Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Last Best Place

When, in the course of human events, one finds oneself marooned in a redneck backwater in the early 1980's, one's mind -- assuming it is used from time to time -- begins to wander, and to wonder, V'ger-like:  Is this all that there is?  Is there nothing more?

Now there were certainly worse places to grow up in during that, or any other, time.  (The Democratic Republic of the Congo comes to mind.)  But the grass is always greener, as they say; and whatever you think about they, they are actually sometimes on to something.

In those pre-Internet, pre-cable, 2-network-TV station days, my chief source of information about the outside world was Messrs. Funk and Wagnall's:  the 1970 edition of that serviceable esteemed ubiquitous poor man's encyclopedia, specifically.  My parents got it in installments from the local supermarket, apparently not realizing that I would not begin to really appreciate it until about three presidents after Richard Milhous Nixon, and long after Angola and Mozambique won their independence from Portugal (the latter listed under "W" for "Who gives a shit?").

Luckily, much of the information regarding the individual states of the U.S. was relatively unchanged, at least the parts that interested me.  So, on those long days when it was too hot to roam the woods of Jasper and Wayne Counties, Mis'sippi, or there was nothing on NBC or PBS to watch, or years-old copies of Sports Afield, I'd peruse the row of burgundy spines that began A-Ameri and see what I could find out about the world, circa the year I was born.

One of my favorite subjects was the other states, and trying to ascertain which one I'd want to live in, after I grew up and got the hell out of Mississippi.  Mainly, I wanted somewhere cooler, where there were also mountains, and forests (I always liked those), and fewer -- MUCH fewer -- humans.  I first read about Texas, and Tennessee, and Alabama, and Arkansas, as I'd heard more about them from my family growing up, and had even been to a few of those.

I quickly decided that those sucked, and were all too similar to the Magnolia State, trending to the worse.  So my eye wandered across the overpopulated Northeast, to Maine, which looked most inviting; then westward, to the Great Lakes region, where northern Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park beckoned.  But there were only small mountains in Maine, and still just too many damned people overall.

Westward, and northern California looked nice, trumped by Oregon, trumped in turn by Washington.  But those Pacific states lacked something, a quality I couldn't put my finger on.  (It may have been instead my primal fear of the Sea at work again.  Thank you, Jaws.)  So I moved back inland, to the Rocky Mountains:  New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming.  They felt more right than all the others had, up to that point.  Then, I followed the Rockies north, past Yellowstone National Park, and found it:  the Last Best Place.

So it was that, nearly 30 years ago, I began to decide that Montana was the Place For Me.  It had it all:  mountains, forests, wildlife, great rivers, and very few people.  It also had claim to a part of the northern Plains, which I would come to love years later, when I finally laid eyes on that vastness, what Ivan Doig calls "This House of Sky." 

I even managed to go there twice, in 1995 and 1996:  road trips, both.  None of that mamby-pamby (read:  expensive) flying for me.  I have not been back since. 

In the years since my journeys to Montana, I've found love as a husband, and later as a father.  Marriage and fatherhood are the crowning joys of my life; they are joys of the soul.  But the images from my adventures in Montana are burned into my spirit, and seldom has my spirit known peace since then.

The world will not end, if I never go back.  Indeed, I have hedged my bets, as the saying goes, and have made quite a life for myself where I am.  I would not trade places with anyone.  But it is my not-so-secret hope that one day (sooner, rather that later!) I can return to Montana, and never have to leave it again.


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Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"