By Michael – Before flying to Europe last August, I had a goodbye dinner with a small group of friends in Los Angeles and also made a trip to my hometown of Billings, Montana to say goodbye to my 90 year old mother and my favourite cousin Terry Anne.
Terry Anne and I had a wonderful time just chatting, getting caught up and sampling craft beers in the new brew pub district of Billings on Montana Ave. The header photo here is of the brewmaster at the consistently award-winning Überbrew, who gave Terry Anne and me a tour of the backroom brewery. Even though Montana grows many tons of wheat and barley every year, this brew pub was importing some of their grains from a particular district in Germany because they believed these European ingredients gave a unique flavour to their beers, which were indeed delicious.
My mother of course has no earthly idea what the hell I am doing, but we had a nice visit that produced her first selfie, a photo that seemed to delight everyone who saw it. When I sent her a note telling her that my friends thought she was beautiful and that my editor had called her a “goddess,” she seemed surprised, flattered and bemused all at the same time. God bless her.
Montana is a special place, unique in the world. It is the fourth largest state in the US with nearly 150,000 sq. mi., the same size as Germany, but still has a population of barely 1 million. The definitive book about this amazing state is “The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology,” which includes within it’s 800 pages poetry, historical journal entries, essays, short stories, novelas and more. This priceless collection was brilliantly edited by William “Bill” Kittredge and Annick Smith. Kittredge was my excellent creative writing professor at the University of Montana, although he bears no responsibility for my wayward prose.
The late Richard Hugo, perhaps Montana’s best known poet, makes a statement in “Last Best Place” that I think captures in one sentence that which is so special about Montana. From memory: “In Montana, failure doesn’t mean a damned thing.”
That statement may be difficult for some folks to understand, but it speaks to the way that Montana, where nature is so ubiquitous on either side of the Continental Divide as to be almost numinous, changes one’s perception of what matters in life.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, people used to ask me about the greatest difference between LA and Montana. For me, the answer was the sense of time. In Montana, time is vast and geologic. In the great cities of our world, time is finite and is driven by machines and electronics. This is a difference not just in the sense of time, but in the sense of life and the values that define it’s meaning.
The dinner in LA was not just a goodbye party, but a celebration of a visit by my friend Paola from Buenos Aires, who I would see again in Argentina in December, spending Christmas with Paola and her family. Since I also have many wonderful Argentine friends living in LA, one of them, Horacio Weschler, the owner of Lala’s Argentine Grill on trendy Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, hosted our dinner and joined us at the table.
A slideshow with a few photos follows, including Mom’s selfie and the obligatory shot of a six-pack of genuine Moose Drool beer, an “only in Montana” kind of thing!