The Journal an editorial


If I didn’t already live in this peaceful little valley, I would want to move here. I suppose there are countless thousands out there who envy those of us living in a place like this, but for one reason or another they cannot muster the resources or the courage to step outside their comfort zone and leave friends, family or familiar surroundings. Then there are those who only thought they wanted to live here. There’s a saying, if you want to become a millionaire in Montana, bring two million with you. There are many out there who can attest to that.

Obviously, most people prefer to be a part of an economic hub in order to enjoy the convenience of stores and markets, a variety of entertainment venues and boundless employment or business opportunities. I’m thankful for that. But when it comes to stores and markets my mind goes to shopping malls where people camp out the night before Black Friday (Its very concept annoys me) ready to fight, if necessary, for the latest gizmo. And is it really entertaining to sit in the 90th row of a football stadium during a blizzard and bond with a besotted clown who’s wearing a ludicrous mascot-based headdress? As for boundless employment opportunity, I see cubicles, traffic gridlock, boring routine, etc. So what if I am a curmudgeon?

When I moved here nigh on 43 years ago I was running away. Florida was exploding – it still is – and I like having sparsely populated woods and hills around me, not to mention four distinct seasons. Developers were filling swamps, removing forests and bulldozing sand dunes in order to build stultifying subdivisions; warrens for workers, entrepreneurs, retirees and sundry miscreants. No thanks. I like the quiet, the fresh air (last summer excepted), water one can see into, the free million-dollar views and every now and then I like watching an airplane fly over.

Early on, much to the chagrin of the indigenous people, it was the lure of beaver pelts or mineral riches that drew adventurers to come here. Then there came a wave of homesteaders who could stake out 160 acres of free land; a place to call their own even if they didn’t have a buffalo nickel to their name. Later, the railroad presented opportunity for ranchers, farmers and lumbermen to export various products. But there wasn’t much grazing land relative to the flat country and aside from hay, agricultural exports never did much for anybody. Bees, chickens, apples, berries, potatoes and a few other products of the earth were tried and nobody got rich and more often than not they went broke.

The one thing that did produce considerable wealth was timber harvesting. Timber was to Lincoln County as copper was to Silver Bow County. The main difference is that our trees are still growing while in Butte the copper is depleted and they are left with is a huge hole with a toxic brew at the bottom. Although timber harvesting has waned in recent years, at least the possibility exists that it will again somehow contribute to the economy. But even if it does increase, it is unlikely that it will result in any mass movement here. Lincoln County after all, has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 9.2 percent.

The 1970s saw an influx of back-to-the-landers, inspired by such radical publications as The Mother Earth News and the Whole Earth Catalog. We came in vans and aspired to grow gardens, live in teepees until the log cabin was built and, oh yeah, eat a lot of peaches. It quickly became evident that self-sufficiency on 10 acres was a pipedream. And in that particular culture, oftentimes it literally was a pipedream. Nevertheless, there are quite a few around who adapted, found a way (or more likely, ways) to support themselves. Many now have Montana born children and grandchildren.

Montana is referred to by some as “the last best place.” One particularly aggressive Montana enthusiast actually tried to copyright the phrase. I’m reasonably sure he was a real estate developer and naturally did not see the irony or hypocrisy in using that particular slogan to promote populating the state. The Treasure State has become the last best place to a variety of people for a plethora of reasons, some noble, some less so. I recall a few years ago there was a man, who, we shall say, was strongly conservative. He set about inspiring a collective movement among like-minded people across the land to come to Montana and take over state politics. I’d be curious to know how many he succeeded in bringing here. I do know there’s been a surge of strongly conservative measures presented at the bi-annual legislative sessions, most of which failed to pass or were vetoed by the governor.

Another group of people who find favor in northwest Montana are Evangelical Christians wishing to escape what they perceive as a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah. Some would argue it’s an actual Sodom and Gomorrah out there. Who can blame anyone for wanting to raise their children in what seems to be a safer environment? The chalenge now is how to prevent the World Wide Web from ensnaring the kids.

There is yet another group, whether they are willing to admit it or not, who see Montana as the last best place because of a lack of racial diversity, but that attitude can become a slippery slope. Take the debacle that unfolded in the Balkans in the 1980s.

At the time all that ugliness was going on over there in Serbia and Croatia and Montenegro, it occurred to me that the countryside over which they were fighting was a lot like this countryside. It presented a situation where neighboring communities set out to annihilate the one next to them. It would mean Tregoites and Fortinians hating each other. It would mean going to Kalispell and being sure to stay on the east or west side of town and finding roundabout ways to evade roadblocks on your way back home. Scary stuff, but there are those who see that sort of thing as a reasonable option.

Gary Montgomery 
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