We bounce up the gravel road, some miles from where it leaves the pavement behind. Before the ride is out something will puncture the right front tire on this American-made Ford F150. We will notice it later in the evening, as it settles slowly to earth after our return home. For now though the vehicle is big and the ride as comfortable as can be.
“Better than in the old truck,” says our host. It is a statement I cannot vouch for, but tolerable, given the track.
The world, this far from human habitat, is stunning and full of life. On the ride in we see little save the landscape, the barren fields already cut, the dusty road long without rain. It is Montana, the shrubbery low and the trees hidden in valleys. Our destination is a ranch house tucked, in the style of Rivendell, into an invisible cavity in the rolling hills. Surrounded by trees and filled with family and cats it is a secret sanctuary amid the brown of felled hay and wheat.
On the way home in the dark the same path has come alive. After the sun set the cats disappeared into the night, only to be roused by our headlights as we bounce out the driveway. Young and gray the kittens skitter across in front of our paths, and we all warn the driver, instinctively. They are too precious to risk, and he is well aware.
In the dark the animals of the wilderness grow bold, traveling with comfort along the nice track left by humans through this wilderness. We see one skunk, thankfully quiet, and a pair of porcupines, separate and strange in the darkness. They are creatures whose shapes surprise me, and it falls to others to guess correctly what the shadow are before the headlights find them. A group of deer bound across the road in front of us, young and skittish they proceed away with uncertain bounds. Last there is an unidentified creature, a dark shape of dog or wolf or coyote but with long tail, with strange motion. We stop and turn the car towards it, but the motion is lost in the weeds and we find nothing, nosing the Ford up into the dirt. Again I am impressed by the vehicle, by the ability to nose up and into the rocks. This detour may cost us a tire, but it is a demonstration of the value of size, of wheelbase and clearance. The Fit, much loved and well-traveled, would not fare well on these roads.
And so it is we return to Billings, to the small house that is our house for a few days of weddings, introductions, and celebrations. Good times and back yards, sunshine, stereos, pickups meant for four, and a landscape suitable.