Bozeman

It’s dark and late and we’re somewhere over Idaho. I’m guzzling tepid coffee and taking notes from Esquire, the “How to Be a Man” issue. I mean, that’s literally what I’m doing; don’t read into it—I just want to keep trivia and the sentences I like. The last few pages are short fiction. Watch how you make a girl love you, writes Marlon James. Call her ugly but say it sweet like brandy coat you tongue.

My seatmate is a bare-faced, softball-build blonde in plaid and pigtails. The steward asks her what she’d like to drink; she jams her thumb into a battered copy of Lonesome Dove and looks up. “Beer,” she says flatly. She could huck a hay bale, for sure. The little plane is shuddering in its descent, yes, but the sensation in my bones is one of trespass.

These are Ted Turner’s bison.

Having said that, downtown Bozeman has its own co-op grocery, two bookstores, and a Tibetan gift shop. While browsing a sale rack at Cactus Records I’m offered cocaine—I think—and later, on the sidewalk, a bumper sticker that reads “Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus.” A perhaps overly Critical Mass of six young gutter rats on fixies hoists a cardboard sign urging me to “reclaim the streets,” though it’s really not clear, from the sedate procession of pickups down Main Street, from whom or what.

Indian paintbrush and lupine. Right?

So in the end what’s most foreign is also familiar: water. Lush landscapes are always a marvel to me, but I’d never realized how thoroughly the Golden State has sucked the moisture from my understanding of the backcountry. Even in earshot of streams chattering over rock, I fret and whine over the topo map. “There’ll be water there, right? We can get water there, right? That creek’s still running, right?” As I begin to accept this new world—that summer here is snowmelt, not scorched earth—its possibilities expand far beyond the trailhead. We could go anywhere.

But I’ve got work on Monday, of course, plus the mountains giveth and taketh away. Giveth water, in this case, taketh, I swear, pints on pints of blood via the most tenacious, ubiquitous, malicious mosquitoes I’ve ever fled.

The most reliable metric for happiness may be the shadows of clouds.

In the last mile, we yield the trail to an older man who surveys us from atop a glassy-eyed sorrel.

“See anybody?” he asks.

“Nope.”

“Good for you!”

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