Monday, December 7, 2015

The Boys of Summers Run, a novel swimming upstream

Front cover of book cover

The Boys of Summers Run is written for seniors . . . parents . . .  grandparents . . . middle-grade teens . . . and boys, likely the reluctant readers in most households.

The back cover reads:

Fatherless boys become the Four Horsemen of the Outfield

Autumn, and high above the fields and forests of his family's historic farm, Claude Kinkade surveys his life there thus far. His future in rural Pennsylvania remains cloudy. His mother's marriage may move him to the deserts of Las Vegas and far away from his beloved Little League Baseball team, the Panthers.

Worse, Claude's loyalty is spreading its cloak over Shadeland, his father's ancestral acreage. He senses his departed father's shadow following him as he becomes the "farm-boy-in-training" of Summers Run. Must he forsake the memories he yearns to make among the Clan Kinkade? Will Shadeland suffer in his absence?

"Runs" are the brooks and streams linking the countryside together in Claude's new world. Summers Run is one of these, and The Boys of Summers Run is a story of deep roots and timeless springs, nurtured by traditions of family and folkways. It describes the friendships only boys can forge while learning of life and loss, the triumphs and tragedies of it all. One unsolicited reviewer writes:

"I think this is the best book I've read in a long time. I enjoyed it because it taught so many lessons. . . . I would recommend this book for all ages."

Be aware Boys is not a sports story. Nor the typical coming-of-age account. It is a story of a family preserving the land and the values it is duty-bound to protect and honor.  

To order from Barnes & Noble: The Boys of Summers Run

From Amazon: The Boys of Summers Run

From IndieBound: The Boys of Summers Run

(IndieBound is a huge community of independent bookstores found in your hometown and on the street corners across the nation. IndieBound members offer all manner of book services, shipping, and ordering of ebooks for your tablets and readers or softbound versions for your nightstand. Patronize them whenever possible.)

There are a few chapters set in Montana. Read Boys and see if they ring true. They are some of my favorites.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Out at the Metcalf Refuge

Winter provides no rest for photographers as it often offers a new slant to things. Its light is indeed, "slanted" and though brief, is often intense. 

When there's little happening within the local turkey community or on the water and its wildfowl residents or visitors, one turns his or her lens toward other subjects.

Cattails from the Refuge

Black and White Tree

Thursday, November 12, 2015

American flag against dark sky

Winter comes to My Side of Montana

Last week, we in the Bitterroot were blessed with our first dusting of snow this autumn. Below are a couple scenes from around and about, found on the Old Darby Road.

Clouds breaking and rolling over the Como Peaks, Bitterroot Range.

This pony's winter coat took on a curly texture thanks to the change in the weather. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Community Effort

The Big Bear Playground, at Lewis and Clark Park, Stevensville, Montana, was built in about five days, thanks to a concerted push by local folks, many of whom drove this fleet of wheelbarrows about the site, depositing bark and other materials. Well-deserved pat on the back for all who organized and provided the muscle power to get it done.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

New Neighbors

A pair of turkeys have discovered the "scratch" area we offer the quail. Guess the local feed and farm will welcome our effort to keep them coming by. Don't those wings look like a suit of armor?

Blue Skies and Red

When seasons change . . .  our skies in the Big Sky reflect such and quite often give us an afternoon or evening of celestial sculpture and splendor.  Here are some mare's tails from above and speaking of horses, doesn't that look like a stallion's neck?

And the glory of the sunsets here lately have been well worth missing anything television might offer.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Snapped from the car

Here are a couple of little bunches of White Park cattle. Such can be found here and there in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. Says one owner: "They're gentle––like that." Their docile nature has attracted attention of those wanting a good temperament for easy handling on small acreages. That, plus the black nose and ears add a photogenic plus.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Do you like this?

Ran across this scene years ago somewhere in Montana. Such depictions are not necessarily to my liking. They speak of disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement, and despair. And those are just the "D's". But, such seem to remain popular as "telling a story."

Hits a little too close to home for those of us who have experienced some of this. We'd rather not recall hopes abandoned and dreams forsaken.

It reminds me a bit of Christina's World, the famous work by Andrew Wyeth, hanging in the Museum of Modern Art.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Cool Mule in Blue

Mules are valued for their economical "keeping" qualities, their sure-footedness in rough or mountainous terrain, their soundness (hoof-wise), and useful intelligence when assessing challenging situations. Some enthusiasts think mules are more companionable than horses.

