Early on a Saturday morning, I woke naturally and looked at my phone to see how much longer before the alarm went off. It should have sounded an hour ago, and now it was thirty minutes before my 6AM flight to Montana.
Luckily, I knew getting to the airport in time was a lost cause, so there was no need to rush.
J drove me to the airport and waited with me in a Kafkaesque line for the airline service counter. After half an hour or more of waiting, I was put on standby for my flights.
The first flight departed around ten, and I got a seat without issue. But once I got to Salt Lake City, I waited for a few hours to learn that the next flight out had no seats and that the next (and last) was six hours later.
After eight hours, I had strolled through most of the SLC’s terminals and browsed most of the non depressing sites of the internet.
Arriving twelve hours later than expected messed up some plans, so my father picked me up and we drove the two hours into Bozeman to stay with my Grandmother.
Mother and son inspecting a flattened skunk.
Pepè le Dead.
Mother and son.
A cabin made entirely of paper and found objects that my uncle made.
For dinner on the first night, we ate beef from a cow I had met at the family ranch a year prior. Her name was Delicious McDeadington the Cow.
On the next day, we drove to the foothills to climb a trail to the Bozeman “M”, a literal M written in whitewashed rocks on the hillside.
Near the road was an excessive amount of goats. The combined sound of their munching sounded like a forest fire.
My uncle and I huffed and puffed up the steep trail, trying to beat the rain that was moving towards us. Moderate success.
An unusual amount of goats.
A trail view.
Rain arriving in Bozeman valley.
The whitewashed rocks of the M.
Heading down the trail during intermittent rain.
A festering mass of tent caterpillars.
The happy goat herder.
An abandoned grain facility.
Old flour ad.
A well maintained frontage.
On Monday morning, my father and I stopped at a convalescent hospital to visit a relative. We clearly looked suspicious with our flat caps and long hair, and wandering the hallways felt like a scene from a movie. Our target was still sleeping.
The drive to Flatwillow took a few hours, first passing through Billings and then north through vast grassland and small, dying towns.
For the first few nights, only father and son stayed in a property always referred to as “The Old Sharkey Place.” The white house and its support buildings were neighbors to the family ranch about a mile down a dirt road. They were the only two properties visible in the vast grassy plain.
Former hospital, now convalescent home.
A grain elevator torn by cable.
Old building of Broadview, MT.
Cube building, diagonal door.
A poorly maintained frontage.
The prophet returns.
The old Sharkey place.
The Sharkey driveway looking into infinity.
A fox lives under this shed.
Old fridge logo.
The first day at the ranch was mellow. I reconnected with the friendliest border collie and tried to ingratiate myself with a variety of skittish barn cats. I took the ATV out on a ride and enjoyed the scenery.
Shortly, we were put to work whacking weeds, mowing, and pruning trees.
Tractor? I hardly know her!
A dirt path.
Farm dog. The best dog.
Vader and the chicken killer.
The old sheep barn.
Hooks of unusual sizes.
Father resting in the old farm house.
Heading to “Pike’s Peak” on an ATV with the dog shepherding me.
There’s a lot of ground to cover.
A view of the ranch from “Pike’s Peak”.
Half of the most gorgeous rainbow I’ve ever seen.
The other half.
Fire in the sky.
A single, bold cow stairs with skepticism as the herd runs away.
This house was moved from the ranch into Winnett when money was tight.
Part three of a house crossing the weight limit of a bridge in Winnett.
The failed “Red” homestead.
A view from Flatwillow cemetery.
Inside the hall.
My grandmother and uncle arrived on Tuesday.
We visited the small cemetery near the rim rocks and an abandoned farm near Flatwillow Creek. There were a lot of dead animal carcasses lying around and one living rabbit. I suspect the rabbit is a monster.
I got off yard work to help my uncle build a bathroom in the basement of the old house. My assisting duties involved finding tools, changing bits, cutting studs, screwing, ceiling demolition, and taking secret cookie breaks.
Once more relatives started arriving, a small group went on a greasy trip down memory lane to one of the only restaurants in Winnett. The two employees were old and in ill health. The hostess/cook had been a student of my great uncle when she was younger and insisted that he come in to visit sometime.
After breakfast, I got dropped off at Flatwillow Hall so that I could play drums. My lack of rhythm didn’t stop the joy of playing drums in an old hall in the middle of nowhere.
After an hour, I locked up and walked back to the ranch as turkey vultures circled overhead.
On Thursday, the RV people arrived. Then the tent people.
On Friday, my uncle, mother, sister, and J. The Old Sharkey Place was full.
The weekend was full of family visiting, cribbage, and history.
Walking from ranch to ranch.
I’m such a cow.
Mother in the field.
Family approaches the peak for some initial carving in the sandstone.
Old milking equipment.
Gas powered iron. What could possibly go wrong?
Starting work on the massive family tree.
My dad got Kristyn Harris to come all the way from Texas to perform some western standards.
What a lot of marriage looks like.
What mother and son looks like.
What a few years of marriage looks like.
Sisters enjoying some old family stories.
The “finished” family tree.
The last night, numerous bats swooped around the Old Sharkey Place.
J suffered from food poisoning, and I sleep poorly because I thought I had it too.
On the last day, we sleepily avoided the catered food. My father had somehow convinced a young singer to come all the way from Texas to perform for the family. She was excellent and full of energy. My uncle jammed along on two of the songs with either fiddle or harmonica. Both musicians played by ear.
I love the family and I love the ranch. It’s sad to see both aging, but without a DeLorean there’s not much I can do about it.