English Creek (McCaskill Trilogy Series #1)

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"In this portrait of a time and place - Montana in the 1930s - that at once inspires and fulfills a longing for an explicable past, Ivan Doig has created one of the most captivating families in American fiction, the McCaskills." The witty and haunting narration follows the events of the Two Medicine country's summer: the tide of sheep moving into the high country, the capering Fourth of July rodeo and community dance, and an end-of-August forest fire high in the Rockies that brings the book, as well as the McCaskill family's struggle within
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1987 Audio Cassette Good Audio book (SET OF 10 AUDIO CASSETTE TAPES) with original clamshell & artwork in good condition. Former library rental.

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Overview

"In this portrait of a time and place - Montana in the 1930s - that at once inspires and fulfills a longing for an explicable past, Ivan Doig has created one of the most captivating families in American fiction, the McCaskills." The witty and haunting narration follows the events of the Two Medicine country's summer: the tide of sheep moving into the high country, the capering Fourth of July rodeo and community dance, and an end-of-August forest fire high in the Rockies that brings the book, as well as the McCaskill family's struggle within itself, to a stunning climax. It is a season of escapade as well as drama, during which fourteen-year-old Jick comes of age. Through his eyes we see those nearest and dearest to him at a turning point - "where all four of our lives made their bend" - and discover along with him his own connection to the land, to history, and to the deep-fathomed mysteries of one's kin and one's self.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Commonly compared with Paul Horgan and Wallace Stegner...Doig seems something else. A truer comparison might be with Robert Louis Stevenson because of Doig's magical welding of history into fiction, of adventure with everyday life, of legend with lore."
The Washington Post

"Here is the real Montana, the real West, through the eyes of a real writer."
— Wallace Stegner

"Sheer magic...simply a national treasure."
USA Today

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780736612029
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/1987
  • Series: McCaskill Trilogy Series , #1
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 10 Cassettes

Meet the Author

Ivan Doig

Ivan Doig grew up in a family of Montana ranch hands during the 1940s and '50s. The author of ten books, including the acclaimed novels that make up the Montana Trilogy — -English Creek, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana- — he lives with his wife in Seattle. Visit the author's website at www.ivandoig.com.

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Read an Excerpt

English Creek


By Ivan Doig

Scribner

Copyright © 2005 Ivan Doig
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743271270

One
This time of year, the report from the dust counties in the northeastern part of the state customarily has it that Lady Godiva could ride through the streets there without even the horse seeing her. But this spring's rains are said to have thinned the air sufficiently to give the steed a glimpse.

-- GROS VENTRE WEEKLY GLEANER, JUNE 1

That month of June swam into the Two Medicine country. In my life until then I had never seen the sidehills come so green, the coulees stay so spongy with runoff. A right amount of wet evidently could sweeten the universe. Already my father on his first high patrols had encountered cow elk drifting up and across the Continental Divide to their calving grounds on the west side. They, and the grass and the wild hay meadows and the benchland alfalfa, all were a good three weeks ahead of season. Which of course accounted for the fresh mood everywhere across the Two. As is always said, spring rain in range country is as if halves of ten-dollar bills are being handed around, with the other halves promised at shipping time. And so in the English Creek sheepmen, what few cowmen were left along Noon Creek and elsewhere, the out-east farmers, the storekeepers of Gros Ventre, our Forest Service people, in just everyone that start of June, hope was up and would stay strong as long as the grass did.

Talk could even be heard that Montana maybe at last had seen the bottom of the Depression. After all, the practitioners of this bottomed-out notion went around pointing out, last year was a bit more prosperous, or anyway a bit less desperate, than the year before. A nice near point of measurement which managed to overlook that for the several years before last the situation of people on the land out here had been godawful. I suppose I ought not to dwell on dollar matters when actually our family was scraping along better than a good many. Even though during the worst years the Forest Service did lay off some people -- Hoovered them, the saying went -- my father, ranger Varick McCaskill, was never among them. True, his salary was jacked down a couple of times, and Christ only knew if the same wasn't going to start happening again. But we were getting by. Nothing extra, just getting by.

