Choteau and Fairfield

Fairfield, Montana is a clean apron of a town, a six block grid that includes a swimming pool and park. It’s a cheerful, sunny place. Choteau, the town to the north, is shaded and strung along a winding street. Both have weekly newspapers.

Big story in both papers: local GOP hosts a Shrimp Peeler. It’s a dinner with 380 pounds of shrimp for 340 people. Fairfield only has 675 citizens. The party raised funds to send a conservative recruiting group to the University of Montana to seek out some youth.

They also are working to start a tea party group.

Ripley Hugo, Richard Hugo’s wife, and I are through both towns. “Shrimp peelers,” we both say and sigh. Then we drive up to her cabin on the south fork of the Teton. It’s where Richard Hugo went with her, up until he died in 1982.

Heading Out

First things: John Prine singing. I drive I90 east, through the “Portal to the Pacific” out across the traffic hubs of Lake Sammamish then Issaquah, and then the road thins before North Bend. Up over the first pass, Snoqualmie, I’m starting to get the hang of it.

What I’m first after, on a road trip to Montana, is that feeling of being immersed in the landscapes passing, in the simple narration of place merging with my own concerns. It’s the time to get the fretting aside and let the road take over.

Into the sage country, thinking of Gary and Maddy, of Hugo, of his friends, of my students. People pass in my head as the elevation lifts and the irrigation takes over the desert. I drop down, facing the bench of the Columbia River at Vantage. A magnificent and raw glacial split in the earth. I 90 goes left, up over the hill to the gorge at George Washington, home of the best taco truck I know. Over the Columbia, I think of the radiated water swirling from Hanford, the fish illuminated with uranium and nuclear-hot water. It’s a murky green and brown; above, in the hills is the “petrified forest,” a little stop-by with a hike and excellent fossils. I remember Maddy and Gary winding their way through the little displays. Maddy’s little “Made in Romania” boots.

I turn right on Route 26 just after the bridge and work my way, on this two-laner, into the Palouse. There’s a soundtrack for the colors and rises of this land: mostly Jay Farrar. It rains along the farms here, and as I pass through the hills, big grade rake marks over the farmlands, it splotches in big drops, greening the land.

Since I’m just back from The Bled, the hinterlands of Marrakesh, I compare the dirt here with that fisty rock strewn place. Red dirt, sand that crumbles off the rocks. Here, the dust peels off of the unfarmed hills, the sand gone silt, in dunes.

Ancient places. Poetry goes across the surface. Hieroglyphics.

I am on my way.


I meet Bob and Betsy, the owners of Book People in Moscow, Idaho. It’s a college town, the lady in Dusty told me. It doesn’t have the angst of Coeur d’Alene. It isn’t quaint. They’ve developed a traffic plan like so many in university towns, the one way streets rolling around like ramps, guiding you around and through town.

Book People is a big store. Used and new books. Huge poetry section. It’s a big city independent bookstore in a small town. Bob is an avid historian of unions in the west.

I met Katherine afterwards. She rushed in after missing the reading. She was a friend of another woman’s who came and we were out having beer. I got to stay at her house. What a gift! Ida was with me and we snuggled in. Grateful dead albums. Tom Lerer album propped up, an old one—a small 33—and little rocks on stands and shelves and shelves of books. Music and books, and little nature artifacts—pure western. Low lighting, red and yellow lampshades.

Sandwiches are priced at 2/3 of Seattle’s prices.

Moscow, Idaho.


I think of writing a poem about the view under a railroad bridge built into a hillside. When you look through, you see another wedge further on, a crinkle between hills. It’s one slot after another and it sort of unravels me.