Monday, July 25, 2011

My Life As a Book Report: This House of Sky

To put into words exactly why you should read This House of Sky by Ivan Doig is difficult. You just should. You must. You'll love it. Trust me.

This is a "Dan book." He recommended that I read it at least a year ago. I've had it in my possession for several months; long enough that he couldn't remember to whom he loaned it. I finally read it and loved every minute of it.  Maybe it's because I'm living 'in the west' now, so I'm fascinated by 'western life'; maybe because I'm married to a 'shepherd'; maybe because I'm a lover of rural life, simplicity and days gone by; maybe because I'm fascinated by history and relationships. Maybe. Whatever the reason - if you find yourself in any of those categories, you'll love the book.

The setting is rural, western Montana and the time spans the early 20th century through the mid 1970s. The book is a collection of memories from Doig's family journey to Montana from Scotland and their experiences homesteading, ranching, rodeoing and living in the sparse, sometimes harsh landscape of western Montana. He describes the landscape and ranch life with such depth, richness, beauty and clarity.

Please, please, PLEASE read the book. Give it to your parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles. I am. (psst! act surprised when you get the book!)

Now for how it relates to my life...

Doig recounts the passing of a way of life.  Montana's homesteaders found that after years of struggling, 160 acres just didn't cut it. Eventually homesteading places were bought up by larger ranches, and men could take on jobs working for ranches. Raising livestock dictated the pulse of this area. As the book closes, Doig's home area has now become a logging industry.

I love history; I love my family's history; I love pondering about my family's roots and experiences. Growing up, I used to develop stories and imagine life on our land from years before. We had an old barn up the hill in an area where we used to keep hogs. I loved wandering in that barn. It was so dilapidated and filled with dust. Granted, the "flooring" was just dirt - but I always just remember SO. MUCH. DUST. walking through there. There was even ooooooold dusty hay still in the middle of the barn. I just loved going there and living in my day dreams for a few hours. So much of Doig's life was spent living in his imagination, as he grew up an only child in some isolated areas.

Furthermore, I've watched the landscape of rural Iowa change in my own 'short' lifetime. In our small town of Orient, the surrounding areas were full of families who farmed 'small' farms (500 acres or less?) and lived good lives. Today, those families have thinned out. As we graduated high school and college, we've moved on to larger cities and towns. Our already small school now has graduating classes in the lower teens. (Yes, folks, like 14.) The industry that has supported livelihoods for years...isn't. Jobs for those with college degrees are sparse. Men like my dad who have a college degree and came home to farm earn nicknames like 'Professor' - because those who leave and return are a rare commodity. In recent years, there have been some who've left and come back. Those who do, I admire.

Putting into words why you should read this book is very difficult me. You just should. So, whenever you get around to it - you won't be disappointed.

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