It gravels me every time I read a version of those times that makes it sound as if the Depression set in on the day Wall Street tripped over itself in 1929. Talk about nearsighted. By 1929 Montana already had been on rocky sledding for ten years. The winter of 1919 -- men my father's age and older still just called it "that sonofabitch of a winter" -- was the one that delivered hard times. Wholesale. As Dode Withrow, who had the ranch farthest up the south fork of English Creek, used to tell: "I went into that '19 winter with four thousand head of ewes and by spring they'd evaporated to five hundred." Trouble never travels lonesome, so about that same time livestock and crop prices nosedived because of the end of the war in Europe. And right along with that, drought and grasshoppers showed up to take over the dry-land farming. "It began to be just a hell of a situation," my father always said of those years when he and my mother were trying to get a start in life. "Anyplace you looked you saw people who had put twenty years into this country and all they had to show for it was a pile of old calendars." Then when drought circled back again at the start of the thirties and joined forces with Herbert Hoover, bad progressed to worse. That is within my own remembering, those dry bitter years. Autumn upon autumn the exodus stories kept coming out of the High Line grain country to the north and east of us, and right down here on the highway which runs through the town of Gros Ventre anybody who looked could see for himself the truth of those tales, the furniture-loaded jitney trucks with farewells to Montana painted across their boxboards in big crooked letters: GOODBY OLD DRY and AS FOR HAVRE YOU CAN HAVE 'ER. The Two country did have the saving grace that the price for lambs and wool recovered somewhat while other livestock and crops stayed sunk. But anybody on Two land who didn't scrape through the early thirties with sheep likely didn't scrape through at all. Cattle rancher after cattle rancher and farmer after farmer got in deep with the banks. Gang plow and ditcher, work horses and harness, haymow and cream separator: everything on those places was mortgaged except the air. And then foreclosure, and the auctioneer's hammer. At those hammer sales we saw men weep, women as stricken as if they were looking on death, and their children bewildered.

So it was time hope showed up.

"Jick! Set your mouth for it!"

Supper, and my mother. It is indelible in me that all this began there right at the very outset of June, because I was working over my saddle and lengthening the stirrups again, to account for how much I was growing that year, for the ride up with my father on the counting trip the next morning. I can even safely say what the weather was, one of those brockled late afternoons under the Rockies when tag ends of storm cling in the mountains and sun is reaching through wherever it can between the cloud piles. Tell me why it is that details like that, saddle stirrups a notch longer or sunshine dabbed around on the foothills some certain way, seem to be the allowance of memory while the bigger points of life hang back. At least I have found it so, particularly now that I am at the time where I try to think what my life might have been like had I not been born in the Two Medicine country and into the McCaskill family. Oh, I know what's said. How home ground and kin together lay their touch along us as unalterably as the banks of a stream direct its water. But that doesn't mean you can't wonder. Whether substantially the same person would meet you in the mirror if your birth certificate didn't read as it does. Or whether some other place of growing up might have turned you wiser or dumber, more contented or less. Here in my own instance, some mornings I will catch myself with a full cup of coffee yet in my hand, gone cold while I have sat here stewing about whether my threescore years would be pretty much as they are by now had I happened into existence in, say, China or California instead of northern Montana.

