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From Babb to Billings and back

          If you can’t bring the bathtub to Babb, bring Babb to the bathtub. No, wait, that’s not how it goes. Its not even close. But it sounds good. Babb is the small town spitting distance from Canada where I went to pick up the cast-iron bathtub I found on Craigslist. The morning I left it was blizzarding (the word “blizzard”, in any English-speaking country is, of course, a noun, except in Montana, where it is a verb. As it is a good idea to respect the customs of one’s adopted country, I’ve decided to embrace this syntactic whim.) pretty hard here, so I decided to go the long way, up the interstate, then over on the Hi Line. It seemed safer than the more direct route up a two-lane highway. Boring but efficient.

          Coming back on the supposedly slower road (it wound up taking less time than the freeway) there was breathtaking scenery that made me want to stop the truck every five minutes and snap a photo, but how far would I get at that rate? And besides, what would I do with all those breathtaking snaps? Publish a calendar? I don’t even have the wherewithal to publish my book. The weather that had passed through (another Montana usage which actually means precipitation) dropped a lot of moisture, and the cows by the side of the road had so much mud on their hooves they looked like they’re wearing slippers.

          Of course at this time of the year its not exactly ‘driving’ one does, but more of the sport ‘deer-dodging’. The deer are in their hyperphagic phase, eating everything in sight to fatten themselves up for winter. They concentrate so hard on eating and (ahem) other bodily needs they not only completely ignore the “look both ways” rule, but fling themselves across roadways with reckless abandon. All the critters winterize themselves to some degree, so sightings of all sorts take place regularly in autumn. Chris spotted a moose calmly licking the gravel pile by the highway department (presumably for the salt) while a crowd gathered to watch, and Jim says he saw a mountain lion in his yard, while the trash removal from the dump had to be delayed because of a black bear dining in the dumpster. It’s a sort of dishevelment of the normal social order of things akin to the clattering mess of fallen leaves that I enjoy so much about this time of year.

          And speaking of serious disorder, there’s plenty of that in Browning, the largest town on the Blackfoot Reservation, which I had to pass through to get to Babb. The mesmerizing squalor of Browning is a sort of exquisite miniature; like a Persian, perspective-less painting. In Ottoman times painters eschewed showing any perspective in their paintings because they thought only Allah sees the world in depth, and it would be arrogant to portray the painter’s point of view. Perhaps the good people of Browning didn’t want to create something that would compare with what nature made.  Browning’s appliance-strewn yards and burned and abandoned businesses in no way compete with the scenes of blazing yellow and orange foliage, towering, cloud-wrapped mountains, and the scintillating, winking purity of blue-black lakes. The contrast makes it look like someone hurled Browning down on the landscape from a great height in disgust, after it failed to boot up properly.

          So, 480 miles later I got my tub home, and almost immediately had to turn around and head out to the other corner of the state. I had ordered the materials for my ammo-bunker roof from an outfit (another Montana-ism. Here you drive an outfit, operate one, or provide outfitting services, but you don’t wear one. Go figure.) in Billings, which was supposed to ship my materials to their sister store in Great Falls. Instead, they sent it to their store in Spokane. I suspect that the materials, sensing that they were about to spend the rest of their natural lives underground, wanted to have a bit of a tour of the country before settling in. When the fugitives were located, they had to be sent back to Billings – because that is the way of trucking companies – and then shipped up to Great Falls (a trip, by the way, which would take the materials directly past my front door, but they can’t stop because that is the way of trucking companies…).  There was no way it was going to get to Great Falls by Tuesday so that I could pick it up and install it on Wednesday, when I would have a crew ready to go, so I wound up having to make the 394 mile round-trip to go get it. My butt is still sore, even three days later. And in the insult-to-injury department, lets not forget the fact that Roger and crew didn’t show up on Wednesday. I still don’t know why, but I did get him to show up Thursday and put up some interior walls and some of the windows, so now the plumber can come back, and then the electrician, and then the sheetrock guy….no, it never ends.


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