Montana Surrounds Him

Montana Surround

Land, Water, Nature and Place

By: Phil Condon

Johnson Books, Boulder, Co.

2004, 192 pages

ISBN 1-55566-354-0

$15.00 paperback

Mixed in with this memoir of growing up and moving out, of coming back and forging bonds of place, the author deals with big issues like the relationships between people and land, animals and each other.

Condon teaches in the graduate program of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana, and the University sponsors an Environmental Writing Institute in Missoula.  He’s knit together the threads of his life that range through Nebraska, California, Missouri, British Columbia and Montana.  He uses the stark memories of his past to ponder the present.

From a session of work in a meat slaughter packing plant, Condon examines his choices and intentions.  He muses that he still eats meat and enjoys it, yet resolves to slow his actions to include due process and consideration when he is consuming meat. How cash has disappeared from the equation of purchase.

Not a sentimentalist, he admits to tree cutting (for heat during a bitter winter in British Columbia) as well as tree hugging and planting.  Condon doesn’t shy from tough facts:    toxic industrial pollutants and pesticides used in agriculture are found everywhere on the planet.  There are no pristine places.

A man enchanted with real snow, Condon likes winter because “it slows down most things modern and mechanistic… and I like snow because it covers everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  To me, it’s always seemed the coldest, cleanest grace.”

The domed snow-scapes that some people collect are a metaphor for life on earth.  His first wife, with whom he homesteaded in the Ozarks, worries that they’re living inside “one of those snowy paperweights…idyllic from the outside, but if we start looking past each other, through each other, there’s nothing to keep us from becoming invisible…” (p. 15)

Condon mentions a fortune telling ball, “a heavy glass sphere, flattened on both ends and wrapped in gold-colored foil.  The glass opened on a murky maroon interior. You’d ask a question and shake it, and one of twelve stock answers would rise to the top.”  (p. 175)

He writes: “Pick up the snow scene in its small round globe of glass.  Shake it and smile.  Watch the show settle and the scene change.  It’s fun to do the shaking.  And it’s also fun to imagine being one of the figures.  The truth is that, to a greater or lesser degree, we’ve always been both the shaker and the shaken.  And now, if we never have before, we know it.” (p. 141)

by L. Peat O’Neil

 This review appeared in The Bloomsbury Review, a wonderful book paper. Subscribe!
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