The day before I arrived on the Flathead Indian Reservation of Western Montana, the small town of Charlo had its Mission Mountain Testicle Festival.
“Can we not talk about it?” said Tim, one of the Christian biologists I met who worked on the Flathead Res.
“It’s a bull! Not a person,” said Kari, another resident of the research station named the Duck Shack where I stayed.
The Duck Shack housed the biology researchers’ project, “Team Hopper,” so dubbed by Jes Martin. The UNM Alumna created predator enclosures and prepared netted cages for grasshoppers packed with plants and food sources from different locations, such as from the National Bison Range. This was the last bastion of the American Bison, their numbers taken from 50 million to 100 in a few decades.
“I know,” Tim protested. “But it still makes you think.” He groaned. “It’s just not something I ever want to think about.”
Though for whatever reason, he did.
“My roommate learned in music appreciation that they would … like at Catholic convent or whatever. They would castrate choir boys so that they would sing higher pitch.”
Kari was unconvinced.
“Is that true?” she squeaked.
“Yeah,” said Tim.
“Why would they do that to them?” Kari asked.
“So that they would sing higher pitched — to make them sound prettier. ”
“But that’s not a good enough reason!” Kari cried.
Tim’s anger and discomfort burst all at once.
“Nothing is ever a good reason!” he suddenly screamed.
The Duck Shack, safe from encroaching sexual organs, was 45 minutes past cell phone service and technological civilization, set on the very top of an intimidatating hill overlooking a river valley, set on all sides by green mountains and most predominately by the mythic things known as the Missions.
The Mission Mountains look like the fabled features of a creation myth. They are crashed snowy pieces of God that cut the sky in half.
Gods live on these mountains.
The Sandias, too, are part of the Rocky Mountain Range. Montana is directly north of New Mexico. Its northern border brushes Canada. Montana is a place Canadians would call “The Tropics.”
The Flathead Res looks nothing like the Indian Reservations of New Mexico. The areas and towns teem with life — human and otherwise — and swell of wealth and quality of life.
Evidence suggests an ongoing bitterness toward Anglo invasion.
One roadside historic landmark read: “‘Flathead’ was a misnomer applied to the Salish (tribe) by Lewis and Clark. No one knows for sure where it came from, but like many early names for tribes, it stuck. It seems that the whites almost always had a handle to hang on a tribe before they met anyone who could tell them their own name for themselves.”
The people seemed not to care so much. Like when I first came to New Mexico, the people I left behind feared the foreign place I was going to make my home. I was told many such strange thoughts, like that English would disappear and communication would become impossible.
I found similar impressions from those in the 505 as I journeyed to the 406. “Isn’t it nothing but brown and dust?” one of my reporters asked me. This seemed an odd question for a New Mexican to ask.
Montanans gave me a start I didn’t expect. Structured like New Mexico, there are very few long roads through unoccupied land that connect small, select towns. The people you would find gave the physical appearance of stereotypical small-town white trash, but acted nothing like it.
I meet Bucky in Tiny’s Taven, fresh from Charlo’s Testicle Festival. Bad teeth, a thick hick accent and trucker hats could not hide the kind, worldly man he was.
Bucky had been to 57 countries. He kindly played pool with beautiful Team Hopper field leader Katie Lee, hitting on her without a hint of sleaze.
I asked him why he lived in Montana.
“The land, man,” Bucky said. “You gotta love the land.”
It had just hailed death in a split second and the patrons of Tiny’s rushed to the front lines, employing fierce broom combat against encroaching baby-fist-sized hail and keeping the bar safe and dry. Bucky and I smoked in the calm aftermath.
“But, I’ll tell you, man,” Bucky continued. “There ain’t nothing like the sunset over an ocean.”
Bucky, of anyone I had met, seemed like the man to ask:
“Do you have a favorite ocean, Bucky?”
He laughed at the question and I watched him fade away as he considered it.
“Well,” he began, accent never fading. “The Atlantic Ocean is this color of teal. But the Pacific Ocean is this deep blue. And the Indian Ocean? If you catch it in right way, the whole thing has this silvery color about it.” He laughed again. “And the Arctic Ocean is so cold you really don’t give a damn.”
Bucky represented the incredible intelligence and grace of everyone I made met who made Montana their home. But none were as special as DC Mike.
Dirty Corner Mike is founder of the Arlee chapter of the Hermanos bike club. He is ancient-looking gaunt man with the thick, white beard and gravelly voice appropriate for a man who lived on mountain in a converted school bus and tepee. His brown hands and thin fingers are never far from his pocket of Checkers cigarettes, his collection of guitars or the well-scratched ears of his pack of kind, mutty dogs.
Flooding was eminent on the Flathead. In June, the rains fell heavily and the rivers swelled. The Mission Mountains still set with snows refusing to melt.
With Team Hopper, I helped the residents of Arlee pack fresh sand bags and load them on trucks.
“It hasn’t even started yet,” I was told with ominous warning yet warm humor about the inevitability of danger. “Once the snows melt, that’ll really be it.”