Greg Keeler is Montana's Dr. Trufflepig
Posted on 20 May 2016
An artist captures magic of trout
Artist Greg Keeler
BY LARA VAIENTI
It was on a bright spring morning last May that Dr. Trufflepig came home with a large booty of morel mushrooms.
In Greg Keeler's back yard that spring morning, there was a table completely covered with morels drying in the clear sun. “They make good risotto,” says Keeler, also known as Dr. Trufflepig, a nickname he earned from friend and author Doug Peacock.
Come summer and fall, Keeler knows how to get plenty of chanterelles, those pulpy mushrooms the color of autumn which delicately hint white sauces with their dainty aroma. When even chanterelles stop peeping out, Keeler looks for shaggy manes. They may be found, he says, down some trails around town (at least until it snows).
And here he is, hanging around his Bozeman home on one of these mornings, laid-back as he always is, dealing patiently with his cat’s needs.
There are several vivid paintings in the house that look like photos from a distance. One depicts Keeler's cat while the others portray the author's two main passions among many: Montana and fishing. “Since I was a baby, I was captured by the magic of fishing,” Keeler explains.
Many people take up fly fishing as a social activity, Keeler says, but adds, “I only fish because I like to catch them any way I can that's legal.” He fishes with flies because they work well, but he is not a fishing snob. He would not frown upon anyone who likes to fish with bait or lures. To Keeler, fishing is a little like painting and writing: it’s about valuing the experience of life.
Around Montana, Keeler is known for his satiric and flat-out funny poems and songs. “Keeler has written lunatic masterpieces,” writes author David Quammen. “He sings pretty good for such a big guy. He's my absolutely favorite practitioner of whatever the hell he practices in the all of America.” Now a professor of English Literature at Montana State University, Keeler moved to Bozeman 30 years ago. He was born in Oklahoma and followed the tracks of his father, who was also a poet and professor at Oklahoma State University.
Keeler is a multi-talented artist with an absolute lack of pretentiousness. He says he doesn’t know exactly what he's doing when he’s painting and writing or where his creative process will take him. Keeler is not just a poet, a professor, and a fisherman— he is also a painter, a cartoonist, an essayist, and a playwright. Keeler has published seven volumes of poetry, written musicals and has so far recorded 14 CDs and tapes. Keeler’s work is inspired mainly by fishing. “For the Trout,” “Ode to the Rough Fish” (from the book “American Falls”), and “Wooly Worm Invective” (from “Epiphany at Goofy's Gas”) are just a few of his fish-related poems. A book of sonnets titled “Almost Happy” that he put together over the last two years, and “Trash Fish,” a prose on fishing memories, will soon be published as well.
With his latest book, “Waltzing with the Captain,” Keeler gained national popularity and great reviews from various critics around the country. The book was written in memory of Richard Brautigan (author of “Trout Fishing in America”), who took his own life in California in 1984.
“He had quite some influence on me and my writing,” says Keeler of his late friend, Brautigan. Keeler says he learned a lot during this bumbling friendship. “My poetry changed several times in my life,” Keeler says. “That whole concept of quirky things, funny or profound … my whole attitude towards poetry became more indirect and unpretentious.”
As poetry has marked stages in his life, so too has painting. “I always liked the idea of painting, but I thought it was too difficult,” he says. “I started to paint and thought, ‘God! This is fun!’ Painting kept me out of trouble and made my life more interesting when it was boring, like fishing did.” The artist, who becomes lost in color and design, and who paints from photos he takes, has a photo-realistic style. From up close however, all of his paintings reveal some abstract patterns and hidden meanings.
“People get bored when you say you are a poet or a writer,” he says. “I tell my classes that writing isn't so much something you use for your identity as it is a way of appreciating experience. Like painting, writing helps a person to pay attention to experience and live life more fully. Being a writer or painter is second to experiencing life through writing or painting.” Of his many gifts, the most significant may be the great pleasure it is to be around Keeler, be it while fishing, discussing English Literature, or searching for those hidden mushrooms.
Various Montana authors, including Greg Keeler, have contributed recipes to the cookbook "Eat Our Words,” published by Farcountry Press, the Montana Center for the Book, and the Montana Committee for the Humanities.
Here is Keeler’s offering, a recipe with his favorite mushrooms:
“Dr. Trufflepig’s Tagliatelle with Chanterelles in White Sauce.”
Ingredients for four people:
- One pound of fresh pasta (large fettuccine type)
- Two pounds of fresh chanterelle mushrooms or 100 grams
dried mushrooms (softened by soaking in white wine.)
- Eight walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Garlic clove
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh parsley, minced
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
Clean the fresh mushrooms and chop into thick slices.
Sauté them in the oil with the crushed garlic clove
and cook the mushrooms until they’re golden-brown
and have lost most of their water. Bring water to a
boil and add salt. Cook the pasta to "al dente" consistency.
Add the cream, the chopped walnuts, and the minced fresh parsley
to the mushrooms and dress the pasta with it. Sauté
the whole mixture for a minute on high heat Add a
handful of grated Parmesan cheese and some ground pepper.
(this article about Greg Keeler appeared in the summer 2006 issue of Montana Living magazine)