Friday, December 4, 2009

This House of Sky

Ivan Doig grew up in Montana. In this book, he talks about his experience growing up there. He tells about the severity of life there in general, and, more specifically, about the severity of his life growing up. Of course, having graduated from a college in the same Big Sky Athletic Conference as are the Montana universities, I was familiar with the terminology, big sky. And I was familiar with Big Sky Country. That, of course, was Montana. His title --- this house of sky --- relates, I think, back to that.

I think Doig does a great job in capturing the Montana countryside and the lifestyle of a great number of white people who settled Montana to live off the land in telling the story about himself. Of course, it's a story about him, his parents --- mostly his dad, because his biological mother died when he was just a boy --- and his grandmother.

Of course, it gets cold in Montana and the land isn't as productive or as fertile as it is in the Plains states or in the interior valley of California. Montana is a demanding place to grow up in, and Ivan had a demanding family situation.

Let me quote from the book to give some flavor of it:

Those first seasons of following the sheep, my parents kept with them in their daily sift through the forest a cat, an independent gray-and-white tom they had named Pete Olson. Somehow, amid the horses and dogs and sheep, and the coyotes and bobcats which ranged close to camp, Pete Olson rationed out his nine lives in nightly prowls of the mountain.

Hopefully, this captures to some degree the ambience of the place Doig captures in his descriptions and the color of the people involved in his life.

There are similes and metaphors galore with such color and texture that exceeds my ability to describe: he grins like a jackass eating thistles, parents behave down toward us as if they are tribal gods, as old and unarguable and almighty as thunder, those sheep were so hungry they were eatin' the wool off each other.

Mostly though, the story is about the boy, Ivan Doig, growing up and learning to love his way of life, the land, and the people that sacrificed so much for his benefit: his grandmother and his father.

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