years, and the ever-changing motley crew in her rooms form the primary attention of the third volume — along with her kennel of dogs.  The final, longest volume traces her difficult adolescence and adulthood, trying to find her own place in the provincial art scene of British Columbia.  It wasn’t until middle age that Carr finally achieved a large reputation.  She was famously independent and eccentric, often seen on the streets of her native city with dogs and pet monkey, if not other pets, in two.  In Carr’s time, it was a difficult as any time for a painter who happened to be a woman, finding some reputation and acclaim.  Carr famously beat the odds.

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O. Alan Weltzien is an English professor at the University of Montana Western and an authority on Montana literature. He is the author of the memoir A Father and an Island: Reflections on Loss (2008, Lewis-Clark Press) and a forthcoming book of poems, To Kilimanjaro and Back (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2011).

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If you’re a writer or artist interested in contributing an essay for the Another Page feature, please contact me at craig@craig-lancaster.com. I’d be happy to host it.

To Dillon and back: an incomplete travelogue

If you followed the old blog, you might remember my Missoula travelogue from a week ago, when I proved that I’m a rather lacking photojournalist. Not content to prove it once, I’ve reiterated it with a trip to Dillon this week for a reading at the University of Montana Western.

Take my hand and away we go …

When I left Billings at about 9 a.m. Monday, this was the view of the sky through the moon roof of my car. Nice, eh?

In a post preceding the trip, one of the things I asked for was a clear view of the mountains. Wish granted.

I love Bozeman so much, I can’t even tell you. I get a little shot of energy every time I drive into downtown.

Maybe it’s the awesome sugar-free latte that awaits me at Leaf and Bean

… or perhaps it’s that I’ll be visiting the Country Bookshelf, one of my favorite bookstores. This time, I had to pick up the current issue of Montana Quarterly. I made a snap decision on the way out to read my short story “Cruelty to Animals,” which appears in this issue.

About 35 miles outside Bozeman, I stopped at the Town Pump to load up on snacks. My haul: a frozen huckleberry drink (44 ounces), a loaded hot dog (tucked away in a pizza sleeve), and Tic-Tacs to blunt the effects of the hot dog.

Downtown Dillon, August 1942, from the "Captured: America in Color" collection. Check out this picture and others at http://tinyurl.com/4xzvcpg

 

OK, do you remember this photo from downtown Dillon? Well, the building is still there …

I think I speak for everyone when I say “Bring back the turret!”

This is what was directly behind me when I took the picture of the now turret-less building. After reading this, I’m now sorry I didn’t go in. Next time!

I made it to Dillon just after 2 p.m. and my host for the evening, Alan Weltzien, was not going to be ready for me for a few hours. So I did the only sensible thing: I headed for the Beaverhead Golf Course.

 

And like the hack I am, I put up a craptastic score. Here’s the thing, though: My form is picture-perfect. Clearly, my tools are inferior.

Now then …

At this juncture, the picture-taking ends for a while. Among the things that happened as I kept my cell phone in my pocket: dinner with Alan and his lovely wife, Lynn; a stroll on campus; a reading to a very nice crowd at The Cup, the UM Western campus coffee shop; a few rounds of drinks with Alan and some of his friends. Because, hey, who wants to see that when you can look at a golf cart, right?

Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., I headed home:

The day before, on the way to Dillon, I’d noticed a closed-down campus of some sort in Twin Bridges. It’s the old Montana State Orphanage, which has been closed since 1985. I vowed to take a closer look on the way back. Here’s the sign out front, festooned with for-sale messages.

You can’t see it very well in this picture, but there’s a Victorian house on the grounds that is just haunting — and badly in need of repair.

Over the fence, here’s a view of some of the buildings on the campus. This Seattle Times story from 1995 tells what life was like at the orphanage for a couple of its former residents.

More orphanage buildings. A Bozeman Daily Chronicle story of more recent vintage tells what the owner of the property hopes to do with it.

Back on the road. The route between Dillon and Interstate 90, where I’d turn east toward home, basically runs in a long river valley between mountain ranges. Here was the view outside my passenger window.

Still more scenery. One of the things I love about driving in the mountains is that there’s such a difference between what you see on the way in and what you see as you retrace your path.

Trenchant political commentary in a restroom at the Whitehall Town Pump.

As I made my way home after lunch in Bozeman, I watched the coming weather with trepidation.

As it turned out, I just had to withstand a little rain. No problem.

Everyone should get to come home to a dachshund.