Starting Out

Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana

While I am not superstitious, I did note on leaving Butte to commence this large project (sort of the second time around as the start really was in Portland some months ago, except the Butte detour to shoot 2 features kind of side-lined this project) that it was September 13.  A Thursday.  I’d somewhat hastily crammed the car with tools – cameras, tripods, various attaching devices, along with an ample supply of dried fruits, nuts and granola, sleeping bags  – and then sorted out things left here, if not in as orderly a fashion as I’d like.   I wanted to leave, and had in the last days in Butte inadvertently set a short-term deadline:  I submitted Coming to Terms, after they gave me an entry-free waiver, for the Sundance Festival.  They need to see a showable cut by October 15, which meant I needed to get back here by the 7th to do a cram tidying up of the rough edit I have at hand.  This sat in the back of my mind as I took off, and I felt its pressure immediately, warping the way I wanted to do this journey: slowly, stopping to take pictures, video, talk to people, and perhaps some painting and drawing as well.  I was headed to Glacier Park, to loop through it, and then head towards Williston ND, where a Vegas-like casino world has come along with fracking, man-camps, high prices, and sort of the inverse of Glacier.  It’s a long lonely drive from Glacier to ND, and I have a little rule for this trip that it’s 200 miles a day, max.   Somehow, with that lingering something in the back of my head, I promptly broke the rule on day one: camped out in the Lake McDonald campground, though only because I couldn’t find one in the national forest nearby.  Tipped me a few miles over my 200 mile limit.

1991 Subaru Home Sweet Home

On the way to the park – entering from the West Side, having taken highway 2 along its southern border – I passed through some truly gorgeous Montana landscapes: vast wheat-lands, very sparsely populated, small towns run down by the fierce weather of the region.  It is the kind of place that makes one wonder of the character of the people who live in the isolated homes, surrounded by thousands of acres of land – land they plow, plant, harvest, as far as the eye can see.   It is, so they say, the natural terrain of Republicans, firm believers in self-reliance, though, tracing through the historical records we find they obtained the land by the US Government Land Grants – which  gave settlers the land quite literally taken/stolen from the native inhabitants – and their ability to live there is made possible by government roads, railroad grants, electrification and myriad other things, including large subsidies, grazing on government lands for cut rates, discounted public water, and so on.   So a little cowboy and farmer hypocrisy lurks behind the facade of stoic self-reliance.  And frankly, people in Montana, owing to the adversity of the weather and isolation, tend to be very helpful, almost even, kinda “socialist” – they help each other and strangers as well, because in the back of their mind they know if their car broke down in a blizzard or a hot summer day, out in the vast middle of “nowhere,” they’d want (and expect) some help.  So in a karmic bargain, they give when asked.

Somewhere south of Choteau, MT

Yesterday, Sept. 15,  after a 40 mile ride on rough dirt road inside Glacier Park, and a stop at the shores of Lake McDonald to have a little sponge bath, I ascended the rather incredible Going to the Sun road, the last day it would be open for the season (there being zero snow so far, perhaps they’ll change this). It was like crawling through eons of time, these sedimentary mountains, a long ago sea bottom, the accretion of millions on millions of years of settling skeletons of sea creatures, sand, all deep in an impenetrably long ago ocean, squashed by the weight of miles of water into distinct layers, and then from tectonic earth-crust movements pushed upwards at angles to a height of 7,000 feet. If, as I do, one thinks of these things (and I also thought of the cosmic direction as well) it is an edifyingly humbling experience to understand that one is really not one iota more meaningful or valuable than any single atom of the distant living forms that now makes for this spectacle for our ever-so-brief moment of consciousness. I also noted that Glacier Park, from which I lived in 1972-76 only thirty miles away to the west and could not afford the drive over to see back then, had actual glaciers back then, but it no longer does, as, well, global warming, to which the Going to the Sun road, and me in my car, both contribute, has melted them all.  All very humbling.

