Photos from Montana

America has been troubling. The consumer push is thicker than I ever remember, the pressure to buy big and often and right now. Things are far larger than they need to be. It’s a difficult relationship, I think, that I’ve got to my home country. For moments I wish I had been born somewhere else. Then I back up, because of course this country and the people here have made me who I am, and were I somewhere else–well, I would have been a different person.

So I’m trying to figure this place out, to see its good and bad clearly as I might. I’ll share some photographs today. Let’s make of them what we can:

SCHEELS Outdoor Store

Our checked bag got stuck in Amsterdam (we heard at last just on Friday that it had been found!). We headed to the megalithic SCHEELS outdoor store to get some things we would need. We’ve got travel insurance in Norway (since the Norwegian national healthcare system covers us only in the EEA, the travel insurance is essentially our health coverage when traveling beyond), and this let us recoup some of the necessary things in our missing bag.

This enormous aquarium opens the gate to SCHEELS. It is beautiful and ostentatious. A little girl was running from pillar to pillar while we were there, following a Blue Tang, shouting, “Dory! Dory!” What is the purpose of a massive tropical aquarium in a north-country sporting goods store? Maybe to inspire fishing expeditions? Maybe to show off?

On the second floor, a prodigious taxidermy display rears up between the firearms and the men’s coats. It is beautiful, sad, elaborate, bleak, vivid, unreal–

SCHEELS also, so strangely, boasts an array of animatronic US presidents. With quick jerks and a stately voice, Thomas Jefferson, here with my husband, recites part of the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln, pictured below, proclaims the Gettysburg Address.
Animatronic Lincoln, with Ferris Wheel.

The Land

This western land of cattle ranch and hill and rocky butte stretches out to snowy mountains, these gateways of the Rockies. My in-laws tell me that the mountains aren’t referred to as the Rockies here at all but by the names of various sub-ranges: the Beartooths. The Crazies. The Absaroka. The Bridger Range.

The use of these lands as settlers drove west spawned great contention. Homesteaders fenced in their land claims. The “devil’s rope,” as detractors called the barbed wire fences, slaughtered cattle as they were driven free-ranging over the land by cowboys. Native Americans’ homelands were chopped and parceled. The tension led to the series of skirmishes known as the Fence-Cutting Wars. Read more about the history of these fences here.
Clouds rolled in and out. Snow stayed unmelted in the shadowy spaces. Stubble plains stretched skyward.
This light–

Festivities

We trekked two hundred miles across these hills with pizza dough rising in the back. Some friends of my in-laws had a wood-fired oven on Canyon Ferry Lake, and we ventured out to test out my husband’s pizza-baking skills.

Back in Billings, we prepared for an early Christmas. Here is my mother-in-law’s pumpkin pie, with a bit of a surly face, product of testing for doneness.
Christmas Eve, fire, Chanticleer, and lights.

In this country strange and wide, where do we go? What do we become? There are so many of us, it is easy, it seems, to section ourselves off, lay down barbed wire in between. We polarize in pockets, some million little countries. With the awful election results the other day in the UK and the continued furor of the Trump Whitehouse as impeachment knocks, this far-right push around the world… I wish there were a way to come together, and I also feel sickened sometimes at this thought, that to compromise, to search for common ground, when at stake it feels is human kindness–I struggle. I wonder at some way forward I can’t see.

This coming week, we’ll move on to Wisconsin and Minnesota: family, friends, revisiting old places. Perhaps I’ll find some time to write. I’d like to. But it’s good to take this time to reconnect.

Wishing peace for all of us,
Jimmy

3 thoughts on “Photos from Montana

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  1. Great blog Jimmy, I agree with you about the ostentatious displays at some big outdoors stores. I also feel at times like I have more in common with Europeans than Americans. We just have to live our values and do what we can to affect others. I am glad you got to make pizza and see some of the mountains.

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  2. “Animatronic Lincoln, with Ferris Wheel.” That just says it all, doesn’t it? Ah, but that land! that light! I love it that you and your husband drove 200 miles with dough rising in the back of your vehicle to make pizza with friends. You make me happy. 🙂

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