Two grandkids playing. Letters to Montana Blog by Nancy Kay Brown.

Letters to Montana

When my son and his wife moved with my two-year old grandson to Montana, she was pregnant. They left their cabin next door, free rent, childcare, a job at the college children’s center and they left me. Since he was born, I’d watched over my grandson, Ryan, saved him from foster placement and one time I kidnapped him. Yes. After Ryan’s birth a social worker told his mother that she wasn’t allowed to hold him because she was taking prescription drugs that made her woozy and her balance unreliable.  My son was barely making it to work each day, so I stepped in. They needed me, besides, I couldn’t bear not to. I had taken him and his mother to doctor’s appointments, enrolled her in classes at the college where I taught child development and looked in daily on the baby. Then they took him several states away. I worried, paced, scratched and picked myself raw, then one day I spun to a stop and wrote him a letter. I imagined him walking with me to the barn, retrieving the mail a half-mile up the road, hiking to see the bubbling creek and began to speak to him through letters posted in my blog. I hope you enjoy peeking in at “Letters to Montana”  stories, lessons, rants and grief and some other posts about writing, creativity and the natural world.

P.S. When Ryan and his family returned with their baby, Liza, they moved into a tent until they could find a place to rent. Follow their story re-told in Fallen From the Nest my nearly completed memoir. Get the inside scoop on what happened and how we transformed our lives and became a Grand family.

Recent Posts

  • Wiggle and they drop into place // January 2, 2021
    I found my self showing my resident granddaughter how to put on a bra, assuring the little girls are each seated in the cups, even in a first bra, as the rise of breast buds ache and feel tender against the t shirts she wears. I never imagined I’d be doing this. Raising a girl.    # raisinggirls
  • Peeled Open // June 18, 2019


    On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

    “… founded on truth, but realized by the imagination.” Ocean’s reading was a seminar for the crowded gathering last night at Bookshop Santa Cruz. He uses the lure of autobiography to draw in the reader, but takes us on a journey using fiction, poetry and imagination to paint rather than tell us a story.   A poet first, he suggests we all practice poetry before writing anything. We believe him, believe anything he says. He’s got that kind of magic surrounding him.

    Ocean introduced ‘Kishotenketsu’ as the structure for his story, an Asian, character, not plot driven story structure. I looked it up. I must take his class at Amherst. He is brilliant. A scholar.

    Kishōtenketsu is a four act narrative structure developed out of Korean, Chinese and Japanese traditions, originating in Chinese poetry. Kishōtenketsu is a narrative structure that is not based on conflict and resolution.

    The four acts of Kishōtenketsu break down like this:

    Ki – Introduction

    The character, setting, situation and other basic elements are established.

    Shō – Development

    An expansion of the first act introduction. No major changes occur.

    Ten – Twist

    The story takes a turn into a contrasting, seemingly separate situation.

    Ketsu – Conclusion

    The story resolves, connecting all acts.

    The Ten (Third Act Twist) is the Key to Kishōtenketsu

    The Ten- the third act—is a contrasting, even seemingly nonsensical, departure from the character and situation set up in the first and second acts.

    In the fourth act, that third act dislocation is brought together to resolve a complete narrative connection with the first part of the story. Kate Krake, for writers. Thank you.


    On Earth is an exploration, a meeting place for our hearts and minds to consider what he called a democratic town square, during which he asks himself, and us, to consider, How do we harvest compassion from our world? The world he paints in the most gorgeous language, images and through his eyes is real and dreamy and moves unafraid into Asian sensibility, the emergence of the Opioid crisis, and Queer culture. Not culture, exactly more Queer pleasure, a sensory exploration and he keeps us with him there as part of the atmosphere, the landscape is Connecticut, but it is us, our messed up America. Little Dog is complex, innocent but whole and human. His character survives, some do not. Some bodies, he told us are deemed not worth protecting. He wants to offer us these bodies, in their wholeness and brokenness as beautiful.

    Ending with a song, after his disclaimer, I am not a singer. An Appalachian song sung at funerals, and he brought us to our knees. What a beautiful man he is, as if in a dream, I walked back alone to the three level parking structure, wishing I could sing the song in the car, be Ocean, inhabit his mind, no, his soul.