Bowman Lake, Glacier Park

Descending, just past the peak of Logan’s Pass, my right front tire began to wobble, and at first I thought it was a wavy road (though it was freshly laid asphalt), and then I quickly thought, “Oh fuck, a flat.” I pulled over to inspect, and to my surprise, no flat. I pondered, and for three or four times, proceeded with heavy wobbling, the steering wheel oscillating ominously. I went slowly, pondering the consequence of a lost wheel or other such pleasures as the precipitous drop to the distant valley floor with no guard rail suggested very real danger. However, periodically the wheel would seem to right itself and I thought, dubiously, well, it’ll fix itself. On a last wobble, I pulled over, looked for some part hanging down or the like and there was none. As I tried again, hoping to limp to the nearest town, St Mary’s, I heard a clank, and the wheel righted itself. I went 30, then 40 mph. It worked OK. Upped it to 60 though my ears were suddenly sensible to any noise it seemed the car was making – a familiar stance to one who never had a new car or even one less than 10 years old. Ran OK. I decided I should try to get back to Butte, do whatever repairs were wise to do, and use the down-time to commence editing Coming to Terms.

Burned forests, Glacier Park

The car ran fine though I was tense with expectation at any moment the wobble would return. It didn’t. I’m in Butte now, car unpacked, a Wednesday fix appointment lined up. All nicely humbling. I think the problem is perhaps a strut which supports the drive shaft (4 wheel drive vehicle) got banged badly in the rough road, and perhaps was rusted or otherwise vulnerable to a shift, and happily self-fixed – long enough for me to get to Butte and a proper fix. Didn’t want to find myself down in nowhereville in such a predicament.  [Wed., 19th now – garage says worn front axles, $370 to fix both.]

While in Glacier I visited Bowman Lake, off 30 miles on rough dirt back-road.  The lake was gorgeous, smothered in a haze of smoke from distant forest fires – one of the few times I thought the white gauze of pungent air worked aesthetically.   There I felt the pressures of time subside, and began to find the kind of work-groove I want for this journey.  I was tempted to stay a full day, camera parked from early morning to nightfall looking out over the lake to catch the luminescent shifts of light, but in the back of my mind was that damned self-set deadline, so instead I packed up in the morning and left for the day’s questionable adventures.  As I left I was mentally kicking myself, and telling myself, “well, I’ll come back…,” though at this age the presumption of “coming back” is, well, a bit presumptuous.   I passed through miles of burned out forest land – from a huge blaze in 2003, after the Park Service instituted the policy of letting nature do as it will instead of fighting back.   Before I headed up the pass, I stopped at the shore of Lake McDonald to take a sponge bath and wash some socks, and was kicked back 4 decades as I recalled a similar setting, Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow, Scotland, where in 1963 I’d found myself on the shore there, washing myself and clothing on the pebbly lakeside.  Now nearly a life has slipped by, and in some senses in myself not much has changed.   I still live, mentally, “poor,” and do things like camping in $5 campsites, washing in a stream or lake, driving a 1991 car.   On the other side of the pass, with the wobbly wheel a sudden concern, and Butte, not Williston ND, on my mind, I pulled over at a lodge in St Mary’s to try to get a message on the net to Marshall, letting him know I’d be there – if the vehicular gods graced me with the luck to limp back OK – the next day.  While in the lobby of the place, failing to get on the net for reasons unknown, I overheard a woman telling her husband, “they say $300 a room….”   I was a bit shocked by this and scanning the busy lobby, a “western” type lodge with animal  heads on the walls, and somewhat old fashioned decor though it was a new place, I wondered to myself, “who the hell are these people who can pop $300 for a night, plus doubtless another $100 plus to have a drink, eat, and…”  Ain’t me, that’s for sure.  I slept that night in a rancher’s dirt road in the back of the Subaru.  Same old, same old.  I still don’t understand some things about this world.

Store, Bynum, MT.

VFW Hall, Choteau, MT.

On driving back to Butte, I kind of decided it was all for the best – this false start.  I’d taken too many things with me, and need to weed things down to essentials, make my “bed” a bit more comfortable, get the car really road-ready.  And get the damned deadline out of my mind so I can go on without the pressure of time.

Parking lot, Great Falls, MT

Time-line, Coming to Terms

A little note:  soon – just when the hell I will find time for it, I can’t fathom – I’ll be trying out a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or something campaign to help deal with the costs of this crazy plan to spend 12-18 months on the road, shoot a long complex sequence of unified films, camp out in a car, and otherwise do things my sister, two years older than myself, regards as, well, nuts.   It’s time to retire so they say, but frankly, I want to die in the saddle with a smile on my face.  

When the crowd-funding thing happens, of course I’ll post it here.  Help deeply appreciated.  Not just fiscal, but places to stay, people to meet and lots more.  Regarding this kind of thing I’ll be posting thoughts and requests along the way.  Thanks for reading.

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