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Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2016

Gray Matter: Montana a whole other world

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Beyond my granddaughter's wedding and a family reunion,  my recent trip to Montana provided an opportunity for some observations I found most interesting.   I may be  beating an over-worked cliché to death, but I can think of no other way to put it -- Montana IS a whole other world.  It's a very big state and you are all aware of its geographic diversity, from flat prairie to high mountain splendor. 

It is the people, though, to which I am referring. To me, they seem to form a "layered" society, unlike our relatively "homogenized" one here in Iowa.  There are the Native Americans, in a complex of tribes and reservations, each with their own relationship to the United States government through the Department of  Interior that is mind-boggling.   Simplistic "Cowboy and Indian" concepts, bred by movies and even textbooks, are just not true.  Differences in physical characteristics, from one tribe to another  amazed me. One group  had  what I think of as traditional  black hair but it was naturally curly.  No one was able to  explain that.

Then there was a layer I'd call "Mountain Men", for lack of a better term.  Grizzle-faced or bearded, with long hair, most riding motorcycles, they seemed to join civilization only long enough to obtain needed supplies. Then they would  retreat to their own remote world.  Other  bikers were the "Sturgis" types, with whom we are all familiar (in muscle shirts or leather, with beards and pony-tails) -- another layer.  It was unusually hot, and I was highly amused to see any and all of the above in shorts, mostly grubby, knee-length, baggy ones, but they were keeping cool.  .   

There were the authentic rancher/farmer types in jeans, boots, faded shirts and cowboy hats, of course.  Also I met a layer of professionals, a bit more polished, but still with boots, jeans or hats in some combination, distinguishing them from their peers here in the Midwest.  We were in a university town, so there was a very obvious "liberal" element, variously referred to as tree-huggers, eco-freaks, and (more kindly) environmentalists.  That tension was clearly palpable.

Finally, there is the presence of the big-time celebrities, as in David Letterman, Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw et al, all tucked away from common view.   That projected a certain  aura of mystery.  Residents of the areas chosen by these well-known personage are aware of their presence and seem to accept them graciously.  When they surface, they are treated casually, as "one of us", I was told.

Our family had an interesting experience in this regard.  The wedding was in western Montana but my step-grandson, Mike, brother of the bride, is owner/ manager of the airport in Sidney, in the far east part of the state.  A particularly attractive classmate of his went off to the wider world, eventually becoming a fashion model.  I'm not sure of the details but she was recently married

to Rob Walton, one of the Wal-Mart heirs who, incidentally,  is nearly twice her age.  They have been jetting in and out of the Sidney airport frequently, of late, and a home-town reception  to which her old classmates were all invited, took place the very evening of our wedding.  Mike, of course, made certain his sister and her groom appreciated the "sacrifice" he was making as he chose to accept their invitation over that of his old classmate.  He did tell us that servicing that classiest of private jets, as it makes frequent runs into their airport, has made a comfortable increase in income for his operation.

So much for my amateur observations. Perhaps this is typical of the things we oldsters do when we're reduced to looking on when the younger generations have taken over all of the active pursuits, and that's not all bad.