Inter Canem et Lupum
I went insane, you know. It was a certain trip down the breadth of the
eastern Rocky Mountain front that affected a cure. It took several trips
actually, continental divide road undergoings of sorts. A more detached
trip I speak of in particular resolved quite a bit. The point of origin
and the destination became lost factors. Babb, Livingston, rivers and
divides between rendezvouses. Running away, running back, running the
road, the roadhouses, the rivers and ranges back and forth, time and
again, Glacier to Yellowstone, Yellowstone to Glacier, bivouacked
between. It took two years of Montana corridor roadwork to set things
straight. How couldn t it make a man better to see so much of something
that is beyond words, a cajoled bunch of feelings set free down the
Montana mountain front. Nomadic urges satisfied. Widths of bunchgrass
love fluvvering under an overthrus
t of mountains blown free in chinook
wind. Therapy. A modern road drive through sad paradise, on the
Montana road. Down the front, someday back up, many different ways between jobs and ranches, up and down
the cordillera envisioning a secure home.
A vanquished native may get strung out in Great Falls at the Shuggat Bar
with the Desmouraux sisters if he takes the Electric City route. Augusta
or Elliston may be equally exciting. Rural women. Open country.
Shelterbelts of whiskey. Running the west side route over Seely and into
Swan can rift a man into the reality of eastward ramble getting back to
the front, waking up in Butte, at least near Butte. Daughters of Irish
immigrants and French voyageurs look for Hi-line drifters in these
places. Daughters, great granddaughters now of immigrants who swarmed
here in passions to work the enterprise of a big sky frontier. With the
Indians the fur trappings started it all, then came the mining, smelting,
soon farming and ranching haled lost folk westward, planting them in
Butte, the worlds richest hill or Great Falls, the hub of the Golden
Triangle, most anywhere betwixt would do. The frontier mystique lives in
displaced generations. Lost and here.
These early frontiersmen had kids, descendants of Europeans, of Natives,
some inexorably intertwined. The new age children born in Montana
became hooked on the clime, the social clime somehow mingled unseparable
from geographical and atmospheric patterns. Usening to the cold and wind
they stayed, lingering clung forever, waiting for something like love,
something like license. The blown snow and frost attached them somehow
to the land itself. Held here thus they remain, healthy and robust,
living scanty but well to this day, stricken to a Montana nothingness
unlike families that propagate forever in moneyed wealth in Boston or
Long Island. The wealth here is different, not measured in dollars,
measured in sky. We have radix in Montana, but unlike easterners who
in eastern seaboard banking, we have unsettled roots, rambled
in bunchgrass, chiseled deep into flitting veins of gold. New age
legacies of the Treasure State wandering, panning for glib hidden
treasures, sometimes finding a fresh
vein. We relate in Great Falls or Butte or Dupuyer or White Sulpher
Springs. We find our Montana valley and roam, singing the Montana life
as our families work the hardened land, kneading us into it, or
dreadfully at times running us off.
Singing helps our souls when runs happen as they do. We sing native
country blues, Montana style. Some sing better than others. Nasal sex,
tones bent, sustained, driven, the Desmouraux sisters harmonize, snap
you, wailing blue better than any songstresses this end of Native. Mitis
actually. Missouri River headwaters country. Frontier.
If you remember their names, Jeri and Chantal, you may be in for a big
night after the music waifs, maybe not. Monday nights in Great Falls
resolve around who s playing at the Shuggat. It is Karaoke at the other
live music bars and it just isn t clear-eyed on the frontier to waste
time in Karaoke bars. Few, if any, native legacies hang there. There is
no frontier in Karaoke bars. For those in the know and on the gold pan
loop it is the Desmouraux sisters and the Shuggat, Electric City Monday.
If it ain t the Shuggat, fuggat. The motto on the shirts the help and
regulars wear. Disheveled smiles, genetic drift, live music, all
Blue Montana roadhouses like this have an illiterate visual atmosphere
that Bukowski would consider literate, cultured indeed. Others are not
of this opinion, but the words and thoughts pass and mingle here,
acquaintant and conversant. Jack logged time in Butte on his Kerouacian
road, couldn t remember what to write about the place, didn t much. Put
a finger on it here at the Shuggat. Drifters riding the rail, some
playing off the rail, derailed in Montana, home nonetheless.
Even Charlie jotted down decadence, in additi
on to his paintings he
wrote, but his wife Nancy put the crimp on ribald stories of the Mint, of
Montana. Men s lives shifted from mountains to towns. Stray women and
stories left his paintings, but the words are there in his art.
