Welcome to Big Sky Country
So, you are considering a trip to Montana. Terrific!
My advice: Go for it. It’s quite a place.
The following are my notes, opinions, and observations from a week in “Big Sky Country.”
The genesis of this voyage was a family reunion. We rented a magnificent VRBO house on an enormous body of water – Flathead Lake – and had a ball. The grandsons played in the lake from sun up to sundown and the weather was perfect. Other than a broken collarbone by grandson number one, all went well.
Now here are a few tidbits.
Highways. The speed limit on Montana highways is 80 mph and if you set your cruise control accordingly, you will be passed. Repeatedly. By east coast standards, 80 is fast, but then again Montana is huge and to get anywhere, you’ll need to move right along. But just be prepared.
Swimming race. I have now officially retired from competing in any type of athletic event. My career ended with a resounding flop. Here’s the tale. My daughter signed me up to swim in some sort of a town fete. I think it was the annual Flathead Lake Swim Series. Her goal was to have three generations – herself, her son Tyden, and me – all compete in the same event. I’ll spare you all the gory details but as for me, the colder-than-expected water temperatures resulted in a vicious cramp in my left foot, which curled my toes into something that looked like a fist. Floating on my back, I tried in vain to work out the tightened muscle but after a minute or two, tossed in the towel. With the passage of time, the body is no longer young and resilient. That’s an unavoidable fact and we all need to accept it. Perhaps, eventually, if I keep saying that over and over again, my failure won’t sting as much.
Buying a fishing license (aka: communicating with the locals). I wanted to take the boys fishing so I stopped at the local fly fishing shop to buy licenses. Here’s how it went.
The young man behind the counter was the burly type, sporting a massive curly beard, and wearing a check shirt. He looked like a miniature version of Paul Bunyon.
Man: May I help you?
Me: Yes. I’d like to buy five fishing licenses. I’m looking to take my grandsons fishing. Hopefully, we’ll be able to catch a few small trout from a local stream. I’m looking for dumb, hungry fish.
Man: Right on.
Me: Where should I take them?
Man: Swan River.
Me: Where is Swan River?
Man: Flows into Swan Lake.
I sighed impatiently.
Me: And where is Swan Lake?
Man: (pointing vaguely off to the right) Over the mountain.
Me: Perhaps the first thing I need to buy is a map.
Man: Right on.
I wanted to point out that we generally don't say “right on” anymore. That expression was popular in the sixties. But he looked like he could break me like a twig so I held my tongue.
Me: So, once I figure out where I’m going, perhaps you could advise me regarding what types of flies should I buy to catch trout in Swan River?
This is a ploy I use when wanting more information. If I buy something, perhaps the clerk will offer more information.
He slowly shook his head.
Me: What’s the matter?
Man: We really got dumped on last winter. The snowmelt has kept the water high and cold.
Me: (sighing again) Can you recommend any other place?
He slowly shook his head again.
Man: Water’s floodin’ everywhere.
Me: Well, be that as it is, I’m sure I can find a trout or two along the edges.
Man: Right on.
Then he shook his head again.
Me: What is it this time?
Man: Lot’s of Grizzly Bears down there. One has two cubs. I wouldn’t go there if I was you.
Me (exasperated): But this is where you said I should go. Do you have any good news?
Man: No reports of rattlesnakes. Yet.
Me (forcing a smile): Maybe I’ll fish elsewhere.
Man: Think of it this way. I just saved you about three hundred bucks.
Me (on my way out the door) Right on.
4. Huckleberries and cherries. July in Montana is prime time for huckleberries and cherries. They are both sweet and extraordinarily scrumptious. That’s the good news. The bad news is if you eat too many, the results are predictable. Carry toilet paper with you wherever you go.
5. The night sky. What a show! Minimal light pollution and dry weather conditions produce dark skies. I’m a life-long astronomy buff and still had my breath taken away. Even if you can’t tell a comet from the moon, you will find yourself repeatedly using that overused word, awesome!
6. Family. My life is much richer because of my family. If you have a chance to orchestrate such a reunion event, don’t wait.