We entered Montana last week over Look Out Pass, overnight in Missoula then up through Helena, out of Great Falls following the Missouri River into Fort Benton. We are headed to the “Hi-Line” or Highway 2 to the non natives.
The grass is tall and green, the wheat is just turning golden, there is water in the low spots, and alfalfa fields filled with large rolled bales of hay. To this old farmer it is truly lush and pleasing to the eye. What a difference good rainfalls make.
On we head to Wolf Point in the north east corner of the state. This is the bittersweet of pilgrimages. Wonderful memories of sled rides down hills that turned out to be ancient burial mounds. The reality of places known in childhood that are now weathered broken buildings or empty grassy prairie once again. Memories of riding in the Saturday Parade with mom and granddad past sidewalks filled with people. The reality that the “town” from childhood has shrunk by half and the rodeo no longer draws big names and crowds as it did in past. Memories of afternoons spent improving a baseball swing by hitting rocks out onto and over the sage brushed, hillsides at “Old Rock”. The reality that most of the relatives and high school friends from our generation have moved on to either economic greener pastures or their last quiet resting place on the edge of town.
Tribal money and government largesse are evident: a new community college, a new tribal community center, a larger library, and a new water treatment plant. But, individual businesses are far fewer then in days gone by. We are surprised to see no Bakken oil money in town yet. Rumors have it that the tribes have been difficult to deal with, so for the time being the oil money skirts the community and goes south of the Missouri River
There may be those who rant that capitalism is evil and business the devil’s playground, but here the lack of capitalism is evident. The empty businesses along main street are noticeable, the saddlery with its fine leather work is gone, the main street restaurant is gone, the beauty shop is gone, the Piggley Wiggley is gone, the Ben Franklin’s is gone. Other businesses struggle to stay open because the young are unwilling to work. The siren call of alcohol, drugs and free money, sap any desire to move beyond today’s run down main street of what was once home.
~ Lorraine Newman