Uncommon Ground

Small Town Grit

Rural Montanans have that perseverance, courage, tenacity, fortitude, and determination to face unfathomable odds in our changing landscape

By Mike Jopek

A cold morning mist hovered over the farm like a low flying cloud. A woodpecker rattled coded messages to the beyond, its beak working an old telephone pole which once delivered rural electrification to the now abandoned homestead.

“Brrrrggg, brrrrggg, brrrrggg” the baritone blare resonated down Hedman hill. A gravel truck exhausted its engine brake to slow for the fast-approaching sharp corner.

It got closer, chugged up the hill. “Creeeek, creeeek” yowled the brake pads. A bellowing “pssshht” gushed as compressed air discharged from the brake chamber and the dump truck stopped at the gate.

Rural and small-town Montanans have grit, that perseverance, courage, tenacity, fortitude, and determination to face unfathomable odds in our changing landscape.

Corporate America has been tough on small-town Montana: offshoring manufacturing jobs, crushing commodity prices, rising crop insurance bills, exorbitant power rates, consolidated beef markets, closed healthcare facilities and a massive state property tax increase targeting rural homes, putting teacher jobs in danger.

Big private equity gobbled up rural homes that once housed working families to welcome wealthier tourists for profit. Rural and small-town Montana knows hard work. We cherish public institutions like schools and hospitals, the lifeblood of community.

I hitched the duck foot to the tractor, working slower than last season. The turnbuckles cried as I tightened, the threads stretched over time and overuse. Some blades remained broken from last year. I sighed. I’d work the soil regardless. No time, the torch in the shop, and I’d little energy for repair.

Earlier at the Northern, I recalled how Judge Katherine Bidegaray told personal history of when her dad passed and the feds wouldn’t allow her mom to put a women’s name on farmstead paperwork. Bidegaray has grit. She’s a lifelong Montanan from Sidney, overcame adversity, knows tenacity, and isn’t afraid to stand up for freedom.

One of her opponents for the Supreme Court sought to change the law so hardened criminals got a choice of public flogging or prison. This  guy wants so many lashings for so many years. He proposed a law to pay some state employees in gold. I snickered, imagining trading bullion for milk and butter at the local grocer.

Bidegaray has the right experience and is the court candidate standing with working Montanans and women’s rights. None of her opponents, all the conservative men, even dare say “women’s rights.” Bidegaray earns my vote during these turbulent times in rural Montana.

I tined the soil. It looked good, earthy rich. I remembered my ballot on the kitchen table. I must return my vote, I reminded myself. It matters. Rural and small-town Montana deserves a qualified person of integrity on the state court.

Judge Katherine Bidegaray is the right fit, at the right time and place, for Montana’s most important job.

Once again, the gate howled open. I chuckled, knowing many men worked many days over many seasons trying to silence the iron shriek.

The dump truck lumbered down the fresh gravel road deep into the fenlands of Blanchard, an area Don coined “the island.” Where he and Muriel planned a rustic cabin before he’d tragically drowned in a freak storm off the coast of Madagascar, on their maiden voyage, in a sailboat they’d spent years building with their hands.

The driver Jake-braked through the marshland where Sandhill Cranes once nested. “Brrrrggg, brrrrggg” echoed off chicken ridge as the loaded rig strained, its engine compression exhausted to slow its decent into the wetland. Soon the slap of a tailgate signaled its pending return, gravel delivered with the precision of a skilled operator.

For days, the engine brake saved the truck’s pads. Growing up rural, small town, I ignored the noise. I knew the taste of hard work, my hands rough from years of experience.

Few cranes would layover at this end of the lake this season. The gangly birds proved territorial during nesting season, and standing shockingly tall, chased us away as we walked the marsh grass and cattails of yesteryear.