Back 40

The region's people, water and range in poetry and prose


Back 40: Late November on the Marias

Winter 2011       By Tami Haaland      

The trail is gullied and too steep to drive, the river trimmed with a half-frozen shelf. Geese collect in afternoon light, and sun streaks against the abandoned ranch house on…

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The Takeout Bar

Fly Fishing 2009       Photography By Brian Grossenbacher      

I was once the lone child among men, fishing and floating Montana rivers. The Big Hole and Jefferson were primary, but there was the Beaverhead, Madison and Yellowstone too, in spring,…

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Back 40: Summer One Afternoon

Summer 2013       Written By Max Hjortsberg      

Nestled in the floodplain amidst the dense grasses I lay on my back head in the sand even though I don’t like the texture. I said I was going fishing,…

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Back 40: Herds, Yellowstone

Summer 2014       Written By David Stankiewicz      

We saw the bighorn sheep within a mile of the gate, the black bear not long after. And when we crossed the fabled river into the corner of the map…

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Hawk in My Hand

Summer 2012       Written By Linda M. Hasselstrom      

A hawk hangs from the wind over the road ditch. Looking up I feel my own heart pulse in my chest in time with the hawk’s heart-beat in my wrist.…

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Back 40: Freezeout

Winter 2015       Written By Charles Finn      

How many words do the birds have  For wind? How many categories  Of breezes? It’s all about what you pay attention to  And getting through the day.  If you’re ever…

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Back 40: Oh, Canada

Spring & Summer 2009       Written By W.D. Erhart       Photography By Jeremy Hollman      

This paper cup I’m drinking from was made in Canada. Ontario. Brampton, to be exact. Now this is odd, I think: imported paper cups. French lace, perhaps, Dutch chocolate, Russian…

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Back 40: Girlwise I Viewed the Prairie

Summer 2015       By Tami Haaland      

Beige blue horizon and the thrill of sunset  violet velvet magenta not just for seconds  but minutes coming and then receding  from its own brilliant apex  and I hoped to…

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Back 40: Water Ouzel

Winter 2009       Written By Charles Finn      

I COME DOWN TO THE RIVER. A ribbon of dark green unspools through the low countryside. Gray corpses of tree collect along the banks, their root masses thrust into the…

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Back 40: Lost Creek

Fly Fishing 2013       Written By Tim Grassley       Photography By Todd Kaplan      

For Dave Thorpe You could stay for a weekend. Head west to Hankins Gulch and parallel the rocky spine of ridgeline until the pass. Turn north and walk until you…

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Back 40: Coda

Winter 2016       Written By Chris Dombrowski      

Under a winter’s worth of melting snow, Swan Lake is a fresh sheet of rice paper   and the half-sunk round of larch charred from an ice fisherman’s fire  …

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Back 40: Bewitched

Fly Fishing 2010       Written By Jack Jelinski      

Behind the beaver dam the water shimmered silver clouds reflecting the twilight sky. Rippling surface circles barely betrayed trout sipping midges that barely caught my eye. Still as a heron…

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Back 40: The Evening News

Arts 2014       Written By Michael Earl Craig       Photography By Erik Petersen      

I wake up to the sound of a bird,  a bird that has smacked into  the large plate glass window on  the back porch.  Before I can get up  I…

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Back 40

Summer 2016       Written By M.L. Smoker      

We Are the Ones  for Dezmond   Waiting. A syllable: forming, generating energy in small, dark masses: marrow, stem cell, neuron. Waiting to come alive again in this tiny body.…

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Back 40: Highway 89 North

Fall 2015       By Al Nyhart      

It will take you there & beyond. Past the twelve thousand year old Anzick Child aglow in red ochre. Past the fallen barn praying on its knees in the basin. At…

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Back 40: At the Junction

Fall 2013       Written By Christine Valentine      

Off Highway 212 and Interstate 90 flags hit by a southwest wind, slap the pole near Last Stand Hill. The fall sun strikes headstones, standing out in white isolation, against…

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Back 40: Catch and Release

Fly Fishing 2015       Written By Timothy E. Haught      

I looked up And I beheld Wildfire In the belly of a brook trout On the saddle of the ridge. I knew The day was over When I heard it…

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Back Forty

Fly Fishing 2017       Written By Sarah Aronson      

As a consequence of moving forward The river bottom stirred,     unwound, then circled your ankles downstream. I had to wrap my fingers     around either side of hawthorn to…

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Back 40: Ski Tango

Winter 2010       Written By Carolyn Pettit Pinet      

Ahead of me Hardscrabble cracks knuckles against clouds. Behind the Bridgers splay crags in the oystery air. I move to a tango. Skis and poles glide, cut, break. I am…

