Proof of relativity, photo by author
Proof of relativity, photo by author

A Curved Phenomena 

Here we have a straight telephone pole that has a distinctively curved shadow. There are two possible explanations for the curved shape of the shadow in this photo. One is that the building is moving at a very high rate of speed and thus the curved shadow. The other possibility is the surface of the building is not square, but rounded instead. What is your opinion?

Happy Trails

A roadside view of my vacation
A roadside view of my vacation


I am going on a summer vacation of sorts……at least until around Labor Day.

I wrote be writing very much, but will occasionally post an image or three in coordination with Illustration Friday or concerning my travels around Montana.

Unti then……..Happy Trails

A House Made of Sky

A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author
A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author

A Montana One-of-a-Kind Passes Away

Since noted Montana writer, Ivan Doig, passed away this pass week, I deciced to honor the famed author of This House of Sky with some comments and a series of sunset photographs from the West. Though Ivan spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area, he did grow-up in the shadow of the Montana Rockies and wrote extensively from that experience. One of his best known books was This House of Sky. It was a memoir of his Montana youth that became a finalist for the National Book Award.

Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM
Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM

Western Childhood

Ivan Doig was born in 1939 in White Sulfur Springs, not too far from the Big Belt Mountains and the state capitol at Helena. He grew up in a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. His mother died at age six, so after that tragic event, Ivan was raised by his father and grandmother. Soon thereafter they moved north to a different part of the state, where the family’s main occupation was sheepherding. Doig stayed in Montana until educational pursuits drew him away from the state, first to Northwestern University in Illinois and finally to the University of Washington, where he obtained an advanced degree in American history. Ivan would remain in Washington for the rest of his life.

Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author
Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author

Last Bus To Wisdom

Even though Ivan Doig just passed away, there still is one more book on the way. The novel is called Last Bus To Wisdom and it will not be officially released until August of this year. The publisher is Riverhead Books and this autobiographical story revolves around an eleven-year old boy from Montana, who is sent to the Midwest to stay with some friends of his caretaker, a middle-aged woman, who needs to undergo an emergency medical operation.

The visit to Minnesota does not go well and soon the boy from Montana is back on the bus home with a surprise companion. This posthumous traveler’s tale falls in line with a lot of the western tales that Ivan wrote during his lifetime and should consolidate his well-deserved reputation as one of the best Western storytellers of the 20th century. The book is definitely on my reading list for this year.


Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author
Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author

A Cowboy Author from the Old West

book cover on Will James
cover featuring a Will James painting from a book about the cowboy artist

Twentieth Century Cowboys

Contrary to popular belief, the “Old West” did not die with the beginning of the 20th century. If you ever saw the opening scene from the movie, “Seabiscuit”, there is a wonderful part, where a mounted rider chases down a wild horse. The brief spurt of action is set against a stunning backdrop of mountains. After reading Will James intriguing memoir, “The Drifting Cowboy”, I now know that there is more truth to this picture than I first realized.

6am339 by Will James
painting entitled 6 a.m. by Will James

Who was Will James Anyway?

Will James is the alias of Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault, who was born in 1892 in Saint-Nazaire-d’Acton, Quebec, Canada. As a young man Joseph traveled west to Saskatchewan, Canada. Here, he learned to be a cowboy, but Joseph had to leave Canada and change his name ( to Will James) because he was wanted for cattle rustling. In the U.S. Will James traveled round the west working as a cowhand at various places, especially Montana. He even drifted south and worked in Hollywood as a stunt reader. This fascinating experience is well detailed in The Drifting Cowboy.

Learning to Draw

Will James learned to draw and paint at the early age of four when he was still known as Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault. Joseph grew up in a French speaking household, where such activities were encouraged at a very young age. Today, James artwork is scattered across the West with a large proportion held by the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, MT. This high plains Montana enclave is where Will James retired to after he finished his cowboy years. Part of his drawing and painting collection is on permanent display at the Montana museum.

portrait of will-james_117143925_std

Perhaps His Most Challenging Accomplishment

Not only was Will James an accomplished artist, but he could tell a good story as well. This is quite an accomplishment, for someone who learned English as a second language. In fact, Will James writing success brings to mind another famous Francophone, who also excelled when writing in English. That person is none other than Jack Kerouac, who was raised in a French-speaking household in Lowell, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Will James shared some of Kerouac’s  undesirable traits such as alcoholism, a transient lifestyle and death at an early age. Even though Will James published a score of books, had one successful Hollywood movie (Smoky the Cowhorse) and sold many drawings and paintings, he stilled died at age 50 from alcohol abuse. Today, his books are still available through the Tumbleweed Series put out by the Mountain Press Publishing Co. of Billings, MT. Check one out; you will enjoy the read.

Maynard Dixon painting
Navajo Land by Maynard Dixon

Artists of the Old West

Around 1920, James studied art at the California School of Art and Design. It is here that he met another painter, Maynard Dixon, who would go on to achieve much success with his painting. Despite Dixon’s dramatic artistic style, his personal experience with the “Cowboy Life” cannot match that of Will James. All in all, Will James was a very talented interpreter, who revealed many wonderful things about the life of the American cowboy in the not-so “Old West”.