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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: July 8, 2021

Antique Cowboys

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



**********

Mike and I recently returned from a two and a half week camping loop from our home to Seattle for a joyful reunion with our daughter and her husband after a year without any visits, due to Covid. Our outbound trip was not without adventures, but was relatively unremarkable. Our trip back, however, saw the â€heat dome†that drastically altered our plans in Seattle follow us, state by state, home. We are fortunate our little trailer has air conditioning because daytime temperatures as high as 109 made things miserable. Pretty startling when the sand at a wayside in eastern Washington was so hot it was burning our dog's feet. It was not good outdoor activity weather and we missed a lot of things we'd have done or seen while on the road as a result.

We stopped for the night one afternoon along Highway 2, a new route to us, near Saco, MT. The stop was planned given the length of each day's drive, and that's based on how long Janie can sit still. Not long. Saco has a population of 224. Its claim to fame is â€Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs,†and we stayed in a recently created camping area next to the Sleeping Buffalo resort. The resort is a series of interconnected low older buildings, which contain some swimming pools that the hot spring water is pumped into for the use of the visitors, apparently unchlorinated. The information we got says â€pools are emptied and cleaned every evening.†That would probably be wise as the thought of a bunch of strangers soaking in 108 degree water together struck me as rather unsanitaryâ€.sort of like a human broth.

At any rate we did not avail ourselves of this experience, since it was already as hot as a blast furnace. When we pulled in to register, another camper next to us was sort of dancing around. When Mike got out of the truck this camper said, â€Hope you got bug spray because the mosquitoes are terrible.â€

Both Mike and I shrugged off this warning. I grew up in the epicenter of mosquito territory, and nothing scares me anymore. Until now.

The mosquitoes were horrific. They were big, relentless and came in large convoys. It was startling because the camping area was starkly sunlit (no shade,) hot as hell, devoid of visible water and there was a 15 mph wind blowing †â€no fly†conditions for the mosquitoes I am familiar with. I quickly retreated to the trailer and scrubbed the idea of grilling dinner outside. Mike bravely sprayed himself with Deep River Off and took the dogs for a walk. He reported the spray worked for a remarkably short time. The lady in the office attributed the mosquitoes to the â€lake†nearby but we couldn't see anything like a lake. I suspect the mosquitoes have their own access to these 108 degree spring waters and that they are ideal for reproduction.

At any rate we had to reconsider dinner plans. We have avoided restaurants even though we are vaccinated (especially in states with low vaccination rates) but it was only 3:30. Mike checked with the office lady and she recommended a good â€steak place†some distance away. We decided if we went early (even pre-senior citizen time,) we could probably be in and out before it got busy and would thus be low risk.

The steakhouse was on a narrow dusty main street, an ancient wooden building straight out of a western except it lacked swinging doors. When we walked in around 4 p.m., I noticed the distressed wooden floors. Not fake distress, real distress there. The big airy room contained a long bar, a few low and high tables, a bartender and an elderly guy at the end of the bar. Both were talkative, and we enjoyed chatting with them as we tried a Montana brewed beer. The man asked the bartender a couple of times where â€Joe†was and why was Joe late. Finally â€Joe†showed up and joined the man at the end of the bar.

I had a hard time taking my eyes off them. (Off course there was little else for me to people watch, only one other couple came in during our time there.) The bartender told us the place used to hop when the Amtrack passenger train used to stop across the street, presumably to drop off passengers for the Buffalo Springs resort, but that it was pretty quiet now. I'll say. Saturday night, not much in the way of competing businesses, and this place was totally dead.

We ordered and ate fairly quickly. While we did, Joe and his buddy drank four whisky and cokes, and did shots in between. They traded off buying for each other. Twice they went out through the front door with their drinks to have a smoke. Each time they invited the bartender to join them. She was apparently used to their antics and told them, â€No, I don't want to die of lung cancer.†They thought this was a pretty funny retort. I guess so, since they were both old as the hills and obviously not living a real healthy lifestyle, but were still kicking. Both walked slowly and a little shaky on their feet, but given that they both looked to be in their 80's, I don't think that was just the alcohol at work. They talked loudly about the weather, the price of cattle, goings on around town (this was a short conversation,) and other general topics. When we departed around 5, they were still at it and there were seven total people in the big room - and that included the bartender, the waitress and the cook.

The myth of the west is hard working, hard-drinking cowboys. There are plenty of stories about cowboys depending on their horses to get them home after a hard night at the saloon. (I believe these stories. Horses do know their way home and in the absence of any contrary guidance from the rider a horse on a loose rein will absolutely go home.) Unfortunately these two wranglers were probably were going to drive one of the ancient dusty pickups on Main Street. We made our way safely back to the mosquito infested campground after an evening to remember †not for great food, but for a look at a couple of museum quality cowboys, a rarity these days.

Sitting in the trailer later I thought up a marketing idea for Saco. They could do a reality show, a test of endurance. During a blistering summer month, contestants first spend an hour in the hot springs swimming pool. Then they must endure two hours in a lawn chair in their swim attire with no bug spray in the campground as the mosquitoes feast on their par-boiled flesh. Then bus the survivors to the saloon, where they must down four whisky cokes and then four shots, before walking around the block. This would be a true test of endurance and I can imagine a throng of people coming to Saco to watch. Joe and his buddy would be barred from participating, since they'd probably win.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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