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Excerpts of Montana Travel Diary
State 13 - MONTANA 14 SEP 98 - 18 SEP 98


"Crazy Woman"

On our way to Montana we stopped at a rest area with a sign describing the mountain scene in front of us. The mountain is named "Crazy Woman Mountain," after a pioneer woman who had been a member of a wagon train back in the 1800s. When the wagon train got to this spot where the rest area is today, the woman had a breakdown, tore off her clothes and tore into the mountains screaming. She was never seen again.

Fowl play . . .

Our first day in Helena. Driving down the main drag, Montana Ave, searching for groceries, I passively look out the passenger's window at the scenery racing by (Montana has no speed limits). Everywhere are tan suede hills. Soft suede hills that that beg to be touched. The mountains surround us like a SWAT team. And, of course, the big beautiful, constantly moving, constantly "morphing" sky adds character to this marvelous landscape. They call this place "Big Sky" Country, or "God's Country." And it is heavenly. So expansive. Not a tree in sight. Just golden wheat fields, and brown or purple hills, depending on the light show the sky is putting on at the moment. Can't believe I'm here. But what's this? What's that movement in the field over there? Sometimes we see so many cows and sheep grazing that it's become commonplace. But those are not cows or sheep. Ken, stop the car, please. Let's go back. There is a weird farm there. Returning to the scene we find . . . ostriches. It's an ostrich farm with dozens of ostriches gambling about the field. I remember back in Madison at the Henry Vilas Zoo I saw three ostriches in captivity. I was mesmerized by those three. Now I have dozens to gander at. Such beautiful eyes! (Eyes like "Clarissa" the teenage doe, Rudolph's romantic interest in the clay animated version of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" put on by Hallmark every Christmas.) Oh, but they are exquisite creatures. Ballerina necks. Fluffy, tutu midriffs. Long, spindly legs. And such graceful, ballet like movements. Quick, surefooted, agile. A whole field of them. What a delight to see these unusual birds so close to the road. They have what looks like their own tiny little red barns, too. About six or seven barns just like regular red farmyard barns, but the size of a child's playhouse. Soooo cute!

Foraging . . .

There's nothing more revealing about a locality than its grocery store, and shopping for food is always an amusement, frequently a consternation, at how items are arranged and stocked to please the population. But more important are the things that are NOT stocked (like my favorite tea and cookies).Checkout lines are always a puzzle. Do I unload the cart or does it unlatch and spill its contents onto the conveyor? Do I carry the bags myself, or are they carted off to some pickup point? Today's grocery experience is pleasant. I don't find my tea, but I do find a close cousin to it. Surprisingly, they have my Walker's shortbread cookies, so I buy 10 boxes. I also pick up the bestseller, "Undaunted Courage" about Lewis & Clark. It's on sale for $12.00. Buying a book is always a thrill. Can't wait to get home and start reading. Now, for the checkout. Oh, this is a weird one: it looks like an exclamation mark. It's got this long conveyor neck with a rotating bulb at the end and there is nowhere to put the cart. So I study the lady in front of me. Hmm... she loads her groceries on the rotating bulb and puts her cart out to the other side, near the opposite checkout. The cashier then takes the cart and wheels it behind her to load the bagged groceries. I follow suit. Here, I have the option of carrying the groceries myself of having someone carry them for me. I like the option. Don't like it when my groceries just disappear. Happily I leave the store to see the sun setting on the purple mountains all around. Stunning. Just stunning.

Night Rain . . .

For the past three nights, about 2AM, I'm awakened by a pleasant rain shower. It's not a heavy or threatening storm. It's a friendly shower, lightly tapping on the metal roof. Every night, right on cue, it wakes me up and I jump out of bed to make sure all the skylights are closed. Then I lie awake listening to the beautiful sound of a light rain. Tonight is pretty funny. Tonight the rain wakes Ken, too. He sits upright on the edge of the bed, all groggy and foggy headed and starts getting dressed. "What? What are you doing?" I ask. "Going to fix the faucet," is the slow, mechanical reply, like a sleepwalker. Well, I laugh and laugh. The poor guy is in such a maintenance mode on this trip, that it's become a knee-jerk reaction for him to jump up and try to fix things. "Ken," I say tenderly, (okay, perhaps with just a note of superiority in my voice) "Go back to bed. It's just rain." He turns, looks at me with an "only-a-woman-would-say-that" expression. "No. It's not the rain, Priscilla, it's their sprinkler system. It's on a timer, and it shoots up every night like a geyser. I want to make sure it's not doing any damage." I'm embarrassed. Here I'm enjoying a summer shower every night, and tonight correcting Ken, when I've been mistaken all along. It's not some mystical night rain, God's gift to Montana farmers, it's just a sprinkler that shoots up high onto our roof.

Double hitter . . .

About 8 o'clock this evening Ken suggests a walk. Go outside the trailer and can't believe it. A double rainbow. Seen rainbows before, but not in Big Sky Country, and not in doubles. What a thrill! The rainbow stretches across mountains and frames them in fabulous primary colors reaching from north to south on the eastern horizon. Rainbow lasts about 10 minutes. Just think, we would have missed the show if we walked 10 minutes earlier or later.

Note to self: Remember this brand of jelly, "Scandinavian Delights." If you ever see it anywhere, buy it. The label says it's "Produced without Boiling," so unlike other jellies, it retains some of it's vitamin C content (6% of the RDA). Not only that, it's the most delicious jelly. Ever. Great big, whole strawberries in the Strawberry spread. Whole Blueberries in the Blueberry spread. Went back and bought Loganberry, Raspberry, and Cherry. Can't wait to try them but discretion says to only keep two open at a time.

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