Possibilities still exist, now as then. The Indians sing on reviving
antiquity. Charlie painted that bright. His paintings hang behind the
Shuggat mahogany, once real, now replica. Montana history lingers. This
night in the Shuggat it is oral history. The Desi sisters, sculpted
noses, black eyes, performing in tongues, singing last confessions.
It has been a long weekend on the Missouri. The convivial contingent
doesn t realize the girls are dolled and lonely. It makes it easy for a
native to slip in. The road moves. Accouterments, stiff drinks, thrum,
slips in the local canaille, Montana. Open band night, spontaneous music
licks and curls, big, cheap speakers placed away, awry. Stage lights
kindle beams through smoking desires. The Desi girls get their
voyaguering lips on the mikes, licking and curling, tongue rolls, coyote
French, vocal a la Jeri et Chantal.
Shelterbelt Slim has coaxed me here, no arm twisting necessary. He
brought me here thinking, knowing I would like the atmosphere as bemused
as I had become. Born in Rapelje, this is big city, bright lights.
Jumping to the stage he yowls his shelterbelt blues, the Desi vocals back
him up like a Buntline .45. Sweetness in the Shuggat commotion. The
crowd mumbles to silence as the women hit pitch, Shelterbelt fingers his
bluesy ax. Montana.
A few fine dressers are in attendance giving the place an awkward
semblance of responsibility as they ply the derailment brigade. Fluffs,
foofs, and tans mingle with tattoos, T-shirts, and buckles. Cowboy
boots, controvertible creased hats, leather. Heat. Ice. Vapor and
smoke. The air bleeds sweet grass through the back door. Walk outside,
visit with stoked women, bar ice clinking to stars in the summer night
amidst facades of sur
real mountains. Gloaming breezes blow channeled
wisdom astray. Back inside hard liquor dribbles through the crowd, music
jams the jiggers of whiskey and schnapps, Great Falls Select. Everyone
is loosened. It is Monday. Because it is Monday they are loosened,
celebrating yet another Montana summer week rolled over, gone and here
again. Lost but happy. Home for now, forever home, Montana, learning it
is not somebody they should be, but nobody.
There are people with lives here that don t rely on Tuesday. Other place
towns care more about weekdays, especially Tuesday, but here in Great
Falls or any Montana farm or ranch town after a good Monday rain Tuesdays
don t much matter. One is in the loop here on a Monday. Tuesday will
surface soon enough.
The sun comes up early on summer Tuesdays in Montana. I know of one
rising sun followed by a month or two of others, getting the feel of
being a nobody.
I left those Great Falls city lights on a Tuesday headed into a sunrise.
The skylight was between dog and wolf, inter canem et lupum. Jeri was
with me, I with her, de facto adrift.
Hook up with the Desi Jeri sister and undergo a month of daybroke
Tuesdays if everything poems true. Sharpest looking of the two, she has
a Missouri River glint in her eye that wanders like her people. I
happened on to knowing her better between one of the unscheduled blues
breaks, catching her wandering eye with mine. Slim introduced me to her,
formally connecting our attentions. Rambling a roadhouse swing our
Montana roadhouse reality began.
Our spontaneous disquisition left on a Tuesday driven east into summer
solstice sunrise to return on a fall equinox near a Tuesday, several
roads and Mondays later. It was a fine detour on one of those Babb to
Livingston trips between lives, between somebodies. A simple talk of the
sun and it's bearing had Jeri s hormones coursing mine. She decided we
were having solstice biorhythms, something I couldn t deny. Her cocaine
we snorted off the back
of her guitar in the band room made everything
perfectly clear, those bastards had been lying to us all the time about
something we couldn t remember, best we hit the road. Together we quit
our latest routine, tumbling through Montana we wandered away.
It was the perfect night for leaving. Hidden sunspots flared magnetized
kalideoscope shards into the night sky, the aurora borealis towered over
starnight in steep stippled shimmers up into the big open North. Montana
cosmic connectedness ensued, something natives conjure up with few qualms
if only under a big sky.
Jeri had just acquired a preened 65 GTO that she somehow finagled off a
used car salesman on Smelter Drive. He financed the outfit on the basis
of a portfolio of Jeri posters dated sporadically through the last two
years proclaiming Desi sister gigs scattered across the Montana plain.
