A friendly Montana interlude

I’ve mentioned Joe and Sarah Stiver a couple of times and how wonderful they were. I met them less than 24 hours after arriving out here.  Since then, I’ve started believing they are the norm, not the exception in this region. I wanted to mention a few other natives I’ve encountered randomly who have been instrumental in making me fall in love with this place.

  • Tim, the owner of the Gates of the Mountains marina, from where I was chartering a ride to Mann Gulch. The boat used for that was out so I had about 20 minutes to wait.  While waiting on the dock and taking pictures, Tim came out and told me stories about meeting Norman MacLean, Laird Robinson, and Bob Sallee — names that figure heavily in the Mann Gulch story. Earlier this summer, he had also taken Joe Silvia’s son and granddaughter out there to see Joe’s memorial. Joe was one of the people who jumped into the gulch and didn’t come back out. His wife was still pregnant on that day, so he’d never met his son.
  • Christopher is the young man — a full time student at UMontana — who actually took me out to the gulch. He wanted to hear about Atlanta on the way out and later on the way back. All he knew was what he saw on the news, but wanted to talk about something other than the Confederate flag.
  • The lady who made my cheeseburger at the little restaurant near Devil’s Tower. As soon as it was obvious I wasn’t from around there — probably immediately because I can’t grow a beard overnight and hadn’t bought any flannel — she wanted to hear my remaining itinerary and told me stories about the places I hadn’t seen yet. Lots of people wanted me to know about the places I was missing so I would hit them next time. (They all told me to visit Glacier National Park when it wasn’t on fire. A good plan.)
  • The off-duty tour guide at Little Bighorn. Didn’t catch his name but he saw me taking pictures near the Custer National Cemetary and we started chatting. He ended up giving me a shortened version of his tour, covering the areas visible from where we were standing.
  • Daniel and Trish at the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula. I don’t know if they were the owners or just working that day. Seeing all this stuff during the week cuts way back on the crowds, and it’s not like this small museum was a main tourist draw. I was there because they had the DC-3 used by the Mann Gulch smokejumpers in 1949. They walked me over to it, gave me the story about how they found it some years ago being used for cropdusting in Memphis, and how they got it back to Missoula and the same airfield used by the jumpers back then.  After I’d gotten all the pics of it (they let me up to the employees only library section so I could get some photos from above, then got a tour of everything else they had. The whole thing is in an airplane hanger next to the Missoula International Airport. They opened the hanger doors for me and showed me their new TBM Avenger, which is the kind of torpedo bomber George H. W. Bush flew in WWII. (Not his actual plane, what with it getting shot down and all.) For you Bermuda Triangle enthusiasts, it’s also the same type as Flight 19, a group of five planes that disappeared in the vicinity of Bermuda in 1945.
  • The young lady who checked me in to this hotel had some of the most intricate hair coloring I’d ever seen. Like she carefully washed her hair with Skittles. I complimented her on it and asked if it was dyed or chalked, accidentally giving the false impression that I knew what the hell I was talking about. She opened right up and told me about the process (dyed, FWIW), which must have taken hours, and then regular maintenance, which of course led naturally to why I was in Belgrade MT and what I was going to do next and what I had seen so far. Now I get a friendly wave when I walk past the desk. (I wish I could have gotten a picture of her hair, but since she was like 18-20, there was no path that direction that wouldn’t make me look and feel like a creep.)
  • Lastly, I had bought a print at the museum and wanted to mail it back home instead of dealing with it on the plane. The three people working at the UPS Store saw I was from Georgia and, as I was coming to expect, wanted to hear about life there and my visit here.

I’m sure some of this overt friendliness is “OMG a new face, come tell us of the outside world,” but the combined effect was to make me look forward to encountering new people around here. Didn’t think that would happen to an introvert like me. I guess there’s a lesson there about being kind and interested in strangers and getting that back tenfold.

I’m doing this now because I’m about to head into Yellowstone, which apparently is filled with the kind of moron tourist that gets stomped into a puddle because they want to pet some bison.

On the other hand, taking selfies might be fun and all. If you approach a moose, turn your back, and try to get a picture of both of you, you will have earned a picture of you being hurled 40 feet straight up from the horns of an enraged mega-deer. If your camera survives the return trip, the world will grant you the title of King/Queen of Selfies, though we’ll likely have to grant it posthumously.

Anyway. I’ll tell you about Yellowstone later, whether or not my newfound faith in humanity has been crushed.

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