Any of this of course goes against what my mother forever tried to tell the other three of us. That the past is a taker, not a giver. It was a warning she felt she had to put out, in that particular tone of voice with punctuation all through it, fairly often in our family. When we could start hearing her commas and capital letters we knew the topic had become Facing Facts, Not Going Around with Our Heads Stuck in Yesterday. Provocation for it, I will say, came from my father as reliably as a dusk wind out of a canyon. Half a night at a time he might spend listening to Toussaint Rennie tell of the roundup of 1882, when the cowmen fanned their crews north from the elbow of the Teton River to the Canadian line and brought in a hundred thousand head. Or the tale even bigger and earlier than that, the last great buffalo hunt, Toussaint having ridden up into the Sweetgrass Hills to see down onto a prairie that looked burnt, so dark with buffalo, the herd pinned into place by the plains tribes. Strange, but I can still recite the tribes and where they pitched their camps to surround those miles of buffalo, just as Toussaint passed the lore of it to my father: Crows on the southeast, Gros Ventres and Assiniboines on the northeast, Piegans on the west, Crees along the north, and Flatheads here to the south. "Something to see, that must've been," my father would say in his recounting to the rest of us at supper. "Mac, somebody already saw it," my mother would come right back at him. "What you'd better Put Your Mind To is the Forest Supervisor's Visit Tomorrow." Or if she didn't have to work on my father for the moment, there was Alec when he began wearing a neck hanky and considering himself a cowboy. That my own particular knack for remembering, which could tuck away entire grocery lists or whatever someone had told me in innocence a couple of weeks before, made me seem likely to round out a houseful of men tilted to the past must have been the final stem on my mother's load. "Jick," I can hear her yet, "there isn't any law that says a McCaskill can't be as forward-looking as anybody else. Just because your father and your brother -- "

Yet I don't know. What we say isn't always what we can do. In the time after, it was her more than anyone who would return and return her thoughts to where all four of our lives made their bend. "The summer when..." she would start in, and as if the three-note signal of a chickadee had been sung, it told me she was turning to some happening of that last English Creek summer. She and I are alike at least in that, the understanding that such a season of life provides more than enough to wonder back at, even for a McCaskill.

"JICK! Are you coming, or do the chickens get your share?" I know with all certainty too that that call to supper was double, because I was there at the age where I had to be called twice for anything. Anyway, that second summons of hers brought me out of the barn just as the pair of them, Alec and Leona, topped into view at the eastern rise of the county road. That is, I knew my brother as far as I could see him by that head-up way he rode, as if trying to see beyond a ridge-line in front of him. Leona would need to be somewhat nearer before I could verify her by her blouseful. But those days if you saw Alec you were pretty sure to be seeing Leona too.

Although there were few things more certain to hold my eyes than a rider cresting that rise of road, with all the level eastern horizon under him as if he was traveling out of the sky and then the outline of him and his horse in gait down and down and down the steady slow slant toward the forks of English Creek, I did my watching of Alec and Leona as I crossed the yard to our house behind the ranger station. I knew better than to have my mother call me time number three.

I went on in to wash up and I suppose was a little more deliberately offhand than I had to be by waiting until I'd dippered water into the basin and added hot from the kettle before announcing, "Company."

The word always will draw an audience. My father looked up from where he was going over paperwork about the grazers' permits, and my mother's eyebrows drew into that alignment that let you know you had all of her attention and had better be worth it.

"Alec and Leona," I reported through a face rinse. "Riding like the prettiest one of them gets to kiss the other one."

"You seem to know a remarkable lot about it," my mother said. Actually, that sort of thing was starting to occur to me. I was fourteen and just three months shy of my next birthday. Fourteen, hard on to fifteen, as I once heard one of the beerhounds around the Medicine Lodge saloon in Gros Ventre describe that complicated age. But there wasn't any of this I was about to confide to my mother, who now instructed: "When you're done there you'd better bring in that spare chair from your bedroom." She cast the pots and pans atop the stove a calculating look, then as if having reminded herself turned toward me and added: "Please." When I left the room she already had rattled a fresh stick of wood into the kitchen range and was starting in on whatever it is cooks like her do to connive food for three into a supper for five.

"Remind me in the morning, Bet," I could overhear my father say, "to do the rest of this Uncle Sam paper."

"I'll serve it to you with breakfast," promised my mother.

