Ivan Doig has staked out the Dupuyer Creek area of northern Montana as the setting for most if not all of his books, and you can see the love of the area in his descriptions. Montana weather and landscape combine to act as a character in its own right in his stories.
English Creek is the story of one summer in the life of the almost-fifteen-year-old son of the Forest Ranger in charge of the English Creek area of the National Forest. It is told in the first person and He might possibly be one of the few teenagers you might actually want to meet in person. The year is 1939, a period between the wars that has the cattle ranchers in the area going bust and selling out, sheep production taking over, a much more profitable enterprise, and many farmers giving up the toil against the weather and falling prices.
The book has lots of wonderful characters, from the boy’s mother, a former librarian,
…. a warning she felt she had to put out, in that particular tone of voice with punctuation all through it. When we could start hearing her commas and capital letters we knew the topic had become Facing Facts, Not Going Around with Our Heads Stuck in Yesterday.
Another old character was described as
. . . one of those chuckling men you meet rarely, able to stave off time by perpetually staying in such high humor that the years didn’t want to interrupt him.
And a couple of others:
Glacier Gus was an idler so slow that it was said he wore spurs to keep his shadow from treading on his heels.
Three Day Thurlow had an everlasting local reputation as a passable worker his first day on a job, a complainer on his second, and gone sometime during his third.
Our boy’s older brother, Alex, 18, a whiz with math, has decided against college, much to his parents’ dismay, and wants to marry the local belle who hasn’t yet finished high school. He stomps off when his parents try to talk him out of it, and gets a job with the biggest cattle rancher still operating in the region, living in the ranch’s bunkhouse.
It is a lovely and gentle story of family ties and the complexities of relationships, and ends with a massive forest fire in the district, fought hard and bravely by the fire service and those it can enlist to help.
I have a couple of other of Doig’s books in the queue. Can’t wait to get to them.