The other road I now travel to home is a route few of you have traveled. So I thought I'd share it a bit with you. There are, as with my home in Tennessee, several routes to my home in Montana. Mainly three are traveled, and when we are returning from being on the road, there are two routes we take.
The first, and used most, starts in Miles City, MT. From there we leave the interstate and begin the treck east on US 12. It is about an hours drive, maybe a little longer (depending on who's driving, the weather, and the number of deer on the road). This highway, for me, is sometimes a long drive, but I enjoy the scenery and the sense of anticipation that truly begins when we leave the interstate.
The other route into Baker that we have taken a few times, but rarely, is from Wibaux, MT (pronounced Wee-boe). Here was also leave the interstate and drive south about 40 miles or so to Baker. This route is still like new territory to me, so I don't have the attachments to particular landmarks that I have with US 12. However, I know I'm almost home. Tucked into eastern Montana, just a few miles from North Dakota at the intersection of US 12 and state highway 7 is the town of Baker. I can't tell you the population, etc, having never been one to pay much attention to statistics and such. However, I can describe the scene that greets you as you come upon this little western oil town. Coming from either direction (12 or 7) the first thing you'll notice, as with any western town, is the grain elevators. In Baker's case, there are two. They are the old style, the ones that still have the wood plank interior walls, the square boxy type. Not the massive concrete structures that grace the skylines of midwestern towns. Baker sits down in a little hole, almost, so as you approach you can see the spread of it across the land. We approached from the north on this trip home, pulling past the vets office, the junk yard where piles of old farm machinery and scrap metal are confined, but not hidden, behind a tall privacy fence, past the old buildings on the edge of town, Prairie Fuel who comes out to fill our fuel tanks at home, and into the edge of "downtown". "Downtown" greets you right away with the main three eating establishments in town, Heiser's Bar, The Corner Bar, and the Tavern. Heisers has great chicken and pizza, the Corner Bar has a neat interior and the food is average, and the Tavern....only been there once and probably won't go back seeing as how it has a reputation in the family for being gross and I wasn't impressed with my one experience. These three are on your right, Baker Furniture is on your left. There are a couple of other stores that are so nondescript that I can't think what they are. You reach the intersection....THE intersection because its the only one. We are a one flashing red light town, and I'm proud of that. Turn left to go to Bowman, North Dakota, right to go to Miles City, straight to go home. I prefer straight. Past the insurance store, the chinese resteraunt thats pretty good, past the Bank of Baker, the grocery store, several old boarded up stores, and the lake with the "Bed and Breakfast". You head into the "suburbs" of Baker, past the side street that turns off to the courthouse/library which are housed in the same building. Pass the street that leads to the medical clinic, the high school, and the elementary school. As you leave town you pass the fair grounds with a big sign across the entrance advertising the dates for the fair (about mid August, and I'd like to go one year, but don't think we'll make it this year either). The houses become more sparse and soon your back out in the open, passing hills with rock projections near the tops. There are cattle and scattered horses in some of the pastures. This time home everyone was haying so there were windrows of hay on the ground, tractors raking and baling and swathing periodically, and fresh bales baking in the sun. The sense of anticipation increases. We're heading towards something bigger than a truck and the road. We're heading towards piece and solitude and so much more.
A couple of turns, one here and one there, and a few more miles and the road makes a "Y". We go right, over a little hill, and hit gravel. Many dislike the gravel and I'll admit its hard on vehicle paint jobs, tires, and windshields. But I love living on gravel roads. We have, I think, about 30 miles of gravel to traverse before we reach home. Its a drive I have memorized. I have spent a year questioning my drive. "Who's house is that again?" "What's the people's name who have the trees that cover the road like a canopy?" "Leroy is Harry's son, right?" "The Cox's own this or lease this?" A year devoted to learning my surroundings so that I can converse about where we are, but more so because I want to emerse myself in my new home and belong, and part of belonging to the land is knowing it and its inhabitants. I am proud to say that I can now identify the residents and owners of almost all the places along the gravel and a few on the pavement as well. I even finally met a few of them this trip home.
You come around a sharp "S" curve, pass the "Cut Across" road that goes over to North Dakota, come through the "scoria hills" and as you crest the summit, small though it may be, the ranch spreads out before you. Down the hill, across the auto gate, and we're on family land, and just a few miles from home.
We usually stop here to drop off something we picked up on our way in for Malcolm's parents, or just to say "hello, we're home" and then head off after a brief or long visit, depending on what groceries are in the car or what the weather is doing. Over another hill we pass Bart's place with the log entry over his drive, round the turn where you cut off to go to the Colbach's place. You drive down over the culvert of Horse Creek which sometimes rises over the road a bit after a heavy rain, pass Buddy's house, over another hill, a couple more turns, and pass the new road they put in for the oil well that failed. They are now ripping out the road and returning the land back to its original condition.
A few more miles and we're almost home. Down the dirt road, which will eventually be graveled, but for now we stay off it after rain if we can because you'll just as soon end up in the ditch as you will at your destination when the stuff gets wet. It's happened many times. Our drive crosses two other rancher's land before you get to our place. I love the entrance to where we live. As we crest the hill the land spreads out before us. The road drops down into the valley that contains the houses and barns with the backdrop of the pine covered hills. I love to go to the hill at the beginning of the property and just gaze out across the land, especially when its almost dusk and that time of day when the angle of the sun gives everything a purplish orange hue. Its my favorite kind of light. I often stop on this hill when I'm driving by myself to gaze out across the land and marvel at this beautiful place. All of eastern Montana possesses my heart, but there is something extra special about this particular place, something that possesses me more than the others. Maybe its the solitude, or perhaps it all the feeling that God put special thougth into this little "valley," or perhaps its just because I'm home. The day before we left, I was driving back from Malcolm's parents house near sunset. I stopped at the top of the hill and got out to get a shot of home to take with me. I have collected nearly a dozen of the same, but something compels me to keep taking a picture from the same location everytime we're there. I climbed up on a little rock outcrop, something I hadn't done before. With the vehicle turned off and the sun setting behind me, it was just me, God, and his creation. I've never claimed to hear the voice of God before. Not in a "hi Sarah how are you" sort of manner. But I beleive I hear God in many places when I'm home, but definatly from this hill. I hear him in the breeze, the rustle of the grass around me, the birds that are singing their last song of the day, the sound of the wind as it comes down the pine hills across from me, the occasional distant calling of a cow to her calf and the herd....God speaks to me here. I stand on my hill and I feel so full of piece and happiness and Him.