"Fried," he said. "Done to a cinder would suit me, particularly Van Bebber's permit. It'd save me arguing the Section Twenty grass with him one goddamn more time."

"You wouldn't know how to begin a summer without that argument with Ed," she answered. "Are you washed?"

By the time I came back into the kitchen with the spare chair which had been serving as my nightstand Alec and Leona were arriving through the doorway, him inquiring "Is this the McCaskill short-order house?" and her beaming up at him as if he'd just recited Shakespeare.

They were a pair to look on, Alec and Leona. By now Alec was even taller than my father, and had the same rich red head of hair; a blood-bay flame which several hundred years of kilts and skirts being flung off must have fanned into creation. Same lively blue eyes. Same straight keen McCaskill nose, and same tendency to freckle across it but nowhere else. Same deep upper lip, with the bottom of the face coming out to meet it in stubborn support; with mouth closed, both Alec and my father had that jaw-forward look which meets life like a plow. Resemblance isn't necessarily duplication, though, and I see in my mind's eye that there also was the message of that as promptly as my brother and my father were in the same room that evening. Where my father never seemed to take up as much space as his size might warrant, Alec somehow took up his share and then some. I noticed this now, how Alec had begun to stand in that shambly wishbone way a cowboy adopts, legs and knees spraddled farther apart than they need to be, as if hinting to the world that he's sure longing for a horse to trot in there between them. Alec was riding for the Double W ranch, his second summer as a hand there, and it had caused some family ruction; his going back to cowboying instead of taking a better-paying job, such as driving a truck for Adam Kerz as my mother particularly suggested. But the past year or so Alec had had to shut off his ears to a lot of opinions my parents held about this cowboy phase of his. Last Fourth of July, when Alec showed up in rodeo clothes which included a red bandanna, my father asked him: "What, is your Adam's apple cold?"

Not that you could ever dent Alec for long. I have told that he had a head-up, nothing-in-life-has-ever-slowed-me-up-yet way of riding. I maybe should amend that to say that on horseback Alec looked as if he was riding the world itself, and even afoot as he was here in the kitchen he seemed as if he was being carried to exactly where he wanted to go. Which, just then, I guess you would have to say he was. Everything was coming up aces for Alec that year. Beating Earl Zane's time with Leona. Riding for the Double W in a green high-grass summer. And in the fall he would head for Bozeman, the first McCaskill to manage to go to college. Launching Alec to college from the canyon of the Depression was taking a mighty exertion by our whole family, but his knack for numbers plainly justified it; we none of us held a doubt that four years from now he would step out of Bozeman trained in mechanical engineering. Yes, Alec was a doer, as people said of him. My own earliest memory of this brother of mine was the time, I must have been four and him eight, when he took me into the pasture where the ranger station's saddle horses were grazing and said, "Here's how you mooch them, Jick." He eased over to the nearest horse, waited until it put its head down to eat grass, then straddled its neck. When the horse raised its head Alec was lifted, and slid down the neck into place on its back and simultaneously gripped the mane to hang on and steer by. "Now you mooch that mare," Alec called to me and I went beside the big chomping animal and flung my right leg over as he had, and was elevated into being a bareback rider the same as my brother.

"'Lo, Jicker," Alec said across the kitchen to me now after his greeting to my mother and father. "How's the world treating you?"

"Just right," I said back automatically. "'Lo, Leona."

Leona too was a horseperson, I guess you'd call it these days. When Tollie Zane held his auction of fresh-broke saddle horses in Gros Ventre every year he always enlisted Leona to ride them into the auction ring because there is nothing that enhances a saddle pony more than a good-looking girl up there on his back. Right now, though, as she entered my mother's kitchen Leona's role was to be milk and honey. Which she also was first-rate at. A kind of pause stepped in with Leona whenever she arrived somewhere, a long breath or two or maybe even three during which everyone seemed to weigh whether her hair could really be so gold, whether her figure actually lived up to all it advertised on first glance. I managed to notice once that her chin was pointier than I like, but by the time any male looked Leona over enough to reach that site, he was prepared to discount that and a lot more.

