Montana

June 22nd, 2014. Categories / Montana

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.

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Delta’s Mecca.

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.

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Mother and son inspecting a flattened skunk.
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Pepè le Dead.
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Wild flowers.
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Mother and son.
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Backyard horses.
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Hot house.
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Feeders.
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A cabin made entirely of paper and found objects that my uncle made.
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The interior.

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.

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Mission control.
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The M.
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Hidden house.
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An unusual amount of goats.
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Smokey’s forecast.
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A trail view.
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Uncle ascension.
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Rain arriving in Bozeman valley.
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The whitewashed rocks of the M.
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Heading down the trail during intermittent rain.
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A festering mass of tent caterpillars.
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The happy goat herder.
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An abandoned grain facility.
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Silo horizon.
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Old flour ad.
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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.

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Former hospital, now convalescent home.
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A grain elevator torn by cable.
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Old building of Broadview, MT.
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Cube building, diagonal door.
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Pink church.
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Hotel.
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A poorly maintained frontage.
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Endless road.
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Big sky.
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Flatwillow Creek.
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The prophet returns.
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The old Sharkey place.
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Gas tank.
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The Sharkey driveway looking into infinity.
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Porch piano.
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Ivy exterior.
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A fox lives under this shed.
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Upstairs.
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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.

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Tractor? I hardly know her!
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A dirt path.
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Farm cat.
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Farm dog. The best dog.
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Suddenly, truck.
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Driveway.
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Mystery limb.
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Vader and the chicken killer.
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The old sheep barn.
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Double door.
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Hooks of unusual sizes.
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ATV.
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Endless grass.
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Father resting in the old farm house.
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Heading to “Pike’s Peak” on an ATV with the dog shepherding me.
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There’s a lot of ground to cover.
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A view of the ranch from “Pike’s Peak”.
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Slow.
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Half of the most gorgeous rainbow I’ve ever seen.
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The other half.
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Fire in the sky.
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A single, bold cow stairs with skepticism as the herd runs away.
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Ruts.
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This house was moved from the ranch into Winnett when money was tight.
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Old storefront.
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Part three of a house crossing the weight limit of a bridge in Winnett.
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The failed “Red” homestead.
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A view from Flatwillow cemetery.
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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.

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Touring an abandoned farm while the mosquitoes sleep.
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Old tool shed.
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Old van.
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Mother and son on a stroll.
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Catering trailer.

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.

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My first construction experience.
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Grindage.
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Bros.
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A breakfast break to avoid blood sausage.

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.

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My private drum set.
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A “shortcut” back to the ranch.

On Thursday, the RV people arrived. Then the tent people.

On Friday, my uncle, mother, sister, and J. The Old Sharkey Place was full.

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Mother.
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B.
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Two generations.
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Sunset over the new house.
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Slide ladies.
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Cross stitch.
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Dog kennels.
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Feeding the barn cats and hoping they’d come out to say hi.

The weekend was full of family visiting, cribbage, and history.

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Walking from ranch to ranch.
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I’m such a cow.
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Mother in the field.
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Family approaches the peak for some initial carving in the sandstone.
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A carver.
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Jump buddies.
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Old milking equipment.
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Old jars.
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Gas powered iron. What could possibly go wrong?
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Starting work on the massive family tree.
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My dad got Kristyn Harris to come all the way from Texas to perform some western standards.
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Bros.
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What a lot of marriage looks like.
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What mother and son looks like.
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What a few years of marriage looks like.
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Sisters enjoying some old family stories.
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The “finished” family tree.
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Airstream sunset.

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.

7 Comments


Is adding names to the family tree picture you took possible__ For one Robert Johnkes wife wasn’t added. It should read May{Secora)Johnke. Then under Arlene Bonds family there should be a couple Annie Bernhard spouse Ryan Seelye under Annies name if possibloe could you do this, /Thanks, love: grandma

Leslie Daum:

Beautfully captures the family, farm and the beauty of Montana.

Daniel Daum:

Thanks Nephew,
These are awesome!

Reese Mlekush:

Loved all the great photos. Very nostalgic for me. It was almost like I got to be there. Great job!

Sandi Gonzalez:

I will add those names to family tree. It is hanging in Jim’s garage. He said he’s going to leave it there for right now. I’m sure there are others that were missed or incorrect info.

Sandi Gonzalez:

I forgot to say, great job nik

Randy Mlekush:

You are a gifted photographer and writer! Time paused, and even melted away, as I looked at your beautiful pictures and read your poetic prose. I remember almost every site you photographed, and it brought back a flood of memories. It was great to see Rod, Dan and Gary together. Marie–you still look incredible! You are ageless! Our families were friends for so many years. We played cribbage (sp?) with the Johnke “boys” (they taught us how), and Lois was one mean cook! What a wonderful treat to view your entire photo montage and read about your family reunion. Winnett looks so very different from when we were in high school. Time writes its own story, doesn’t it? It sounds like you all had a good time reminiscing and visiting. Thank for sharing.

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