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Letter From America: Give Me The Country Life

Ronnie Bray tells of his time in Montana. Now what is that phrase involving a tongue and a cheek?

Although we had not lived in Montana for much more than a year, our language changed to imitate that of the people of the Mountain North West, evidence of our completly adapting to this wonderful country, so that we easily passed for long time residents when overheard in conversation. I just dropped in, "Iím going to hitch old Dobbin to the sleigh and plough the lower forty," and old timers tapped their temples in my direction and winked at each other. I was told that this signifies, "Heís one of us!"

We also joined in enthusiastically the local sport of hitting deer with our vehicle. That was not always easy and we sometimes had to leave the road and run into the forest to run them down. We enjoyed the challenge. In ten months, we bagged 210 of these cute bright-eyed animals, and you donít need a licence or a tag for this sport. We used the hides as wallpaper for the house. It was warm in winter, but they tend to smell a bit in summer when the mercury rose. When that happened, the dogs wouldn't come indoors. Someone said we should have them cured, but they didnít look sick so we didn't bother making them, better. Like I always said, "If it ainít broke, donít fix it!" Deer-hitting makes for cheap meat but them auto repairs sure make a dent in our budget!

When it snows there, it means that winter isnít far away. The snow sure looks beautiful, making everything white and quiet. Well, it is already quiet, but snow makes it look quiet too. Last winter someone had been down the main road and pushed all the snow off the road and onto the grass verges and ditches where the deer snout for grass. It sure spoiled the view, so we hired a snowplough and pushed it all back on the road. Thatís conservation. Lots of motorists decided that the snow was so beautiful that they left their cars and trucks on the road, got out, and started walking. We waved to them when we had finished shoving the snow back, and they gave us the Montana salute. It looks like the Black Panther salute, but it means, "Thanks for this opportunity to get healthy!" We love being appreciated. Weíre fitted right in.

Thereís a place near where we were called the Yaak. When you talk about it, you have to lower your voice because the Yaakites are a distinct people who have had enough of the world and civilisation. They reminded us of the anchorites who fled into the desert to pursue lives of spiritual solitude. The only problem with the Yaak is that so many are living there seeking solitude that theyíre getting a bit crowded. You can tell a Yaakite by the beards. The longer the beard, the longer theyíve been solitary.

Not many women live up the Yaak, because the rules are that everyone has to grow a beard, and some of the women have gotten used to shaving. There are not many little kids there either for the same reason. The story is told that a man got lost in the Yaak for three years, and when he was found, he thought he had been to heaven. His name was Emanuel Swedenborg. It is not true that folks born in the Yaak country grow a five-point set of antlers by the time they reach grade school.

And that brings me to another important difference between Montanans and ordinary people. In Montana, just to be economical, nothing to do with lack of education, we only count the points on one antler. So what we call a five-pointer, them with some doubts about their manhood call a ten-pointer. Just a little point, but kinda significant if youíre one of them that counts both horns, dontcha think?

Which brings me nicely to my next point. We didn't dust. We lived in the dustiest place I have ever known and the dust magnified itself in miraculous ways. Now and again we took a sheet of Bounce and wiped the TV and Computer screens off just to see if we could see what was going on there, but otherwise we voted it a miss. It was a waste of time, like the rest of the housework.

Whatís the point? You dust, scrub, wash, swill, polish, pick up trash, and BANG! twelve months later you have to do it all again. Added to the general dust that crept into our home, you have to take into account that we burned wood in our wood stove (surprise!), and that seemed to make a fair bit of dust that combined with the general dust to cover everything we had. We reckoned the protective and restorative qualities of this stuff would keep our stuff in good shape ready for the bereavement auction. What the smoke did to our lungs we wouldn't like to say, but when we got colds we spit out 2' x 4' adobes. We couldn't decided whether to build an extension with them or raise a stable just in case we found a horse.

There are no big stores around here. Come to mention it, there arenít any little ones either. But we had the next best thing to JC Penneyís in what we called yard sales. For the first ten months, we didnít go to any yard sales because we already had a yard and couldnít find any place to put another one. Then somebody explained it all to us, and we went to buy some rubbish to put with what we already had. They have family yard sales, and neighbourhood yard sales. They are when lots of people go and put all their rubbish that they want rid of on tables, and they buy the rubbish from each other. Itís a bit like going to the town dump and stealing the rubbish, but instead you end up with a dollar fifty for putting it on the tables.

Thereís not much sickness round there, apart from a couple of educated people who use too many commas, and get commatose. You can find them if youíve a mind to, on Bar Street, most times of the day and night. Apart from them, education doesnít bother folks and folks donít bother education. It works well until someone gets a letter from back east, and then itís a trail all over town to find a stranger who can read.

Non-Montanans kept asking us if we were cold. We didn't know. We got cold in winter in the snow and were still numb from that, so we didn't know if we were cold or not. However, the dogs took to sleeping in bed with us, so we figured they must be cold. There was a problem at first with bad breath and odour, but they soon got used to us.


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