By Bella Butler EBS EDITORIAL ASSISTANT
BIG SKY – When Big Sky local Tracie Pabst set out to write her novel “Elkwood” seven years ago, she wasn’t trying to change the world. The story, largely inspired by Pabst’s 15-year residency in Montana, follows the adventure of an English elk, aptly named Elkwood Elkington III, whose travels throughout Montana allow for meetings with various amicable wildlife characters—with equally cheeky names to boot.
The narrative was initially simple, a way to express fun and whimsical ideas that came to Pabst as she wrote. What “Elkwood” evolved into, though, was something that would not only transform Pabst but undoubtedly the many others who read it.
“Through the lives of these animals, [you are forced] to take an introspective look at your life, at your friendships, at change,” Pabst said. The author emphasized that among many themes that support the fable, friendship is the most evident.
Pabst, after neglecting the finished first half of her story for a few years, returned to it after having been inspired by the line “never let go of a friend.” To her amusement, she found the same exact phrase was already present in a previously composed chapter.
Pabst asserts, after having completed the book and seeing how the motif of friendship ultimately bound the narrative together, the messaging surrounding the importance of friendship is one that could serve society particularly well. “Especially in today’s climate, friendships are broken. We need to be reminded of their importance.”
Pabst wasn’t always a writer, in a past chapter owning the Eat Me Cookie Company, formerly located in the Gallatin Valley Mall. Still, a spirit of story was always present—the entrepreneur gave each of the available cookie varieties for sale a wildlife identity. For example, the favored chocolate chip cookie was the “Big Elk,” also available as the “Big Elk with Nuts.”
Those characters, formerly assigned to Pabst’s cookies, found a home in the story of “Elkwood,” where each plays a role in the eponymous protagonist’s quest for purpose.
And not only are the animals recognizable to those acquainted with the Big Sky area, the setting will ring familiar, as well. For example, while hiking one day with her dogs on the summer slopes of Big Sky, Pabst found a trickling stream that cascaded over a lichen-speckled rock slate. Being a baker, Pabst delighted in the resemblance the pattern the plants bore to chocolate chips; she dubbed it the chocolate chip waterfall and wove it into Elkwood’s story.
The climax of the fable, in which Elkwood clings to the cliffs of Beehive Peak, may also prompt knowing smiles from locals.
Friends of Pabst have returned to her after reading “Elkwood,” thanking her for sharing a story that had the power to initiate change in their lives. “I see very clearly that God led me to [publish Elkwood]—this is what my entire life has been about and there is no doubt in my mind,” Pabst said.
A testimonial from the book’s website spoke to Pabst’s belief “Elkwood” is an essential read: “The parables found within Elkwood address common [behavioral] traits prevalent in today’s society and remind us that we are all part of one united herd.”
Now available at multiple locations across Big Sky as well as online, Pabst encourages all readers to pick up a copy and “lose yourself in the story … find yourself in the herd.”
Pabst will host her second book signing at the Moonlight Lodge on Jan. 3, 3-5 p.m.