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
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail