See If You Qualify
BY PAT HILL
Last month while planning a road trip with a friend I commented that the weather forecast looked good for the voyage. She looked at me and scoffed.
“I don’t believe a word the weatherman says around here,” said my friend, who moved to Big Sky Country about a year ago. I looked at her and smiled.
“I think you’re becoming a Montanan,” I said.
Weather, distance, and geography play major roles in the forming of a Montanan’s character. As far as the weather goes, the clichés surfaced long ago: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” or “It’s springtime in the Rockies, it’s 40 below.” I’ve skied in fresh snow on my birthday in early July, which also happened to be the hottest day on record in Bozeman last year (106 degrees Fahrenheit). Weather isn’t something you can count on in Big Sky Country, but you can usually count on the Memorial Day weekend weather being less than favorable. You’ll always see campers braving the weather for those three days: those folks are real Montanans.
The vast distances encountered in the state, the 4th-largest in America, also affect the lives of Montanans. The distance from Libby, near the state’s northwest border with Idaho, to the eastern border with North Dakota, is 750 miles or so by highway, and it’s hundreds of miles from the Wyoming border north to Canada. At its widest, the distance across Montana is the same as the distance from Chicago, a midwest town, to Washington, D.C. on the East Coast. And we have an array of ecosystems along the way. We have mountains and plains, rain forest and high desert. Great rivers like the Missouri and the Columbia have their headwaters here. We have the Continental Divide, Glacier and Yellowstone Parks. And we have the Great Plains.
Weather, distance, and geography all make the Treasure State a special place, and our folks are pretty special, too: you know you’re a Montanan when:
—You like to soak outside in a natural hot springs even if it’s so cold your wet hair freezes.
—You never put winter clothes away and look for firewood year round.
—You know droughts don’t last forever, and flood plains aren’t good places to build homes.
—You know how many cords of wood it will take to get through the winter.
—Without blinking an eye, you drive hundreds of miles to shop, camp fish, or for a rodeo or concert.
—You wave at other drivers when traveling back roads.
—Slowing down on the road for a herd of cattle, sheep, or even bison, is no big deal.
—You work three jobs at a time and consider it normal.
—You measure distance on a road trip in hours and minutes, not miles.
—You know people who while driving have hit deer, elk, moose or cattle.
—You’ve gone to the grocery store on a snowmobile.
—You’ve buried the speedometer while cruising Montana’s highways.
—You carry a roll of toilet paper in the jockey box for emergency roadside stops.
—You know the difference between the west slope and the east slope.
—You’ve eaten Rocky Mountain Oysters just after the branding.
—You shop for Hutterite chickens and turkeys.
—The Going-to-the-Sun and Beartooth highways don’t scare you.
—You know the Jersey Lily Bar.
—Gun shows are a family event, and so is gopher hunting.
—The start of the fishing and big game seasons are pretty much state holidays.
—You’re suntan starts at your hands and ends just above your elbows.
—The Cat-Griz game is as important as the Super Bowl.
—Most pickup trucks you see have gun racks.
—To make time on a drive, and to avoid a ticket, you drive the speed limit plus seven.
—Neighborhood visits from wildlife like deer, antelope, and even bear are nothing to get excited about.
—You park beneath underpasses to avoid hail damage.
—You say spendy, not pricy.
—You know how to pronounce the names of places like Havre, Butte, and Meagher County.
—You say crick, not creek.
—You know all about Saint Patty’s Day in Butte.
—You don’t brake for gophers.
—You’ve survived all three days of Rockin’ the Rivers.
—You break out the barbeque when the first Chinook hits.
—You’re ready to plug your car in during the winter.
—You know what amber waves of grain really look like.
—You tell North Dakota jokes.
—You know the Native Americans from the Browning area are Blackfeet, not Blackfoot.
—You hardly notice the wind in Livingston.