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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Moontrap by Don Berry

Moontrap by Don Berry. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 2004 (Copyright 1962, by Don Berry and first published by Viking Press). ISBN: 0-87071-039-7

In northwest author Don Berry's prequel to this novel, titled Trask, Berry portrays the inner emotional life of Elbridge Trask, a “retired” mountain man who still has a hankering after the unknown, the unsettled wilderness, which leads him to explore the difficult to reach “Killamook” area of the Oregon coast.

In this book, which occurs more or less during the same time period, we encounter two more mountain men, Johnson “Jaybird” Monday and Webster W. Webster, known as “Webb” to his friends or compatriots. Monday is trying to settle down, trying to live a life as a farmer, staking a claim to land along the Willamette, just across from that first important Oregon settlement, Oregon City.

Just as he's beginning to think that maybe he can learn how to adjust his previous way of life, and can fit into “normal” society, become just another farmer, along comes old Webb, riding his equally old and bony horse, still living his mountain man lifestyle, camping along the edges of society, with no use for towns, or any of the other trappings of civilization.

Not to mention that Monday is living with his common-law wife, a Shoshone Indian woman named Mary, who is about to have his first child. This fact doesn't sit well with the powers that be, the forces of civilization, the bigoted, small-minded men who apparently control the destiny of the region. When Monday discovers that the judge won't record the name of his son as Webster Monday, but insists on writing out the birth certificate as

Father: Johnson Monday, White.
Mother: Mary Deer Walking, Shoshone Indian.
Child: Webster, son of Mary Deer Walking. Shoshone Indian. Bastard.

then he knows that nothing can ever change, once a mountain man, always a mountain man.

In these two books, Trask and Moontrap, Berry seems to be wrestling with the question: what happens to the mountain men when they reach the last frontier? Once the Oregon territory is settled, and the United States reaches to the Pacific, what is left of the old way?

The way that saw mountain men living with the same freedom as the red man is over, done for, obsolete. All that remains is for the forces of civilization, so called, to crush out the last vestiges of that freedom. Just as you can't trap the reflection of the moon in a moving pool of water, so you can't preserve the freedom of the old ways of life.

Highly recommended, as the chronicle of the end of an age, the end of the spirit of the mountain man, as civilization washes over the Oregon territory.

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