FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Letter to Peter Matthiessen

by

Dear Peter,

This is the letter I meant to write. For the last couple of years I meant to write this letter to you. This is it, a bit belated, but I have a habit of not writing the letter or the poem or making the phone call until it’s too late for any of them to be of much use to anyone. So this is the letter, finally, that I had meant to write to you.

I keep thinking about the first time we met. You had just returned to Montana and were on your way out to Jim Harrison’s place to go fish the Yellowstone. On your way out, you cut up to the Grizfork, where I was then living with my cousin Doug Peacock. You came up this way even though you knew Doug wasn’t around, but you said you just wanted to take a look at the mountains. I came out of my cabin and we shook hands and introduced ourselves in the middle of the dirt road laced with ground squirrel tracks and hoof prints. We both agreed on the same drainage of the Absarokas as our favorite: not the south fork of Deep Creek that Chatham so perfectly captured (his painting on the cover of Jim’s Legends of the Fall marking it as the great book that it is) but the drainage immediately south where Pine Creek rises, twisting up toward Black Mountain. There’s something of power up there, some mystery that I think we both love.

We stood silently, side by side, traveling in the imagination, which is to say in spirit, up the dark passage. We stood silently, side by side, as if we were old friends, which felt like a great gift to me. You, the person who had the courage and wisdom and passion and generosity to create a life that made it possible to bring such words into the world: The Snow Leopard and At Play in the Fields of the Lord and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse and Far Tortuga and on and on. How was it possible for one mind to conceive those books, for one heart to feel them, for one pen to contain them? What a gift to stand in silence, next to that mind and heart and pen, to stand in silence contemplating mountains as if we were old friends. I’ll never forget that first meeting and I want to thank you for that.

I just took a break from writing this to call Doug, who now becomes, perhaps, the elder of our loose and far-flung tribe, a distinction he may or may not admit to, but between him and Jim Harrison and Terry Tempest Williams, who do we now have left? Anyway, I told Doug that I would go look at the Yellowstone River today and think of you and he told me a memory about a fish you caught in a side channel off Ninth Street Island during your last visit out here.

Your last visit. … I can see your smile, which is mostly in your eyes.

The last time you and I talked, it was over breakfast at the Grizfork. You were heading out for a day of fishing and I was off to another day of building Doug and Andrea’s new house. For awhile, it was just the two of us around that old dining room table, with a photo of Abbey and a painting of a grizzly bear looking down at us from the walls. We got to talking about writing. About method and process. I was struggling with a novel and wondering how to ever finish it (I still haven’t). And then you gave me another great gift. You said, “Something that works for me …” and then you told me how you do it – how you find It, day after day, and follow It all the way to the end of the book. It was the best writing advice I’d ever heard.

But here’s the thing: By the time you were driving away down toward the river, I had completely forgotten what you said. Every word, gone.

So this letter that I’ve been meaning to write, this letter that I’ve been meaning to write for the last couple of years, this belated letter, is to ask you, What was it? What were those few words over coffee and pancakes that I so needed to hear?

I know I’m being greedy. You’ve given us a lifetime of books filled with the words we need to hear. I guess all I can do now is keep reading – my answer is in there somewhere. You were generous and you gave us everything.

So now, what can I say but, “Good journey.” Travel well, my mentor, my elder, and (though I probably haven’t quite earned the honor, I’ll say it anyway) my friend. I will think of you every time I’m blessed with a moment of standing in silence, looking up to Black Mountain and our favorite view along this stretch of the northern Rockies.

And, I’ll close with the word you used in signing my copy of The Snow Leopard, which is both greeting and farewell, and is meant in the literal sense of “I bow to the divine in you.”

Namaste,

Marc

Marc Beaudin is the editor of CounterPunch’s Poets’ Basement. He lives in Montana.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail