Lynne Montague wrote "Rim Haven," a finalist in the first-book category of the High Plains Book Awards, for her husband and their grandchildren, and for the animals that live year-round in today’s suburban Billings near the Montagues’ home. The book is packed with photographs detailing the local insects, songbirds, hawks and mammals. Spectacular close-ups portray a sleeping seven-point buck and playful mountain lion kits with their wary mother.
Varied fonts and tiny pen-and-ink drawings of rabbits juggling and catching eggs, and of ladybugs and spiders crawling across the pages invite readers to a visual feast. Drawings at the corners of the pages offer captivating images of rabbits casting their ears in the shapes of various letters — one of the book’s unique features meant to engage both adults and children.
But there is more to "Rim Haven" than pictures. Montague’s careful cataloguing of birds, butterflies, squirrels, owls and other visitors to her home encourages young readers to hear the animals’ screeches, roars and squawks, to touch the images of “trompe l’oeil” eyes on butterfly wings, and to stroke fluffy owls as they nurture tiny owlets.
The text focuses on the interconnected natural world that involves animals’ sometimes violent competition for food, breeding rights and territory. Montague explains that young bucks engage in combat on the hill above her house. A fox stoically endures humiliation and abuse in the form of angry pecks and strident squawks from a mother magpie protecting her nest and young. The ferocious hissing and striking attempts of a captured bull snake shock Montague and her husband, as the animal reacts to their presence and to their release of it back into the wild.
Life on the rims can indeed be dynamic, and Montague’s stories, though gently told, reveal that it can also be fragile. She recounts the unexpected deaths of two caged rabbits killed by a neighbor’s dog; a duckling plucked from the surface of the Yellowstone River by a hungry eagle; and the plight of poults (young turkeys) whose flocks declined as predators swallowed the defenseless birds.
Young readers are invited to question why so many animals visit the Montague home. What are the animals now responding to? Is the drought forcing them closer and closer to yards, birdbaths and hospitable locations in suburban Billings? What will happen as more and more people report bobcats, mountain lions and other large potentially dangerous mammals within the city limits?
Quotations from Jane Goodall, Albert Einstein, Chief Seattle, Michel de Montaigne and others stimulate young readers and adult lovers of nature to investigate their changing world. Such writings expand the scope of Montague’s "Rim Haven." As Einstein urges, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Montague’s photography, painting, drawings, calligraphic rabbit alphabet and engaging stories foster a unique experience of the wild backyard. This book makes reading and learning about the interconnected web of existence fun and exciting.
Jane White lives and writes in Billings.