Anyhow, there in the kitchen we went through that pause period of letting Leona's looks bask over us all, and on into some nickel and dime gab between Alec and my father --

"Working hard?"

"Well, sure, Dad. Ever see me do anything different?"

"Just times I've seen you hardly working."

"The Double W makes sure against that. Y'know what they say. Nobody on the Double W ever gets a sunburn, we don't have time."

-- and an old-as-womankind kitchen ritual between Leona and my mother --

"Can I help with anything, Mrs. McCaskill?"

"No, probably it's beyond help."

-- until shortly my mother was satisfied that she had multiplied the food on the stove sufficiently and announced: "I expect you brought your appetites with you? Let's sit up."

I suppose every household needs some habited way to begin a meal. I have heard the Lord thanked in some of the unlikeliest of homes, and for some of the unholiest of food. And seen whole families not lift a fork until the patriarch at the head of the table had his plate full and his bread buttered. Ours, though, said grace only once every three hundred sixty-five days, and that one a joke -- my father's New Year's Eve invocation in that Scotch-preacher burr he could put on: "We ask ye on this Hogmanay, gi' us a new yearrr o' white brread and nane o' yourrr grray."

Other than that, a McCaskill meal started at random, the only tradition to help yourself to what was closest and pass the food on clockwise.

"How's cow chousing?" My father was handing the mashed potatoes to Leona, but looking across at Alec.

"It's all right." Alec meanwhile was presenting the gravy to Leona, before he realized she didn't yet have spuds on her plate. He colored a little, but notched out his jaw and then asked back: "How's rangering?"

When my father was a boy a stick of kindling flew up from the ax and struck the corner of his left eye. The vision was saved, but ever after that eyelid would droop to about half shut whenever amusement made him squint a little. It descended now as he studied the meal traffic piling up around Leona. Then he made his reply to Alec: "It's all right."

I had the bright idea this conversation could benefit from my help, so I chimed in: "Counting starts tomorrow, Alec. Dode's sheep, and then Walter Kyle's, and then Fritz Hahn's. Dad and I'll be up there a couple, three days. Remember that time you and I were along with him and Fritz's herder's dog Moxie got after a skunk and we both -- "

Alec gave me a grin that was tighter than it ought to have been from a brother. "Don't let all those sheep put you to sleep, sprout."

Sprout? Evidently there was no telling what might issue from a person's mouth when he had a blond girl to show off in front of, and the look I sent Alec told him so.

"Speaking of counting," Alec came up with next, "you got your beavers counted yet?" Here he was giving my father a little static. Every so often the Forest Service regional headquarters in Missoula -- "Mazoola," all of us pronounced it my father's way, "emphasis on the zoo" -- invented some new project for rangers to cope with, and the latest one we had been hearing about from my father was the inventory he was supposed to take of the beaver population on the national forest portion of English Creek. "Christamighty," he had grumped, "this creek is the beaver version of New York City."

Now, though, with Leona on hand -- this was the first time Alec had brought her out for a meal; the rest of us in the family recognized it as an early phase, a sort of curtain-raiser, in the Alec style of courting -- my father just passed off the beaver census with: "No, I'm waiting for policy guidance from the Mazoola inmates. They might want me to count only the tails and then multiply by one, you never know."

Alec didn't let it go, though. "Maybe if they like your beaver arithmetic, next summer they'll have you do fish."

"Maybe." My father was giving Alec more prancing room than he deserved, but I guess Leona justified it.

"Who's this week's cook at the Double W?" My mother, here. "Leona, take some more ham and pass it on to Jick. He goes through food like a one-man army these days." I might have protested that too if my plate hadn't been nearly empty, particularly of fried ham.

