After nine decades of a life fully, utterly, unwaveringly lived, any thorough curriculum vitae for George Ostrom would require a table of contents and substantial annotations, which is fitting, since any conversation with him is steeped in delightfully tangential annotations.
Yet, Ostrom has managed to add another bullet point to his crowded resume. You’ll now be able to find it in the index’s “K” section, under “kids’ book.”
In apt Ostrom fashion — after all, this is a man whose uncanny sense of timing has repeatedly placed him at the center of critical historic moments — he held a signing for the new book on his 90th birthday, on July 24, at Kalispell’s Hilton Garden Inn.
If the title, “Yum Yoogle Snook Wild Beastie Book,” sounds nonsensical, that’s the point. Kids, whether aged 2 or 90, are supposed to get a little silly sometimes.
“I love nonsense,” Ostrom said recently at his Kalispell home, where he’s lived with his wife Iris for 47 years. “I’ve done a lot of crazy writing in my day. Of course, I’ve done a lot of serious writing, too. But I love nonsense.”
The impetus for the book came as many of Ostrom’s ideas do, in the middle of the night. More than two decades ago, Ostrom awoke with a poem in his head. Unable to fall back asleep, he got up and grabbed a pen. The words “fleegle fleegle flottom” flowed onto the paper, followed by “there’s a grizzly bear’s bottom.”
The finished poem appears on the last page of Ostrom’s new 24-page book, although it was actually the book’s starting point. For more than 20 years, he would add new poems, here and there, based on a different animal each time.
In all, he wrote 22 wildlife poems, which are compiled in the new children’s tome and accompanied by his photos with one exception, a shot by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News. The 2018 release, published by Sweetgrass Books, a division of Farcountry Press in Helena, is Ostrom’s fourth book, but his first to explore kid-specific educational themes.
“The whole idea of the book is to teach kids actual biology and do it in a fun, nonsensical manner,” he said.
In addition to his books, Ostrom has written for newspapers, predominantly a column for the Hungry Horse News, for over a half-century, beginning during the Kennedy administration, and has been in the radio business even longer, 63 years. He still writes his column and does a morning radio show for KGEZ. He was won numerous state, regional and national awards for his radio work and writing, as well as his photography, including an induction into the Montana Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He has also been a television host.
As impressive as those accomplishments are, they barely scratch the surface of his accolades, which have to be cherry-picked for brevity: lying about his age to fight wildfires at age 15 before joining the U.S. Army at 17; squad leader for the country’s first generation of smokejumpers; legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Lee Metcalf; early organizer and board member of Flathead Valley Community College; owner of the Kalispell Weekly News, which he grew into the largest weekly newspaper in Montana; recipient of the University of Montana Distinguished Alumni Award and 20-year member of the UM President’s Citizen Council; Kalispell Chamber of Commerce Great Chief Award; and on and on and on.
There’s a reason that U.S. senators, from Mike Mansfield to Max Baucus to Steve Daines, have made a point to publicly wish Ostrom happy birthday. In an announcement last week, Daines celebrated Ostrom’s “60 plus years of contributions to news broadcasting and journalism in Montana.”
“I congratulate and thank George for his continued dedication to sharing his voice with his fellow Montanans,” Daines said.
Ostrom’s relentless zeal for life is rooted in an unending curiosity and appreciation for the world, both immediately before him and well beyond, both natural and human. During a recent interview, he halted a story to excitedly point out a deer in his yard, which prompted a soliloquy on wildlife wonders. A particular favorite is the bluebird, which he fell in love with as a boy and gets its own poem in the book.
“Have you ever heard a bluebird sing?” he asked, eyes widening. “It’s joyful. And when they fly, they look like flying flowers.”
At 90, Ostrom doesn’t have any intentions of resting on his many laurels. He’s unfazed by age.
“We all go along living our lives,” he said. “I’m a cock-eyed optimist. I never think about age.”
Which explains why Ostrom blames “laziness” instead of age for his recent lack of participation in the famed hiking group called the Over the Hill Gang, with whom he’s been hitting the trail for decades. He dismisses any suggestion that, just maybe, he has earned the right to relax as he enters his 10th decade instead of climbing mountains.
“I’m ashamed of myself,” he said. “I don’t want to rest. I want to keep going.”
George Ostrom’s new book is available at The Bookshelf in Kalispell, Bookworks in Whitefish, Montana House in Apgar and other locations in the Flathead Valley where books are sold. Or visit www.farcountrypress.com.