At any rate, take in a mule show where the versatility of this American icon is displayed. You'll be impressed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Having a look around,

these twin owls started life in a handy cupola atop the barn. Appears they're taking stock of their situation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Author! Author!

A standing ovation for another production last night. Mountain weather and the season's changing atmosphere team up for spectacular results.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some of Montana's Big Skies, last night

The month of June usually brings unsettled weather to the state. Aside from aggravating one's arthritis, the elements often produce a sunset show. The scene is similar to one we recorded several years ago almost to the day. Taken from the back yard here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A hike . . .

we'd recommend is Blodgett Overlook in the Bitterroot Range of Western Montana, just west of Hamilton. The trail begins at the Canyon Creek Campground and covers 1.4 miles of easy going and gentle terrain. Not too strenuous for most anyone from age 8 to 80 or beyond. 

Once there, one gains a sense of how important glacial action was to this range of mountains. Rock climbers scale its slabs and there are huge Ponderosas along the way. The view into Idaho is spectacular and eastward, one is treated to the valley floor.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Appaloosa Eyeball

Can't decide if the look in this Appaloosa's eye is "serenity," or  "mischief." At any rate, we suspect all seems right in its world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Makin' a Hand" at Bluegrass

Montana's cultural heritage includes folks migrating here from the Ozarks and Appalachia of several eastern and mid-atlantic states, bringing their musical heritage to the mines, forests, and farms of the region. We're the beneficiaries as there are some pretty good "pickers" in these parts.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Montana's Weather versus Pennsylvania's

We were discussing Montana's attitude toward rainfall in contrast to Pennsylvania's, my home state.

Montana likes to tease. While we tenants here below gaze skyward,  yearning for some of its hoped-for annual precip of 15 inches, we are treated to scenery. Montana weather tends to be a dilettante, dabbling, presenting a "no-show" nonchalance, more display than substance. Rather than making itself "Useful as well as Ornamental," it quits at "ornamental."

To be sure, Montana can produce dazzling, kaleidoscopic shades of gray or overcast horizons such as the image above.

In contrast, when Pennsylvania says "rain," it means it. It will rain. Often. And long. Or hard. Or both.

The scene is from our Livestock and Landscape collection, entitled Clouds & Cattle, 2.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Gelbvieh cousins in front of the Bitterroots

Gelbvieh calves in front of western Montana's Bitterroot Range. Calves Number 56 and 12 are posing out of curiosity and telling us life here today is good. What are Gelbvieh? They're a European breed introduced to the USA in the early 1970s through imports from Austria.

Over there, Gelbvieh were triple purpose bovines, bred for meat, milk, and yoked to the plow or wagon. Origins are thought to be from the Red Bavarian, the Swiss Brown, and the red and white Simmental. They became known as the German Yellow. Quite the "colorful" background, wouldn't you say?

In the early 1980s, Gelbvieh bulls and Brahman cows produced the Gelbray breed for semi-tropical environments.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Ask your mother."

These Salers calves are checking with Mom if it's all right to go out and play.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Boyhood novel includes Montana chapters, incidents

Have to say, the Montana portion of The Boys of Summers Run is not very flattering.

Yes, some might take offense. But Montana life is more than majestic log resorts or pristine trout streams. What's depicted is ranching without the romance. There are harsh realities.

Just drive US Highways 2 or 200 and one can appreciate the state does desolation or isolation rather well. One also has to admire the tenacity of those living there. There's a stark and particular beauty. Plus a reminder of how folks manage to endure on what nature grudgingly gives. Eastern Montana has redeeming qualities I find attractive and challenging for a photographer such as myself. It personifies The Big Sky. Not much pastoral or idyllic such as Claude Kinkade has known in Pennsylvania.

The dysfunction of the Smythes he meets in Montana fits in. Their brutish behavior is a product of their hardscrabble surroundings. Such helps Claude, my narrator, sample how things can go awry in relationships and family dynamics. Though he's fatherless now, he cherishes the support of his extended family filling the gap.  

Claude and and his friend Trent Smythe are born on the same day: Claude clings to his roots while Trent Smythe loathes his and lives for the day when he can watch the ranch disappear in his rearview mirror.