"A Mrs. Pennyman," Alec reported. "From over around Havre."

"By now it's Havre, is it. If Wendell Williamson keeps on, he'll have hired and fired every cook between here and Chicago." My mother paused for Alec's response to that, and got none. "So?" she prompted. "How does she feed?"

"It's -- filling." The question seemed to put Alec a little off balance, and I noticed Leona provide him a little extra wattage in her next gaze at him.

"So is sawdust," said my mother, plainly awaiting considerably more report.

"Yeah, well," Alec fumbled. I was beginning to wonder whether cowboying had dimmed his wits, maybe driven his backbone up through the judgment part of his brain. "You know. It's usual ranch grub." He sought down into his plate for further description and finally proclaimed again: "Filling, is what I'd call it."

"How's the buttermilk business?" my father asked Leona, I suppose to steer matters off Alec's circular track. Her parents, the Tracys, ran the creamery in Gros Ventre.

"Just fine," Leona responded along with her flash of smile. She seemed to be on the brink of saying a lot more, but then just passed that smile around to the rest of us, a full share to my father and another to my mother and then one to me that made my throat tighten a little, then letting it rest last and coziest on Alec. She had a natural ability at that, producing some pleasantry and then lighting up the room so you thought the remark amounted to a whole hell of a lot more than it did. I do envy that knack in a person, though likely wouldn't have the patience to use it myself even if I had it.

We still were getting used to the idea of Leona, the three of us in the family besides Alec. His girls before her were from the ranch families in here under the mountains or from the farm folks east of Gros Ventre. Nor was Leona in circulation at all for the past few years, going with Tollie Zane's son Earl as she had been. But this past spring, Alec's last in high school and Leona's next-to-last, he somehow cut Earl Zane out of the picture. "Swap one cowboy for another, she might as well have stayed put," my mother said at the time, a bit perturbed with Alec anyway about his intention for the Double W summer job again.

-- "All right, I guess," Alec was answering profoundly to some question of my father's about how successful the Double W's calving season had turned out.

How's this, how's that, fine, all right, you bet. If this was the level of sociability that was going to go on, I intended to damn promptly excuse myself to get back to working on my saddle, the scenic attractions of Leona notwithstanding. But then just as I was trying to estimate ahead to whether an early piece of butterscotch meringue pie could be coaxed from my mother or I'd do better to wait until later, Alec all at once put down his fork and came right out with:

"We got something to tell you. We're going to get married."

This kicked the conversation in the head entirely.

My father seemed to have forgotten about the mouthful of coffee he'd just drunk, while my mother looked as if Alec had announced he intended to take a pee in the middle of the table. Alec was trying to watch both of them at once, and Leona was favoring us all with one of her searchlight smiles.

"How come?"

Even yet I don't know why I said that. I mean, I was plenty old enough to know why people got married. There were times recently, seeing Alec and Leona mooning around together, when I seemed to savvy more than I actually had facts about, if that's possible.

Focused as he was on how our parents were going to respond, the philosophy question from my side of the table jangled Alec. "Because, because we're -- we love each other, why the hell do you think?"

"Kind of soon in life to be so certain on that, isn't it?" suggested my father.

"We're old enough," Alec shot back. And meanwhile gave me a snake-killing look as if I was going to ask old enough for what, but I honestly didn't intend to.

"When's all this taking place?" my father got out next.

"This fall." Alec looked ready to say more, then held on to it, finally just delivered it in one dump: "Wendell Williamson'll let us have the house on the Nansen place to live in."

It was up to my mother to cleave matters entirely open. "You're saying you'll stay on at the Double W this fall?"

"Yeah," Alec said as if taking a vow. "It's what I want to do."

