Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oversimplifying the West

From The Etiquette of Gravel Roads, by Bryce Andrews:

A quarter mile up the road, two vehicles were raising clouds of dust. Although the road was wide enough, I pulled to the side and waited.

As they drew near I could make out two brand-new SUV’s, one tailgating the other. Both had out-of-state license plates, but I waved to them as I would a friend because we had found each other in gorgeous light on an empty gravel road. Assuming the drivers were homeowners or investors, I hoped they might stop and tolerate a few questions about what was happening higher up on Rock Creek.

I got a dust cloud for my trouble. The drivers stared dead ahead as they whizzed by. I don’t think they even saw me. The dust settled and I kicked my bike into gear.

Maybe it is a little thing, an insignificant one, to notice a man waving at the side of the road or miss him altogether. Maybe it was a fluke, or the drivers were just in a hurry. Still I cannot shake the feeling that they inhabited a different world, a strange Montana bearing little resemblance to the place where I work and live.

Their Montana did not require attending closely to the hooves of cattle, or to clouds building above the Pintlers. It had not taught them to study the condition of grass plants, or learn the etiquette of gravel roads.

I continued uphill across cattle guards that rattled the bike. New gravel was spread on some of the corners, so I took them slowly. As I rode, I pictured the dead-ahead stares of the drivers, and it worried me that the new owners of this place might reduce a complex ecological and social landscape to a house, a mountain view, and the road to get there.

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