Would you say The Boys of Summers Run is a coming-of-age, young adult work?

Perhaps, but publishers try to pigeonhole fiction because it’s convenient. I consider it more an intergenerational novel as there are strong relationships linking my narrator and elders of his community. Farm boys and Little League Baseball create the backdrop, but it’s not a play-by-play sports story, either. More an account of the lessons from life and loss played out in rural Pennsylvania.

You’ve said the book could be read in Sunday School. How so?

Well, my main character develops a crush on a Mennonite girl from a neighboring farm. Then, in Las Vegas, he teams up with the Haupleton twins, from an LDS family . . . for a school project on urban gardening. And, the funeral takes place at St. Matthew’s in the Meadow, an Episcopal setting. So, it became rather ecumenical. In contrast to some works in the genre, the language is very tame and the narrative portrays likeable people doing pleasant things.

Unlike some of the grim plots found in young adult novels, your character Claude takes up life on what looks like a prosperous, historic farm. 

Yes, Claude and his recently widowed mother land there, trying to sort out what’s next for them. But Shadeland is facing the realities of taxes, markets, the constant upkeep and challenging stewardship of keeping the place intact, in the family, and providing a livelihood for the next generation or two. It’s roots for Claude, something he yearns for. So his loyalty quickly spreads its cloak over Shadeland and the family of his departed father. He becomes a farm-boy-in-training.

That’s why the move to Las Vegas is such a wrench. Shadeland is grounding, its bedrock extending deep into the values of another era. Las Vegas pits Claude against his mother’s new chapter and her in-laws who are deeply invested in casinos, hotels, and a high-octane lifestyle.  

So, does he return to Summers Run and Shadeland? Ever?

Aside from the Haupleton twins, things do not go so well for Claude in Nevada, particularly on the baseball diamond where he’s a pitcher for a local team. But a mentor in Pennsylvania once told him: “It’s not always your friends, Claude, who become your best teachers.” So, he applies such to his new life. 

I’ll risk a spoiler here. Yes, Claude does return to Summers Run and Shadeland and his old teammates, the Panthers. In one passage, he tells us: “It’s summer, and I feel my stride matching that of my tallest shadow.” Some of us recall being twelve or thirteen, standing on the cusp, looking across the chasm between boyhood and manhood.  Claude and his friends grow . . . sometimes within an afternoon. His Uncle Albert remembers: “the pure joy of being a boy. It doesn’t last long.”

And the book seems to portray that through Claude and the others. Would you call it a bittersweet account? 

There’s that element, yes, but Claude joins the other fatherless boys of Summers Run––Tim, Aaron, Kevin, and Jeff––banding together and negotiating the terrain their fates have defined as best they can. Outcomes are hopeful. Baseball becomes but one unifier.

The Turnip, a huge hot air balloon, is referred to occasionally throughout the work. And then there’s the rooster. Did you plant these to tie the work together?

Well, the balloon is from an event staged by my hometown, Meadville, PA, every June, where a couple dozen hot-air balloons are launched and put on a show. The rooster comes from family lore. Claude’s father, at the age of four, went a-climbing up to touch the “wooster” on the weather vane high atop Shadeland’s giant barn. The rooster comes center stage drawing Claude’s narration together. Like a good motif should.

Do readers ever ask how Claude could be so perceptive as a young teen, telling his story?

We tried to point out early on, that the narrative is two-pronged. Claude relates the action at the time it took place, and then he often applies his perspective from twenty years later. This dual approach is tricky for an author to navigate but ultimately gives the reader the three-dimensional picture and a richer progression. 

You call your book a “feel good” novel. Aren’t you afraid prospective readers might think it too syrupy?

The works of Rosamunde Pilcher and Jan Karon often deal with tragedy and grim realities. Yet they remain “pleasant reads” or “heart-warmers.” It takes a deft hand to deal with the grit of life and yet not wallow in it. I think those of us who write in this vein, expect any art to uplift. If it doesn’t, what’s the point? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rental Now Available

A pair of wrens found this place to their liking and kept themselves busy raising at least one brood here last summer. Now it's ready for new occupancy. Things should become interesting if the wrens 
and bluebirds bid against each other for 2015's lease.

This rustic home is constructed from a pine tree bole.