By Doug Hare EBS Staff
Ralph Beer’s recently published “Jackson Creek Road” is a collection of his essays and short stories, mainly written in the ‘80s and ‘90s, about how life in central Montana has changed in the last century.
Beer earned a Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of Montana in Missoula, published two books, “The Blind Corral” and “In These Hills,” and teaches at Carroll College outside of Helena. But for the most part he has made a living with his hands.
The backdrop for much of the collection is his family’s ranch where his father and grandfather have worked the land for more than 90 years. Beer understands both the frustration of making a living in the rural West with one’s back, and the inherent dignity of a hard day’s work.
“Jackson Creek Road” is about people, their sense of place, their struggles, and stories well told and nearly forgotten. The tone throughout is elegiac. Beer is nostalgic for simpler times. He laments a way of living that is all but lost and mourns the irrecoverable past.
But it’s not only sorrowful; it’s prophetic as well. The author is not so much interested in taming the West as he is in finding ways to endure and abide in it.
Beer’s prose is clean, gritty and muscular. Whether his is remembering his friendship with the late James Crumley, writing odes to pickup trucks and motorcycles, or discussing the history of literary culture in Montana, Beer has a knack for reminding the reader of the importance of questioning our values. He returns to the idea that land is not just a source a wealth but a source of life itself.
Few writers have better described the schizophrenic situation of modern day Montana: “…our shaky sense of place and our wobbly sense of ourselves … our alternating lusts for open spaces and wider highways, for untamed wilderness and greater access.”
Beer’s latest publication deserves a wide audience. His ability to convey the importance of open country, a sense of frontier, silence, and craftsmanship is a much-needed antidote to the unbalanced clutter of modern America.
Doug Hare is the Distribution Coordinator for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.