Winter Reading

Nothing cuts the chill like a warm fire, a steaming cup of cider and a good book of your choice

By Tristan Scott

“History of the Polebridge Mercantile,” by Lois E. Walker

Have you ever wondered who first painted the Polebridge Mercantile its iconic shade of cherry-apple red? Did you know that the famed general store and bakery along the North Fork of the Flathead River was initially built on the east side of the river, on land that’s now part of Glacier National Park? Or that a succession of owners ran the place for 90 years before Dan Kaufman had the idea of baking the first huckleberry bear claw? 

Even if you haven’t wondered about the history of a place that’s as integral to the landscape as the autumn larches and the North Fork’s burnished bottom stones, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t when you read Lois E. Walker’s definitive account of the Polebridge Mercantile, which has been in continuous operation since 1904 under 10 different sets of proprietors. A longtime historian of the North Fork, Walker acknowledges in her preface that “this is a book that should have been written years ago.” Indeed, Walker was recording oral histories of the remote region girding the park’s western edge when she realized that time wasn’t doing many favors to the annals of the North Fork, particularly as the people who knew the stories best were beginning to pass.

From trappers and traders to mining prospectors and railroad interests, the rich history of the North Fork is written on the walls of the ‘Merc, and in Walker’s hands its story is told masterfully.

To pick up a spiralbound copy of what should be required reading in northwest Montana, visit the Merc in spring, summer or fall. In winter, when the Merc is closed, contact Walker directly at [email protected] and arrange to purchase the book by check or through PayPal.

“Mountain Trails and Forest Tales – Stories of a Forest Ranger, Yaak, Montana,” by Mark A. Mason

In this collection of stories, the author draws from his lifelong love affair with wild places while working for the U.S. Forest Service in the Yaak Ranger District of northwest Montana, a little-known region that Mark A. Mason brings to life in his first book since retiring from a profession that was both a passport to adventure and a path to developing a deeper understanding of the natural world. 

“I worked on a small ranger district in the northwest corner of Montana known as the Yaak … We were a pretty remote district,” begins one understated description of a forested region whose rangers Mason compares to the Apollo 11 astronauts who first alighted on the moon. If that seems like a stretch, keep reading as Mason articulates a mission-driven legacy of foresters who explored the Yaak with the same fearlessness of a spaceflight, while safeguarding its resources with the same fervor.

“I was blessed to work with many who mentored and passed on their knowledge, experience and passion for the forest to me. In those days, folks on the districts were like family. You did more than just work together. You all shared the same mission and dedication to service that was part of the organization. There weren’t any computers and you spent a lot more time in the field.”

“Mountain Trails and Forest Tales” is available in Kalispell at Rocky Mountain Outfitter; in Libby at the Amish Store, Libby Sports, Good News Christian Books, and Cabinet Books; and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

“The Other Side,” by Mark Leichliter

This crime thriller by Bigfork author Mark Leichliter follows two detectives as they search for a 17-year-old girl who goes missing near Flathead Lake. The investigation takes the cops from spectacular lakefront mansions to gritty trailer parks and everywhere in between on their journey to find the truth. If you’re a fan of hard-boiled crime fiction, you’ll find the genre even more enticing as this story’s characters sleuth around a familiar geographic region while the thrilling tale unfolds in communities ringing the largest freshwater lake this side of the Mississippi.

“The Other Side” is available locally at The Bookshelf in Kalispell, Bookworks in Whitefish, Lake Baked Bakery and Bigfork Bay Gift and Gear. For more information, visit www.markleichliter.com.

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