It’s Not Where I Grew Old, But It’s Where I Grew Up

By December 26th, 2014

Blog No. 52

December 26, 2014

It’s Not Where I Grew Old, But It’s Where I Grew Up

By Mack W. Borgen.

University of California at Berkeley (Cum Laude, Economics); Harvard Law School

Author, The Relevance of Reason – The Hard Facts and Real Data About the State of Current America – Business and Politics (Vol. 1) (408 pp) (2013) and  – Society and Culture (Vol 2)(438 pp)(2013)

Winners of Four 2014 National Book Awards

Copyright 2014. Mack W. Borgen. All rights reserved. No part of this Article may be reproduced or transmitted, except in the case of brief quotations and with reference to this Article, without the prior written permission of the author.

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I left Montana this month. Probably for the last time. I refuse to be sad, but even as I sit in the warmth of the California sun, I miss Montana. I always will.

For now, I just need to get this story down before the sights, the sounds, the thick quiet of the woods, and the many memories of my Montana fade with time.

I am not objective about Montana – for I am a part of it, and it is a part of me. It is not where I grew old, but it is where I grew up.

It is impossible to well describe Montana. It is more than the high mountains, the rivers and lakes, the deep forests, the dark winters, and the endless summers. Words cannot capture the expanse of the big skies, the open miles of the Big Open, or what it is like to drop down Paradise Valley into the Clark Fork, to cross over Chief Joseph Pass into the Bitterroot Valley, to watch the clouds creep over the Swan Range, to drive the paved ribbon of the Highline, or to feel the sweeping winds of the plains.

The names and memories in my reflections just keep coming. Cut Bank and Plentywood, Roundup and Red Lodge, Missoula and Miles City, Big Timber and Butte and Bozeman. The Gallatin and the Beaverhead, the Flathead and the Yellowstone, the Musselshell and the Missouri – and yeh, in Montana, the Missouri is a river, not a state.

Montana, like all places, has its problems. There are school yard bullies. There are barking dogs and grumpy neighbors. There are rainstorms that won’t quit, and everyone gets a bit of the lonelies every now and then. Like all places, there are some stubborn bureaucrats, and I have had good and dear friends suffer from the whims and wrongs of conflicted, small-town politicians. Worse yet, good jobs are hard to find, and the bars  stay open far longer than the churches. Too many quarters are dropped at the roadside casinos, and too many dollars are spent on payday beers. Some say that Montana itself has been lost ever since the mines were closed and the logging was shut down. Maybe it’s not surprising that Montana doesn’t really know what to do with the flocking tourists or the shopping Canadians who flood the borders. And Walmarts and strip centers have carved their way into the skyline, and the roads can get choked with RVs — but it is still good and the greatest wonder of Montana is not the ridgelines, the mountain trails, or the fishing. It is the people.

Montana is a tough place to live – wonderfully so. And maybe that too is part of the reason that Montana is home to some of the best people – best in all of the ways that matter.

Montana is where all of my family — three generations now – are buried and where the rest of us will join them soon enough. And Montana is home to some of my best friends — best, again, in all of the ways that matter. I have been blessed with knowing an artist friend who paints glory onto canvas and spreads a caring radiance wherever he goes. Another friend of mine from high school moved to Montana many years ago and, with his wife and family, built an incredible home and life deep in the woods – not off the road, but deep in the woods.

I have lived there so long that I have outlasted most of my neighbors, now long deceased, who read their way and hobbied their lives though the long winters and who came out each spring and re-planted their gardens.

I have lived there long enough to watch my son play baseball and football – night after night – in the cold, downpour rain – never thinking to stop or pausing to complain.

I lived there long enough to know my stretch of the river like the back of my hand; to watch geese hover on ice shelves and bald eagles drift downriver on ice floes; to see my wife feed the deer and track the animals in the snow; and to hold my breath as my son dove to the cold river bottom just to snag a few turtles to keep as one-hour pets.

But again, it’s the people.

There’s a lot of talk in our society about entitlement and taking, but there’s little sense of either in Montana. The people have their hopes. They say their prayers. But they keep their dreams close – like the personal treasures which they are. The people ask for little, and they don’t expect much. Flash is for losers, and boasting has no place. Maybe it’s o.k. elsewhere, but in Montana people aren’t allowed to round the truth or break their word. Handshakes still means something.

People expect to work; embrace the hardships. They ride with their truck dogs and keep an eye on their winter money. Fathers work. Mothers work. Nothing is really easy, and everybody has two jobs. The lucky ones have three. People split their rounds for firewood; shovel their snow tunnels to the door; shop in the thrift stores; bring food to the needy, and help out their neighbors whenever they can.

Our babysitter gets up in the dark and waits for her school bus every morning. She waits in the cold; standing solitary in the dark and at the end of her road. Some days she’s lucky, and it’s not raining. Some days she’s lucky, and it’s not snowing. And she never thinks twice about the 45-minute ride to school – or the 45-minute ride home at the end of her day.

When compared with the hustle and bustle of the cities, some of the highlights of Montana life seem modest — the IGA chicken, the Dairy Queen that never closes, and the county fairs and Fourth of July Parades that are a big things.

You can’t get Montana onto a postcard, but if you are lucky – as I have been – you can keep the memories and try to be better. But, once again and as said so often, it’s all good.

Maybe this story is too sloppy, too touchy, too feely — but even those words are city words, and a head bob from the neighbor down the road is still a lot better than another e-blast from Macy’s or press release from Goldman Sachs.

It’s not my place really, but in closing, allow me to encourage you to find your own Montana. Montana is not the only Last Best Place. Yours may be in the mountains of Colorado, in the woods of Maine, or in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, but almost wherever it is, your Montana is there for you. Don’t get buried in the clamor and procrastinations of life. Don’t listen to what “they” say. Wherever your Montana is — you can still get there  …. from wherever you are now.


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