The unsaid part of this was huge, huger than anything I had ever felt come into our kitchen before. The financing to send Alec to Bozeman my parents had been gathering like quilt pieces: whatever savings the household managed to pinch aside, plus a loan from my mother's brother Pete Reese, plus a part-time job which my father had set up for Alec with a range-management professor at the college who knew us from having spent time up here studying the Two, plus of course Alec's own wages from this summer, which was another reason why his choice of the Double W riding job at thirty dollars a month again was less than popular -- Christ-amighty, since my own haying wages later this summer would go into the general household kitty, even I felt I had a stake in the Bozeman plan. And now here was Alec choosing against college. Against all the expectation riding on him. Against --

"Alec, you will End Up as Nothing More Than a Gimped-Up Saddle Stiff, and I for one Will Not -- "

More out of samaritan instinct than good sense my father headed my mother off with a next query to Alec: "How you going to support yourselves on a cow chouser's wages?"

"You two did, at first."

"We starved out at it, too."

"We ain't going to starve out." Alec's grammar seemed to be cowboyifying, too. "Wendell'll let me draw ahead on my wages for a few heifers this fall, and winter them with the rest of the outfit's. It'll give us our start."

My father finally thought to set down his coffee cup. "Alec, let's keep our shirts on here" -- language can be odd; I had the vision just then of us all sitting around the table with our shirts off, Leona across from me in full double-barreled display -- "and try see what's what."

"I don't see there's any what's what about it," Alec declared. "People get married every day."

"So does the sun rise," my mother told him, "without particular participation by you."

"Mom, now damn it, listen -- "

"We all better listen," my father tried again. "Leona, we got nothing against you. You know that." Which was a bit short of true in both its parts, and Leona responded with a lower beam of smile. "It's just that, Godamighty, Alec, cattle have gone bust time after time these last years. That way of life just has changed. Even the Double W would be on hard times if Wendell Williamson's daddy hadn't left him such deep pockets. Whether anybody'll ever be able to start off from scratch in the cow business and make a go of it, I don't see how."

Alec was like any of us, he resisted having an idea pulled from under him. "Rather have me running sheep up on one of your allotments, is that it? There'd be something substantial to look forward to, I suppose you think, sheepherding."

My father seemed to consider. "No, most probably not, in your case. It takes a trace of common sense to herd sheep." He said it lightly enough that Alec would have to take it as a joke, but there was a poking edge to the lightness. "Alec, I just think that whatever the hell you do, you need to bring an education to it these days. That old stuff of banging a living out of this country by sheer force of behavior doesn't work. Hasn't for almost twenty years. This country can outbang any man. Look at them along the creek here, even these sheepmen. Hahn, Ed Van Bebber, Pres Rozier, the Busbys, Dode Withrow, Finletter, Hill. They've all just managed to hang on, and they're as good a set of stockmen as you'll find in the whole goddamn state of Montana. You think any of them could have got under way, in years like there've been?"

"Last year was better than the one before," Alec defended with that litany of the local optimists. "This one looks better yet."

I saw my father glance at my mother, to see if she wanted to swat down this part of Alec's argument or whether he should go ahead. Even I could tell from the held-in look of her that once she got started there'd be no stopping, so he soldiered on. "And if about five more come good back to back, everybody'll be almost to where they were fifteen or twenty years ago. Alec, trying to build a living on a few head of stock is a dead end these days."

"Dad -- Dad, listen. We ain't starting from fifteen or twenty years ago. We're starting from now, and we got to go by that, not whatever the hell happened to -- to anybody else."

"You'll be starting in a hole," my father warned. "And an everlasting climb out."

I say warned. What rang through to me was an alarm different from the one in my father's words; an iron tone of anger such as I had never heard out of him before.

"That's as maybe." Alec's timbre was an echo of the anger, the iron. "But we got to start." Now Alec was looking at Leona as if he was storing up for the next thousand years. "And we're going to do it married. Not going to wait our life away."

Copyright © 1984 by Ivan Doig



Continues...


Excerpted from English Creek by Ivan Doig Copyright © 2005 by Ivan Doig. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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