I’ve lived in six states. Seven if you count a rainy summer in Washington, though that wasn’t so much a “move” as it was a long-term commandeering of my brother’s guestroom.
He lived on a lake filled with bass so it seemed the thing to do.
Each of my home states has had some enduring quality. None, however, has the cachet of Montana. After moving to Arizona from Montana, when I met new folks, I conveniently omitted the first 30 years of my life. I soon realized living in the Bitterroot Valley for six years laundered from my past three decades of city life as a native Californian. I was from Montana. That got people’s attention and granted me a certain undeserved respect.
The assumption was that as a Montanan, I was well versed in the essential skills they assume every Treasure Stater begins mastering in preschool, including tying a pack string and guiding a river dory through class III whitewater while netting fish.
Well, some Montanans matriculate through that kind of lifelong backcountry education. But even in Montana, rural-to-urban migration is real, so folks with traditional skills are not as common as they once were.
That’s doubly so for someone like me, who attended preschool in the city. Now I’m decent when handling a set of oars, but my pack train knowledge is limited to knowing not to cross a mule — they have heavy hooves and long memories. Instead, I offer apple slices and remain eternally grateful for every ounce they carry into the backcountry.
Still, I suppose that’s a useful bit of old-timer wisdom for a city boy.
My Montana history, no matter how inauthentic it may seem, gives me street cred wherever I wander for work or play. That’s the power of Montana. The state is mythical for so many who live elsewhere and imagine Montana is nothing but trout and fly fishers, steers and wranglers, and bears and bear wrasslers. And when news like what I read while visiting family in California last week hits, the people still inhabiting the streetscapes of my former home scratch their heads and wonder “What the heck goes on up there, anyway?”
The news in this case was the Missoula homeowner who found a bear snoozing on a shelf in the mudroom. Even by Montana standards this one was a rarity. Montanans see bears, lots of them. Even grizzly sightings are becoming fairly common as the big bruins continue their march toward permanent removal from the endangered species list.
But in the house? Not so much.
Permanent delisting is a milestone I’ll celebrate, even as I realize with it comes hunting. I’m not opposed to hunting recovered griz populations, but I don’t relish the social division that will surely accompany a legal hunting season. Sadly, we can expect factions of the conservation community to fight amongst themselves when they ought to be training their fire on a shared enemy: the opponents of public land and access and wildlife conservation.
There was another bit of Montana bear news the other day, this time a warning about what folks should do if their pooch chases a bear up a backyard tree.
A Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear expert offered commonsensical advice: bring your dog in the house, then stay inside and wait for the bear to leave.
What are the things you shouldn’t do? Here’s a list of no-nos:
• Post a photo of the treed bruin, along with location, on social media.
• Call all your friends over so they can gather around the tree and wonder aloud why the dang bear won’t come down.
• Position a trampoline beneath the soon-to-be-tranquilized bruin to break its fall when it drops from said tree.
Take it from one expat-Californian who has seen the results of that move.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.