Montana rancher captures the old and new West in memoir

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z Montana rancher captures the old and new West in memoirBy CHARITY DEWING For The Gazette The Billings Gazette
March 16, 2014 12:00 am  • 

“Bad Luck Way: A Year on The Edge of the West”

Bryce Andrews

In his captivating memoir, “Bad Luck Way: A Year on The Edge of the West,” Bryce Andrews beautifully describes life on the desolate Sun Ranch in southwestern Montana.

Since childhood Andrews has been “obsessed with the West.” After his first trip to Zentz Ranch at age 9, Andrews felt an intrinsic adulation for the land: the immense, open sky; the veiled, jagged points of the Crazy Mountains; boundless prairies, and the irresistible fear of freedom harvested a passion in him he had never experienced before.

Born and raised in the flurry of city life in Seattle, Andrews voluntarily spent every summer toiling on the land at Zentz Ranch for little pay until he turned 18.

Leaving the sovereignty of the whispering plains and infinite, consoling sky, his return trip to Seattle, like so many before, only reinforced his connection with the land: “Whenever I went home to the damp claustrophobia of Seattle, I would dream about big, dry, lonely country.”

His devotion to Montana secures him a six-month position at The Sun Ranch, an establishment dedicated “to integrate ranching into a functional, natural ecosystem.”

Soon, Andrews understands the fine line between defending the livestock and breaking the understood alliance with dwelling predators: “When a person works long enough on a ranch, he comes to suspect that most of the living things that walk or grow on the hills and pastures are either with or against him. Smart cow dogs, calm horses, fertile heifers and thick strands of wheatgrass are on a rancher’s side. Noxious weeds and stock-killing predators stand decidedly against him.”

Andrews’ lyrical style effortlessly floats from one page to the next with exquisite poetic interludes comparing his own journey to that of a lone wolf: “The wolf was not the first of his kind to stake a claim on Squaw Creek, below the sheer rocks of Hilgard Peak. Others, not long gone, had left their mark on the landscape.

As he blundered into the places where they had killed elk and prowled through the mossy wreckage of skeletons, he discovered the best trails from one ridge to another and paused at scent trees that still held the last whiffs of stale urine. In time he found and cautiously entered old dens. Nothing waited for him inside.”

Andrews’ transformative journey is captured with vivid sensory details of the harsh and beautiful realities of living on a Montana ranch while trying to coexist with a local wolf pack. He meticulously weaves the lives of the wolves and the lives on the ranch, provoking the reader to empathize with both parties. From one chapter to the next, Andrews transports the reader to the majestic Montana landscape with prosaic imagery.

A combination of the time-honored, instinctual, and demanding lifestyle of ranch living with heartfelt attachment for creatures both predatory and domestic, this honest and eloquent testimony creates a thought-provoking tale of a life-changing experience.

This commemorative memoir illustrates a contemporary spin on the West while capturing the inescapable brutality of the hard work that shapes what it means to be a cowboy.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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