Driving through Montana, there's a lot of time on your hands to think. Rolling landscapes. Enormous open sky. Lush wilderness stretching before you like flat pages of an open book and you are passing through the seam.
"Click. From where I was sitting on the bumper of the Winnebago I was doing my utmost to outstare that camera of hers, but as usual, no such luck....as soon as she'd shot she says as if it was something the nation was waiting to hear, 'You're not such a bad-looking old coot, you know that?'
'The old part I do, yeah.'
CLICK Her next snap of the shutter caught me by surprise as it always did. After all this while, why didn't I know that the real picture Mariah wanted was ever the unexpected one, the one after you'd let your guard down." -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana
I was thinking and remembering, twenty-five years ago zig-zagging across the west with my friend Rolf in a beat-up old Honda, high on caffeine and Key-Lite, and the fumes of Kerouac and Cassidy, we stopped in to see one of his old Kansas teachers.
"Mariah eyed me severely from the passenger seat as if about to say something, though better of it, then resumed a fixed gaze out the window." -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana
He was an older gentleman (I won't mention him by name here) with peppered white beard, drinking martini's from a thermos, sitting on the back porch and grumbling to us. He was my friend's favorite teacher, and so he became my teacher too for that evening, and we sat at his feet like children.
"He paused to see how that went down with her. I eyed her too, but with a different question in mind. How Mariah could even entertain the notion of retying the knot with Riley was beyond me. I mean, after our too-green marriage blew up, you could not have paid me enough to get me to marry Shirley a second time. Talk about double jeopardy." -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana
It's such a rare memory, for nowadays no one teaches me anything. Oh, men still speak with authority without a doubt in their voice, but they rarely say anything of significance, and sadly for me, all my learning is finished.
"The next thing was, I was blindsided by Mariah, hugging and kissing me and declaring I had an entire new career ahead as a public spieler. I told her I hoped to Christ not, then held her just far enough away to gauge as I said: 'Petunia, I hope you're ending up out of all this okay.'" -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana
But he was talking about a book, a series of books actually, written about Montana.... about driving through this vast state and watching the history of a life and a family roll along with you. How important that was to a man in his loneliness, in his solitude, to embrace. The book was Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, about the fictional McCaskill family and preceded by Dancing at the Rascal Fair and English Creek... and I'll spare you the: Nobody reads books anymore spiel... but I liked it. I liked that someone could tell me something years ago, and I carried it with me all this time, and finally did something about it. I know, it's only a book, but it was more.
"So to speak, so we were; the mountainline of the Two country up over English creek and Noon Creek that the two of us had stitched on came flapping free... dancing in the sky. I had to chuckle at that..." -Ride with Me, Mariah Montana
It's about coming to peace with your life, the roads you've traveled, the places you've been. Knowing the things you pass down will be remembered by those you love most and knowing that's all that matters.