Beer Can Time Machine

I was shaken back to awareness recently on a flight from Texas to Montana

By Rob Breeding

Modern air travel has become commonplace to the point of banality. We take as routine climbing into giant aluminum cans to transport ourselves across vast distances of time and space. It takes a lot to jar us from our obliviousness about the way technology has made it so easy for humans to flit about the planet.

It takes a lot to jar this boy from my perpetual stupor, but I was shaken back to awareness recently on a flight from Texas to Montana. Whether it’s my generally introverted tendencies, or plain orneriness, I’m not usually one to encourage interaction with fellow air travelers. On this flight, however, I didn’t have a choice. As I found my seat, the young man next to me insisted on eye contact. He had no intention of letting me sleep for the next three hours, as I’d planned.

“Do you live in Montana?” he asked once I sat down.

He spoke with an accent I soon learned was Portuguese, of the Brazilian variety.

“Sure,” I replied.

That was all the invitation Renan needed. He told me he farmed in southern Brazil and was a college student studying agriculture. He was nearing graduation and on his way to Wolf Point for summer in the Northern Hemisphere. He had an internship there working on a farm until November.

He was also in Montana to work on his English. Portuguese is just fine for getting along in Brazil, but in our increasingly interconnected world, even for farmers, international communication is important. English flits about the planet as easily as beer-can contained humans.

As tired as I was — my first flight that morning was at 6 a.m. — the kid’s enthusiasm was infectious. That’s the teacher in me, I suppose. When teachers are around young people who are motivated to learn, we can’t help but help, no matter how sleep deprived.

An added connection was that my daughter Zoe, when she was a student at FVCC, spent two summers in Brazil teaching English to high schoolers. It’s a big planet. As best we can tell, it’s the totality of suitable human habitat in the known universe. Still, moments like my chance meeting with Renan are a reminder how technology is shrinking the distances that once separated us.

As we talked, I shared photos of Zoe and her students during her time in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. She was there during the last World Cup, when Brazil suffered a horrible 7-1 defeat to eventual champion Germany. For soccer-obsessed Brazil, that was roughly equivalent to how Americans would react if Uzbekistan sent a lineup of gridiron all-stars to Gillette Stadium to spank the Patriots, 56-7.

You wanna talk about a shrinking planet? Renan used his phone to zoom in on the center pivot fields north of Poplar he’ll soon be tending. Then he scrolled south to his farm in Brazil for a tour, describing the outbuildings, pasture and irrigation pond where he raised cattle.

Renan only betrayed his trepidation about Montana when discussing snow. I teased him with a few photos of this winter’s difficulties, and as we traveled over Colorado he was shocked to see remnants of a storm that blanketed the plains east of the Rocky Mountain Front. I assured him the snow season was nearly past. Summer in Wolf Point would be hot like home, I said, without the humidity.

When the plane touched down, we linked up on social media, shook hands and wished one another well. I’m not sure we’ll meet again, but I’m awfully glad Renan insisted I stay awake for at least most of the flight. It allowed us to share a bit of our love for Brazil and Montana, two of the planet’s last best places.

I hope I get to see Brazil someday.

Rob Breeding is the editor of the website www.mthookandbullet.com, which covers outdoor news in Montana.