    I read this book last week, couldn’t recall the name, each time I suggested someone read it, as if in a trance as I stammered on about the experience, the sense of this story, his novel, the way poetry does, left me steeped in a sensory world, not ideas. Since then, I’m rendered wordless. (except to sing the praises of this novel) Who am I to claim that I write? May as well say I am a pilot because I went on an airplane once or twice.

    Read this book, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong


  • A beautiful poem  // June 3, 2019

    by Kim Stafford

    Sent by a loving friend. Added here to treasure, so I can listen again and again. 

  • The Crow // May 30, 2019

    tilt shift photography of birds
    Crow nest hidden in forest

    There he is again, on the same place in the road that runs through the forest. That crow, feet stepping in place, wings jerking open and closed, picking at an imaginary acorn, a speck in the road grasping then dropping it. Is it a small piece of gravel falling from its beak? He’s wooing passers by (human or other animals) with a treasure, “ Look here. Feast your eyes on this.” For the last two weeks he’s there displaying one tiny object or another, looking in my car window as I watch him. He directs my attention to a spot on the ground or, rather redirects my attention away from something else. He pretends, faking his own interest in an imaginary object, an actor on the asphalt stage. Because he’s there, pecking at nothing, I wonder, what he’s hiding. Where his nest is located. Is his mate sitting on eggs in the oaks there above the road? But, I won’t stop to investigate. I’ll allow him his bait and switch, let it succeed. I drive off every time, as if I fallen for his ruse. I don’t like to eat crow. Okay. Sorry.

    Something about that crow resonates. We all pretend. Smile to mask a rough patch, spoke over a friend in class who is about to tell the teacher about a schoolyard misdeed, push a cool washcloth over a hot forehead and get a child to guzzle a cold drink on the way to preschool. A fever? Not today, please, I have an important client. Sometimes pretending covers for what’s real, lies close to an untruth. Is one. BUT, Sometimes pretending masks not yet knowing, covering for ignorance.

    As a writer of a true story, my own true story, a story only as true as I reveal, I sometimes mask the truth. I divert the reader, either intentionally or because I may not yet fully understand the truth of a scene myself. Writing and revising, even after several drafts, continues to include diversions, doubts, hidden information, hesitancy and more discovery. Some of these are part of the character’s arc, as the character develops, scene by scene. She grows, transforms, behaves with new insight. But some places in my piece, in my manuscript, unable to hear my own story or read my own heart, I resort to self-deprecation when I, as the writer, am as befuddled as the character was at the time. Impatient with my own incapability. The writer must become wiser than the protagonist in a memoir. The writer of a novel must hold the wisdom of the story and characters, too. Discoveries are part of both. We must understand human nature, motivation, misbehavior and character innuendo and behaviors to demonstrate a character’s flaws, our own flaws. We write our own story as if we are not yet wiser and share a journey to gain some kernels of wisdom. We best offer ourselves compassion, tenderness and appreciation as we hold our own hand through the hard parts of a story. Love ourselves and let the reader in on that love. It is hard for me forgive myself and work my way through some of the hard places.

    My Beta Readers, a few selected people who agreed to read this draft and offer feedback on the current version of my story, Fallen From the Nest, 25 chapters 350 pages, have been invaluable in nudging me to consider a few shared issues. Among them was that I lessen the incidences of self-deprecation, leaving self doubt as a motivator for discovery, when overwhelmed and confused, but to love for this struggling grandmother as she settles into her role with her grandchildren and her troubling son. Tell the story with more self-kindness and generosity, love her more. How can I be compassionate with myself when I made so many mistakes? Bad choices? One thing I know is that I’d  be kinder to others in this situation, more generous and understanding. This is where I begin the next revision, wrapped in tenderness for that old me as  a friend. Back I go into the weeds of words and ideas I planted on my own, scythe in one hand and a soft pillow and shawl in the other, a pot of tea for our journey.

