This is a tour through the streets of St. Marie, Montana:
I had grand plans for St. Marie. I’d read this article, and had visions of sinners living next to saints, and grand clashes. Machine-gun toting sovereign citizens cruising past yards full of kneeling, praying, gray-haired old ladies.
In truth, those clashes seem to be happening more on paper. I stopped by the Town Hall / Condo Office to see if I could snag an interview; instead, I just listened to someone on a 20-minute phone call about tax records.
Like any pre-constructed story, mine continued to fall apart. The town’s population has more than doubled since I last visited 12 years ago, and they aren’t all sweet Christian senior citizens. There were plenty of families and more rowdy groups (though it was pouring most of the time and I couldn’t grab anyone for an interview to actually determine their religion or citizenship status…), and, as is often the case in real life, I couldn’t sort any of them handily into “sinner” or “saint.”
On to my next story…
This is how it feels to encounter a boarded-up Catholic church on a stormy day in Montana:
My next stop was Sleeping Buffalo campground, in northern Montana, twenty minutes from the reservation where I found the above church. Twelve years ago, this had been one of the most terrifying nights; the ancient hot springs was located in an only-slightly-less ancient room with a sulfur-stained mural, dark corners, and the loudest growling, grumbling pipes you ever heard. Running away from that into the campground had taken me past a ramshackle bar with a big sign out front reading “BUDWEISER Welcome Hunters!”
Here’s the luxurious gloriousness of it now:
The campground and sketchy saloon still looked the same, and the motel is possibly still only halfway done, but the poolroom is deluxe. I had a comfortable soak, and a wonderful night’s sleep.
Which actually was not what I was looking for. I was kind of hoping for another test of my bravery.
The irony? That church that I passed on the way in? In the back, there was not one but two ways into the building. I could have snuck down into the dark basement, or leapt up a bit into the pried-open back door, only slightly made harder due to the lack of stairs. If that was the bravery test I was looking for, man, did I fail. (But if it was an intelligence test, I think the fact that I didn’t go solo-adventuring into a condemned building works in my favor.)
Anyway. Nothing was what I expected, and I should have expected that. We all know you can never return home; I’m thinking you can never return anywhere.
Unless that home or anywhere is the House on the Rock.
This is what happens when dolls ride carousels (House on the Rock):
This place… Exactly as transporting as it was the first time. The mix of awe, wonder, and sheer whackadoo is just perfect.
I’d pay good money for a stylized blueprint of the place; as usual, I got completely lost.
On a rainy Monday afternoon, Spot and I had the place mostly to ourselves for most of the way. I was able to sit in the carousel room and just take picture after picture of the spinning wonder.
When a few folks did appear, we just took a few steps back.This is what it’s like to walk through the circus portion of House on the Rock in the middle of a thunderstorm, when the place is completely empty (full screen and volume for best effect):
Of course, that scarcity of people meant that no interviews took place… And you know what? I’m glad. My narrative is pivoting; all the pre-conceived notions I had were creating very leading questions (“So what do YOU think of this divisiveness in America…”), and I need a moment to recalibrate.
I still want to talk to people… okay, no I don’t, I want to enjoy The House on the Rock over and over again with no one else around… OOO THEY SHOULD RENT IT OUT FOR OVERNIGHTS I WONDER IF THEY DO… but I still NEED to talk to people.
And I will. It’s outside my nature, so I’ll have to push myself, but those interviews will happen. I just need a moment to see if I can pull my own story expectations out of the questions. Let it be what it will be.
And maybe that’s not possible. Maybe my desire for a pat story will always insert itself. We’ll see.