Saturday, June 29, 2013

Touching Montana: Retrospective

How often are you asked for your life story? Probably not often. I ask people for their life stories regularly. I'm bewildered sometimes at their willingness to share. It's actually a perk of being a writer. An interview subject gives you credit and trust for your ability to translate, most of the time. What did I do to earn that credence, other than ask and be kind?

I spent, all told, perhaps 20 hours interviewing people on my recent trip to Montana and Idaho. I enjoyed learning from people whom I've never met. Every person does have a "book" inside them because every person's story is not like yours or mine. I found myself pondering out loud, "Why do you live here?" Montana and Idaho and the towns I visited are remote. The sky is a daily physical entity in your life. Mountains are, too. To be cramped there means running into four friends at a diner.

One of the more interesting characters I met on the way was Heyoka Merrifield. He's a scupltor and jewelry maker, once an LA groupie designer for the stars in the music scene of the late '70s. Now, he's a sage-like figure in the wide-open region south of Missoula. I interviewed him just because. I have no idea what I'll do with the three hours of tape from our meeting at his ranch. He lives alone, usually, and allows the muses to direct his work. His word: muses. He doesn't seem to be living up to anyone's expectations but his own.(website)
Merrifield in his sacred space

We spent an hour reviewing his new book, The Book of Shrines, which he put together originally to focus on his iconic jewelry art. Then his subject matter expanded. He showed me pictures he'd Photoshopped of human images he saw in natural forms. He let the project guide him rather than him guide it. This is a fellow who's spent time living in gypsy wagons (he had one in his front yard) and building pyramids to live in. He'll be showing his work this year in galleries in Santa Fe, NM, Sedona, AZ, Missoula, MT, and Healdsburg CA. He already has four books out on Amazon, three of which are books of fiction, the White Buffalo Woman series.
Heyoka's house in Stevensville, MT
Nearby, many other artists live. Howard Knight (website) and Olive Parker (website) are two I'll write about for publication. Being around all that creative juice is a natural motivator. I thank these artists for their time, trust and inspiration.

Olive with one of her Welsh ponies.

Howard and Amy Knight. Howard is a leather artist; Amy works in glass.
*This blogpost is written without inducement by the subjects.


  1. Looks like you're having quite a trip. I enjoyed your bit about driving up the gorge. After living in Moscow, ID for a while, and still having family there, I know that road well, and it's always nice to see a well known landscape through fresher eyes. :)

    1. I've been on the gorge road three or four times, but it still has that awe factor. If I lived there, like you had, I'd hope that feeling wouldn't fade.

  2. I love that you're going to the little towns! I grew up in Helena, MT and there's so many stories of interesting people around there.

    1. The cultural atmosphere of rural Montana seemed very gentile. The landscape is full of people from other places who find the lifestyle suits them. Maybe I'm romanticizing about it, but it seemed real to me.


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