    Shall I enjoy myself, with laughter, puns, jokes and silliness? Might that help the reader want to spend time with me, like me more, enjoy hanging out? I’ll have to tease the reader, a little bait and switch on the crow’s road, the same one where my story begins. How can I make the reader care for a woman who kidnaps her grandson? To protect her son from losing another child or to protect her own professional reputation. It was never about my reputation. My beak plucks a tiny stone from the road, tells you its delicious, to try some as I sneak back home to revisit myself and write what I discover.

    Send love and understanding my way as I dig a little deeper, tease out a thread of tenderness and weave it in and around softening, opening my heart throughout the manuscript. Nancy

    black bird
    Crow on the road


  • The Balm of Feet in Dirt // May 9, 2019
    Wyoming…a beautiful river at the base of mountain. Going this summer.
    Meditative moment in a field of lupines

    “The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” – John Muir

    This day, I will glide and sing. Want to join me?  The natural world has power, more than all of us. We step outside and there it is, go a little further, off the sidewalk, step onto a dirt path, a trail, the air changes, you change,  warmed by a planet beneath our feet, spinning round in the universe. The moment we shed the coat of the heated room, unfold from chair and screen, leave managing food, home and swiping everything clean, we are transformed. One last swipe at the dust thick on pottery once made by hand. Yes, long ago we put our hands to clay, slapped it free of bubbles and shaped it, fell into its trance, immersed our very being, became “one” with a gluey glob of earth, all hands and sensation- lost ourselves in the creative moment. Remember, losing yourself in clay, paint, poetry and dance? Or were those the very moments we found ourselves? Another high school shooter. Oh, once again our world in pain, self-inflicted, salty tears overfill our growing oceans. Head outdoors to unburden. Fresh sensation: birdsong, trickling water, wind in trees, feet on chilly earth, soft, hard or rocky heals. The smells of the moist earth are familiar, comfort, reassure. They are our scent, too as we are of her. Discover duff beneath the trees- ancient layers, trod for centuries by wholehearted wanderers like ourselves. Foragers, renegades, seekers who dared to wonder. Witness the wood rat build her dome of sticks, a bird carry a ridiculously long twig for its nest- watch as she weaves it with intuition and skill. A snake slithers to a stop on the trail risking its very life for a spot of sun. Outdoors we risk discomfort, grow tender with sensation. Commit to the experience. Let all else fall away, step out and keep walking, jog if you can. Feel your way touching bark, crunch leaves, grasp soft or prickly needles, furry leaves and granite boulders. Feel a vibration, a tumbling rage of something beyond. Wonder, seek and praise moments of beauty, notice what elicits joy, live for those moments, they fortify us, strengthen us as we will face, once again, what smolders in wait. We return with renewed presence and grace, clap our soiled shoes together and set them side by side like always. Head back inside renewed and connected.  As a child I was pushed out the door, with the slam of the screen, freed to roam, giving no thought to what my mother did while I was “out of her hair.” Today, after jogging up the roads, biking on rooted bumpy trails have left me in the dust, I walk. Walk and walk and walk. I move more slowly, but see more as the right knee creaks to limber, the left heel throbs, shoulders soften. In a grand outdoor amphitheater, a hawk opens the melody, calls our attention with an ominous whistle above the trees, a chorus of jays squabble in the oaks, ragged, a falling scramble of rocks and listen, its our own footsteps, 3:4 time percussive beat. This morning’s grand composition. On chilly wet days, misty mornings and warming afternoons our feet tap past familiar trees, narrow animal trails and tunnels through brush. We greet a bird, another, that squirrel, then there in the pasture, the same small herd of deer, a sprout of furred antlers, nubs sparkling with mist. Our neighbors. Now they stand and watch, casually bend to nibble grass.We are known.  Thank you to mothers who send their children out the door and slam the screen behind them. “Each step we take keeps our planet spinning. Seek her wisdom. Share yours. Walk slowly and tread softly.” Nancy Congratulations to Anna Shaw for winning my April sign-up contest. Your copy of @52 Reasons for Hope by Cathy Krizik is in the mail. 
    Our hands in clay, our hands in sand, mud, water, our hands

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