Chapter 9 - "aesthetic foreplay"

As sudden and shocking as the landscape change was from Minnesota to North Dakota, that was nothing compared to the transformation that occurred on the North Dakota/Montana border. The land seemed to spread and sprawl like outstretched arms during a morning yawn. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes deep into Montana that we pulled off the highway and preceded westerly on a two-lane country road. Most of the time I hate even detours that take us off the fast-track, but there was something inside of me that craved something other than monotony and redundancy of the expressway. There’s something that just screams “safety” what you’re on a thruway…like an elk hunt on a fenced-in game farm. It doesn’t matter where you are, whenever you’re on a four-lane highway, you know you’re no where near out-of-bounds.

The road we merged onto was slender and largely unmarked. There were certain stretches that were so straight and so long that you quite literally watch the road get narrower and narrower until it finally became one with the horizon. I don’t know how far you can actually see until the earth bends out of view due to its global shape, but it seemed like these roads fell off the end of the earth. (that is if the flat earth theory was still in play) So many visuals looked exactly like the pictures on hallmark cards and Barnes and Noble pictorial books on sale for $9.95. You could imagine a title over the picture, “Dreams are forever.” or “Life is not a problem to be solved, but an adventure to be lived.” You know what I’m talking about? It’s just weird when it’s not a book or a card or a movie, but a living reality that you’re in the fat middle of. You are in the book, you are on the card, you are in the movie!

My buddy, Doug, said that it wouldn’t be long before we’d see some wild antelope. He told me to keep my eyes peeled. Antelope. I started to sing that song in my head, “Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play…” This was really happening; I was keeping my eyes open for wild antelope. It felt like National Geographic or the new series Planet Earth. I wasn’t even sure how to scope them out, but I tried nonetheless. Just then, Doug exclaimed, “There they are.” I looked over his lap and out the driver’s side window. Sure as the sky is blue, a herd of antelope were grazing out in the weathered field scrounging around for greenery. Greenery was hard to come by just yet. The snow had just melted off and the land was a couple weeks away from the spring-time resurrection. I kind of liked the bucolic, windswept look myself.

It seemed like once we spotted one herd of antelope, they started to come out of the woodwork, so to speak. Droves of these skinny creatures speckled the landscape. They would pick up their heads and just stoically watch us whisk by. You got the feeling that if they saw you even slightly slow down, they would have darted off faster than people do after church when they feel convicted. They seem uptight and fidgety, like they were stuck up or something. I guess that’s ok. I’m sure deep down under than cocky veneer they have supple deer-like hearts.

About every hour or so, we would make our way through a little western town. The contents of the town would be a dive of a gas station, a little general store with canned goods and tobacco, a makeshift casino, a John Deere dealership and a pawn shop of sorts. It was crazy. Those were the essentials in almost every little village. Home-made signs would line the road saying things like, “Meth splatters, Math matters.” I’m just making that up you understand, but you get the point. There wasn’t anything else to do but mate, do crystal meth, and buy combines. I got the feeling that I wouldn’t want to live in one of these little communities for more than a day or two. Something felt ingrown and crossbred even at a drive-by glance.

We were still 5 hours from the Rockies, so the land we were crossing was primarily ranches and more ranches filled with beef cattle and more beef cattle. I’m not saying it wasn’t a cool experience, but it was starting to feel more cross-cultural by the minute…at least for about a two hour stretch on the most eastern side of Montana. As we hit the center of the state, the land became more and more brilliant and beautiful. Big mountains were towering high in the distance. You felt like they were less than ten miles away, but the more you drove the more it appeared that they were backpedaling to avoid being caught. Even so, I would keep my eyes locked on them like a hawk. The first mountain sighting was intoxicating.

There are hills, and then there are mountains. In the east, we call mounds, hills and hills, mountains. But they are no such thing. Mountains, according to my simpleton definition, have tree lines. Tree lines are places on a hill where it gets so high that trees can’t survive due to the climate and the thin air and the infertile soil. Mountains are so far above sea level that your ears start popping and filling up with pressure like a helium balloon. Mountains have snow on them year round because they are so high, it never does warm up enough to put on a pair of shorts and a tank top. It’s cool year round. They carry on a close friendship with clouds since they are always bumping into each other. This is mountainous behavior. This is the everyday life of a mountain.

As we drew closer the first mountain range, I felt my heart wake and race. I couldn’t wait to hit the foothills, which are nothing more than aesthetic foreplay, a veritable foretaste of glory divine.


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