Going Big Sky, Montana

Westward expansion surged west west west until it crashed against the briny crust of California and dispersed. But in its wake it left a scattering of people with the salt of pioneering in their blood throughout the Midwest.

Being in Montana is like being on the frontier, just with less self-sufficiency. You’ve spaces wide enough to send all those cow farts to heaven, houses far enough apart to accommodate all the gunfire you can spit, trucks big enough to haul your balls and belt buckles. The rusted farm implements from days of yore sit around telling stories from the old days. Cowboys spend a gross on gas to get their groceries in town, cussin when the propane truck’s late while watching satellite TV.

They’re on the edge of things though totally dependent on the heart of things. They hate and fear change, hate and fear Obama, hate and fear wolves, you probably couldn’t pry the guns out of their cold dead fingers, but they’re still preparing for the end, stockpiling caves with weapons and ammo and salted meat. If the end is near, they want to spend it right here.

With country as gorgeous as this, I can’t say I blame them. Glacier Park is named too modestly, it should be called Holy Shit Look At All Those Glaciers Park. Although since it’s apparently gone from 150 glaciers to 25, and those are fading fast, it could be called Come See And By Doing So Help Kill The Glaciers Park.

Montana pulled a cute ass-chomp of a welcome back (Montana’s where I lived in my first yurt, spooked my first rattlesnake, swam in a river of bald eagles, and got woken up by a marauding wolf hound many a morning) with a 20 degree below the norm day, which meant Dirt’s and my hike at Siyeh Pass off the Sun Road saw sun and blue sky, looming clouds of storm, and a high pass under 6 inches of snow.


After a week of pre-trip sleep deprivation capped by a train ride of sleep deprivation, we hoofed a 10 miler at 7,000 feet, chomping on pepper sticks from the deer Dirt took and a patch of huckleberries we found along the way. Matter of fact, as we feasted we found a giant pile of huckleberried bear dook, nice ‘n fresh too, though to my disappointment no bear was seen. All told, a great day in the great state – go big sky or go home!

Going home was great though because Dirt and his wife shared venison steaks from that deer he shot, and he let me fire the gun he did it with. I warmed up on the .22, about 28 years later than most kids out here – nice little crack and report.

Then he put me on the 7mm-o8 with bi-pod, so I was laying out like a proper commando. As I was getting the organic tomatoes can in my site, I was thinking about how he hadn’t fired this gun before setting me up on it. I inhaled, paused, halfway through the exhale squeezed and to my untrained sight, launched a ufcking grenade. The site filled with flame, my ears with a roar that sent them ringing, the can was nowhere to be found and I couldn’t stop howling and laughing.

I finally calmed down a bit, then did it again. Thought I’d keep my cool this time but couldn’t: the power, the joy! Based on observations of the man kind, I’d say within every SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) lives a good ol’ brute of a man. And vice versa.

That night enough stars hovered and dripped in the endless sky to make a man weep with extraterrestrial homesickness. That glorious canyon of Milky Way.

The next day I went for a run, and just like my Montana road runs of old, was serenaded by chainsaws, dogs, and roosters, waved to by pickups, ignored by suburbans. I strained to pull in enough of that high sweet Montana air, feet falling on gravel, arms open to all the terrible beauty of distant hills and cloud. Far apart as they are, folks here still hold tight to some community, otherwise I think that sky just swallows them up.

Then I got dropped on Main St, Kalispell, which I can’t imagine looking a lick different 50 years ago. I sat at the counter of Norm’s News (18 different gun magazines, no Sun) with a whole slew of silver-haired locals, had a buffalo cheeseburger (red meat for every meal I was in Montana, ‘cept the delicious smoothies Dirt made me), didn’t have a ‘pop’, gabbed with the waitresses. Proudly advertised, and ordered by an elderly gent next to me, were Porkchop Sandwiches!

After that, one more hike and then beers at the bar with sawdust and our peanut shells on the floor. I caught the eye of a Montana cougar and was on the verge of buying her a bud light, but venison tacos called.

Damn good tacos, spiced with one of the 6 jars of salsa Dirt had me haul out from TJ’s, followed by photos galore: old Utah expedition, new Glacier, and the bodies of a big horn sheep and mountain lion who went over the cliff together last winter and landed on the road, mountain lion with hunk of wool in its mouth.

Too-brief sleep, a pre-dawn drive back to the Whitefish train station. Darkness became murk became a haunting gloom of drizzle and looming work. Where you arrive at the airport and are immediately separated from friends and place, at the train station everything stays connected. Time to amble up to the counter and throw ’em a bag, time to do a double-hug see ya later with my buddy, and still very much be in Montana. Train pulling in, standing on the platform, very much Montana. Rolling out twixt mountain and river, very much Montana for another 11 hours.

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2 thoughts on “Going Big Sky, Montana

  1. I’ve never heard “SNAG” before! How come I didn’t think of that? I’m excited to use it and tell all my girlfriends, too.

    And isn’t it funny how people in states without Trader Joes always want us to haul out a bunch of cheap groceries? My Canadian friend always stocks up when she’s out here (and in turn I’m always expecting maple syrup….).

    • The SNAG abides.

      It’s nice to see that in the globalized era of getting anything you want anytime there are still some spice roads to wander, strange as those spices may be.

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