That’s where the idea came to me. I was in the Yaak for their annual music festival. I assume most people don’t know the place unless you happen to live in northwest Montana or are familiar with books by Rick Bass. Whether you know the place or not, it comes down to the same thing. Its an extremely beautiful and remote section of the state that requires a fair amount of driving on narrow roads through thick forests. When you arrive, there are two bars: the Dirty Shame and the Yaak River Tavern and Mercantile. That’s the town. And the Yaak River Tavern and Mercantile throws a great music festival each July. I make it a point to take the bookstore there. Turns out people at a music festival in that nearly off the map valley enjoy books and I sell a fair amount. I also get to talk with interesting people.
Actually I meet interesting people wherever I take the bookstore, but it must have been hanging in the Yaak for a couple days away from electronics (no cell service) that shifted my perspective. I tend to mull over who I am and what this endeavor is – the traveling bookstore – a fair amount. It seems more than a business and less than a business. There is a lot of interaction as the average person doesn’t just walk into the bookstore, pick out a book, pay me and leave. There is always conversation and often long conversations. And because selling used books isn’t the easiest way to amass a fortune, I am obviously not in it for the money although I do have standards. So I wonder if the traveling bookstore is a hobby or an obsession or an art project or just an unusual business model. While set up at the Yaak River Music Festival, it dawned on me. I am a repository for stories.
There was the woman from Flagstaff who after forty-two years of marriage and bankruptcy, decided to hike the Grand Canyon solo and a few years later had cancer and afterwards went to Nepal and now is thinking about where she wants to live. And the young woman who hadn’t even heard of Yaak, Montana two years ago but was driving with her boy friend and looking for a place that accepted Wiccans and now they had an acre of land and a very small mobile home and chickens near the river. Or Malachi who was a rather young person traveling with his parents and brother out west. He typed a poem, using a typewriter for the very first time in his life and then picked out the book, The Elephant Whisperer to give his dad. And then the woman with the most angelic voice who was yes, I admit it, my favorite group at the festival. I asked how to get in touch to hire her band for another event and she explained she had lost her post office box so I could send letters to her neighbor who would walk them over. Or the retired teacher from Arizona who has a bunch of books she wants to give me and surely we can find someone driving from Gilbert, AZ to Montana later this summer who would bring them. I have no doubt this will happen. A lovely woman from Florence, Alabama suggested I take my bookstore there next spring. A man explained how he bought this great house in Cutbank, Montana for next to nothing with four bedrooms and he was living there alone and not much was happening in the town which is why he came to the festival. A guy in one of the other bands told me a crazy amazing story about a wedding he played at where a guy from India got drunk and broke into a neighbor’s house by mistake and caused thousands of dollars in damage but is getting drunk really a mistake.
These are just some of the stories. There was the guy from Canada who told me he had too many books and then his wife told me he could buy more because she loved him and books made him happy. And the old man who stood talking with me as it started to rain and we laughed about how great it was to have read Kurt Vonnegut. But I could go on like this for pages and it isn’t necessary as I do remember the individuals and their stories.