One day while exploring in Glacier National Park, en route to this place,
where we relaxed into the last full day in this landscape,
and let the beauty of the place wash over us,
we passed out of the park on a dirt road. And while we were out of the park, we ran across a tiny outpost, not even a town, just a couple of old buildings – a mercantile and a bakery – and a fill-up pump (not even a station) that charged over $6 for gas. A last resort. A place where you stopped only if you were bound there in the first place, or if you really, badly needed to stop.
Outside the park was open range for miles and miles. Nothing but cowboys and dusty dirt roads leading to nowhere. The battered wood buildings were dried in the sun. A post on the community information board recounted a fire which took most of the buildings and some lives here. Weathered signs told stories of days long gone.
The locals were friendly but kept to themselves, just familiar enough with tourists to keep a healthy distance and go about their business. I watched as they did. And they moved so incredibly slowly and deliberately because, of course, there was nowhere to go and not much that needed doing. Occasionally one of the men would saunter into the bakery and thin down the line of overfed tourists, each waiting impatiently for a giant bear claw or sweet roll.
So while my kids played on the old aluminum jungle gym, I wandered the grounds and let my camera see what it would.
Hops clung to the corner of the old wood shop, casting joyful shadows.
A hand built lean-to housed vines and firewood.
Hops brushed against Montana sky.
I followed my nose into the bakery to find treasures on the high walls. Rifles, rusty saw blades, gold pans, and The Saturday Evening Post, original copies it seemed, from the early days of Norman Rockwell. I studied them and wondered if they really were original. December 1931 – 5 cents the copy, it read. A powder horn and old mountain boots framed them perfectly.
The bright light stung my eyes as I let go the wood frame screen door. An old Yellow Pages tucked into an incomplete wine barrel which housed a pay phone. No cell signal here. But the views made up for that and then some.
Rocky Mountains in their back yard, the bakery in the front, and nothing beeping or ringing to call them back to work. It slowed me down. As I walked, I realized I had a broad, comfortable smile on my face. I crossed the large field away from the buildings. A gas generator sat humming, coughing diesel and supplying power to something. A mass of grasshoppers sprayed in all directions as my feet hit the tallest grass, which made me recall how much my grandma hates those little buggers. She remembers the locust plagues of the 30s, when they came one night and cleared her family’s crops before leaving in a giant cloud the next morning, hissing, hungry, endless across the prairies. But I have no such memory. I think their legs are pretty neat. Ragged and red, they pop without warning, sending the winged critters unreasonably far away, to safety, to another blade of grass.
As I wandered, time moved more slowly and I saw my surroundings more completely, each curve of vines, each ripple in the wood. And then something unexpected appeared.
Solar panels. They seemed completely out of place. I had to walk all the way around them. I tried to discern what they powered and why they were paired with a diesel sucking generator. It seemed counter productive. But there they were, pretty to my eyes, matching the sky, framing the mountains.
The mountains framing everything else.
“Look at that! Off the grid, completely self sufficient, even in this climate. Wouldn’t that be a great place to live? Away from it all?” he said after reading the post.
“No!” I replied before he had another moment to consider it. “Sorry. No. I am a more social creature than that.”
And after we finished our own bear claw, we headed off, away from the outpost to our destination.