Pretty Country

That’s the feeling I get when entering the coastal zone of the United States.

At the Lolo Pass, all rivers begin running to the Pacific Ocean.

A little luck conspired to help me feel less road-rugged for my trip to meet the self-appointed ‘creative class’ in their little outpost of Missoula, Montana. Settled for the night at the Helena fairgrounds, I jumped at a knock in the dark, and a male voice. Turns out they did have a designated camping area, and after I paid him he informed me there were showers! I spent yesterday morning doing one dozen chores. Janet and I being fairly well cleaned up, we headed further into the Rockies.

The land was still all sweeping lines and long views, and when I did see snow-capped mountains they were blocky rather than delicate. We crossed the Blackfoot River, with lots of aspen, cattails, willow. But it was opaque with dull brown silt.

As we got closer to Missoula, the river was much bigger and I started to see much more traffic, and then fun-seekers on rubber rafts. Do ranchers and farmers not engage in frivolous pursuits? My stomach was clenching with a little fear, expecting the indoctrination of higher ed to make it worse than Billings.

The town is not spectacularly scenic, as I’d expected. Nestled in some grassy hills, it has a gracious university area, with tree-lined streets and renovated older homes—the closest version of a Pacific Northwest college town I’ve yet seen. So it was easy to find the trendy dining/shopping area, with the de rigueur posters of Black Lives Matter–and another poster manically listing all the other kinds of identities the establishment welcomes. Sadly for them, nobody looked very oppressed that day. It was warm and beautiful out, and lots of people were out and about. AND, NOT ONE WAS WEARING A MASK.

I chose the most pretentiously trendy restaurant and went in and got a seat at the open-air window. The waitress, who looked ‘mountain progressive’ if you can picture that, was also unmasked. After pineapple kombucha and a tasty Southwestern snack, I looked into some shops. At a place that only stocked locally-made AND repurposed items, I chatted with the proprietor about how Missoulans feel about the governor having banned all the virus precautions.

He said that everyone there thinks the Republican governor is a complete buffoon. “He’s the next thing to a flat-earther.” Yet about five days ago (after he signed the bill) the man that said everyone quit wearing masks. Just like that. Although it may not signal virtuous concern for one’s fellow humans, if the buffoon bans medical tyranny, what choice does one have but to go out and thoroughly enjoy a gorgeous spring day, as if there is no pandemic?

The guy rather sensibly said he expects it all to come back later this summer. We agreed, and something unspoken was understood there. Having faced my fears and seen how the progressives handle it when they have to give up their pandemic handwringing, I left town. I had to skip the gourmet ice cream shop because the non-socially-distanced line of mask-free families and students was very long. But I got to do a little ‘normal’ dining and shopping. I doubt that will happen again for a long time.

At the Lolo Pass, it kept getting greener, and Lolo Mt. is today’s featured photo. We entered Idaho and drove down the Clearwater River valley, through lovely forests. This is all Nez Perce country, and it is beautiful. My 70s horse-crazy girl self was delighted to learn they are still developing the horses they bred hundreds of years ago, called Sikum in Nez Perce, and Appaloosa in English. Meriwether Lewis wrote “Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable…”

Stopped at a dubious RV park in Grangeville, Idaho. But it has nice bathrooms.