I recently completed a novel called The Given World by Marian Palaia. The setting changes, but it begins and ends in Montana. I couldn’t help but see the connection between some of the text in the novel and James Taylor’s recent song “Montana” from his Before the World. When both titles have the word “world” in them, I guess that is another tip off.
Anyway…I have taken portions of Taylor’s lyrics and connected them to portions of text. I won’t pontificate here about how great the writing is — that is in the text itself, waiting to be discovered. All told, I think it informs us about Montana as a place of spirit and soul and ancient rumblings that affect people. At least, I hope so. Maybe someone from Montana will let me know. 😉
[The italicized text is from the Taylor song. The rest is from the novel, with page numbers noted.]
I’m not smart enough for this life I’ve been livin’,
A little bit slow for the pace of the dream.
It’s not I’m ungrateful for all I’ve been given;
But nevertheless, just the same…
One of my half-assed dreams, when I was still young, had been to become a diesel mechanic, work on huge things — equipment that could move mountains. It was not something girls normally wanted, but I was not a normal girl, and I had plans for that equipment. I guessed that given the right machinery, my little corner of the world — including all of Montana, parts of western North Dakota and southern Alberta, maybe just a small corner of Wyoming — could be arranged a little more to my liking. (65)
Over the ocean from here.
Over the mountains from there.
“That’s where this entire river came from, and this gorge, and smaller canyons, lakes, ponds — everything we can see. They’ve found pieces of Montana all the way at the Pacific Ocean.” (234)
Who can imagine the scale of the forces
That pushed this old mountain range up in the sky?
Tectonic creation, erosion, mutation;
Somethin’ to pleasure God’s eye.
I consider the broken and fused-back-together landscape. Chunky, ash-colored rock and scrubby brush, more gray than green; buttes and huge potholes that must sometimes hold water but are all dried up now, cracked earth the predominant decorating scheme. Evidence of calamity is all around, if you know what to look for. (234)
The world is a wonder of lightnin’ and thunder,
And green of the ground as we fall from the sky.
The old and new faces, the tribes and the races…
Thousands of places to try.
Out past the railroad tracks, a stretch of still and dusty plain lay unbroken except for the skeleton of an old railway spur and a couple of ancient and almost unrecognizable farm implements. Forty miles on was Alberta. He’d heard Canada was an option, but he’d never say it out loud; had never even formed the idea completely in his own mind. (53)
One sits and waits while the other one wanders,
And squanders his time with a life on the road.
Down from the mountain, across the wide ocean,
The world is in motion and cannot be slowed.
One day he told her about the ducks who’d made the continents by pulling up mud and plants from the bottom of a great sea. Before that, he said, the only creatures who survived were the ones that could swim. She said how she had always wanted to see the ocean — the Pacific especially — and how she imagined it was the same as Montana, only bluer and bigger, with no mountains. (52)
Enough for today… the demands of the moment,
The thing on my mind is the work in my hand.
Wood for the woodstove and water for coffee,
Somethin’ I can still understand.
I was supposed to come back sooner. I have known this, in some not-as-hard-as-I-made-it-to-get-to place, forever. Known that these people, my people, were not exactly encased in amber, waiting for me to come along with my little rock hammer. (271)
We got a few friends but not many neighbors,
The trip into town takes us most of the day.
And after, “Hello”, and “it’s sure good to see you”,
It seems like there’s nothin’ to say.
I look beyond the sagging fence…I see no hawk, no rabbit, no horse — just that one small mountain range in the distance, still holding its own out there, a reminder that there is such a thing as permanence, or something close to it. (285-6)
Over the ocean from here.