She yodeled the man a lascivious song, plopped down $500, and was off the
charts in a Goat on a Monday. Another Desi tongue roll. He was left in
a pipe dream unfolding crumpled cash amidst a popped whiff of leaded
exhaust. This was the selfsame lucky Monday I showed up on one of those
east side Rocky Mountain Front misbehaviors.
The sportster Goat had a floor shifter with a finger formed oaken handle,
abalone inlay. The rig was 30 years old and we were about a decade
older, give or take a few years staved off by timestill addictions.
Those years on the hook somehow just don t count. I wasn t counting,
Jeri was, counting and subtracting, time was running, we d missed too
much. Talked down to a sweet young age we resolved to leave the eclectic
city for a goodwhile. We were not sure why we were leaving town or where
exactly we would be going or for how long. Nonetheless it felt right,
one of those pheromonal intertellings, a native reality. We set our
worries on the mahogany bar of the Shuggat, up and simply left them there
in elbow grooves for the sodden philosophers to contemplate and reflect
upon until our return.
We went t
o her place first, Hill 57. She rounded up all the important
things necessary for our fortuitous Montana roadhouse tour, attitude
mostly, more marching dust to start the trip out. She gathered money,
old beau s credit cards, cultured clothes, lots of underwear and socks.
The frenetic Goat had red Cherry Bombs for mufflers. Their superfluous
growl carried us through the moonless night avenues of old Great Falls.
Sonared purls of combustion echoed through sad leafed trees that guarded
the ancient dim streetlamps and yellowbrick homes. She drove me on to my
brother s ranch where I had parked my truck for the night. My
chauffeuress smiled, winked, regret gone. I loaded up my cache, satchels
of journals and books, clothes and underwear, a pistol I hid deep in my
bookbag, no ammo, Ziess binoculars, two sports coats, three hats, two
pairs of shades, a golden Cross pen, a pewter flask of Rebel Yell.
Treasure State treasures. We rolled out of town as the first stirrings
of economy tilted the Electric City to its afterlife. Surfacing to the
day we shifted the inlay, down the road we coursed.
The contraband was sniquered up 30 miles east. The roadsign said
Raynesford, delicate Jeri fingernails full, gone. The eastmorn solar
flares shot dog to wolf and the Northern Lights staggered down the wolven
vista. We road stopped to watch the sunrise, topped out on a rolling
plain east of Raynesford. On by Geyser. Sunflares eclipsed the penumbra
of big open. Russell country in morning. Buzzed into the solstice we
strayed. Soon it was Stanford and the Stardust Inn, midmorn.
Rehabilitated as we were we secured a room for day rate and this part of
the story of Montana immigrant greatgone grandchildren begins. Native
nomads buried in stardust. The beginnings of a month of Tuesdays always
precluded by a Monday night somewhere within the High, Wide, and
Where we went really doesn t matter, nor what we did. It is best you
imagine all the things we d
id in the 65 GTO with the retrograde back
window. Imagine is what I do these days. My recall wanders, taking
myself back, where we went, how we got there. It happened all so right.
We did Montana, the bivouacs, the singing, the instinctual and innate.
Indian rodeos, hot springs, boiling rivers, breathless rills, summer
Mondays were always special wherever we went. Fescued to varied and
small towns we always made it a point to forego a room for riparian
accomadations. We would do the time between dog and wolf on Tuesday
mornings, divested and long gone in the Goat, or on it, near it,
nobodies. Jeri s glinted eye would wander all over those mornings,
chasing primal sunbeams to the stars of her ancestors. She never really
even knew her eye could do that or did. But I did. By now I have
forgotten which eye it was. It really doesn t matter which eye it was,
what mattered was that all our senses were exhilarated and all the
rapture of our wolf lost inter canem et lupum. The Montana reality of
In time we had to return. We had families and friends that were waiting
for us somewhere between Livingston and Babb. Occasionally a somebody
spotted us. Reports and rumors filtered back through the moccasin
telegraph. We had other Montana lives we were expected to live and
since our return we have lived them. Better. Wiser. I know. I slipped
into the Shuggat on an anonymous Monday of late and when the clock struck
Tuesday I looked for the Desi eye glint and waver, but she had wandered.
Pitched stage light filtered through blue smoke to an empty stage, the
only music poolballs dropping, rolling, clacking slack and whist. Jeri
sings on somewhere gone. I make my lucid stop and move on, driving and
sleeping in ditches of Montana sky. Up, down the Rocky Mountain front,
lost again somewhere between Babb and Livingston . . .