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Back 40

Arts 2016       Written By Paul Zarzyski      

Deep Hidden Meaning,  Deep Hidden Morning, on Mute Letter by penciled letter, graphite, biting into the cellulose molecular make-up of lined notebook paper, amplifies almost too much Stratocaster guitar clamor.…

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Back 40: A Stone For You

Arts 2011       By Susan Mallory      

I picked it up in the sunlit shallows of the Kootenai River. An irresistible purple, although later, you detected a hint of pink when we submerged it into a bucket…

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Back 40: First Sight

Fly Fishing 2014       Written By H.G. Moser      

After years of reading about the Madison River’s legendary trout fishing we crossed over Raynolds Pass onto Route 287 and followed the river northward toward Ennis. We had waited until our son…

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Back 40: Night

Arts 2010       Written By Florence McGinn      

Sunset shadows deepen like an arc of darkness spreading its blinding sheen across vision’s depth. Perspectives shift from black to ebony to soft pewter in the cloud-veiled light of an…

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Back 40: Morning Sun on the River

Arts 2012       Written By Jack Jelinski       Photography By Adam Barker      

I once stood chest-deep in a slowly moving river as the sun rose on the water and became so enveloped by the crimson fullness of the horizon flowing around my…

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Back 40: Travelers

Winter 2012       Written By Jody A. Hedge      

Early one winter morning while walking a wooded lane, through the gray morning mist the plaintive whistle I heard, of an approaching distant train. The train however, I could not…

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Back 40: Broken Wing

Summer 2010       Written By Glen Chamberlain       Photography By Steven Akre      

THROUGH THIS SPRING, in the fields I walk, I watched a Canada goose with a broken wing. She stayed close to pond’s edge to escape predators, her limb splayed and…

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Back 40: Gone Fishin’

Fly Fishing 2011       By John Holbrook       Photography By Will Brewster      

Not the elevating reclining styling chair, not the head tilt shampoo bowl, alien helmet salon perm dryer. No flat irons or curlers. No skin care trolley, body wax kit, over-the-top…

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Back 40: Carpe Noctem

Arts 2009       Written By Susan Krall Krueger      

After the sun pulls the blanket of stars overhead, reach high to balance one on your fingertip, feel it quiver. Breathe deep the cold, dark life then take one stride…

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Back 40: Montana Wind

Fall 2014       Written By Sheryl L. Nelms      

it rushes up through dry feather grass pushes the antelope  over the ridge drops off a limestone cliff rolls along the slope through the scrub cedar rattles the branches shakes…

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Back 40

Fall 2016       Written By Shann Ray      

Wilderness In all this American marital wasteland we could  have lost everything. I’m so thankful we didn’t end up dying without having found each other, without striving  to know one…

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Back Forty: Montana

Fly Fishing 2016       Written By Geraldine Connolly      

Aspen, arrowroot, agate. Bitterroot, bear grass, barking squirrel, Camas, Clark’s nuthatch. Devil’s club. Deer Lodge, Drummond, Eye of the needle. Emigrant weeds. Finch. Fireweed. Flatbow people. Glacier lilies among gray…

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Back Forty: In the Two Medicine Badlands Along the Rocky Mountain Front

Arts 2015       By John Holbrook      

I have seen and touched, stood and knelt near a life-sized sandstone casting of a dinosaur footprint. Created by natural forces  of deposition and erosion  over millions of years,  the…

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Back 40: Diver

Summer 2011       Photography By Matthew Hayes      

AFTER THE FORKS OF THE RIVER come together and before it sweeps through the rapids there are places to tie fishing boats and small patches of sand tethered to farms…

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Back 40: Big Sky Benediction

Winter 2014       By Jessica Harris      

Driving past the manicured cemetery on the highway,     so still and crowded with sameness,         I know where your last handful             of ashes belongs. Returning…

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Back 40: Old Windows - Old Doors

Arts 2013       Photography By Joanne Berghold      

We cut a hole in a wall. We do this so we can see through it. We call it a window. Years pass. Decrepit, no longer needed window — in…

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Back 40: Winter

Winter 2013       Written By Charles Finn      

If you were to ask me about pleasure There are any number of things I could say: Summiting a mountain, swimming downstream The first bird of spring, the last light…

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Back 40: The River is a Washing Machine for My Brain

Fly Fishing 2012       Written By Henry Winkler      

It’s 3:15 in the afternoon. Fishing is done. Feel every muscle in my upper body. What a wonderful day. Talk about contentment. I took the fly off my rod and…

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