Beautiful Surprises


I have an abscess in the back of my throat and a fever that annoys more than concerns, so a morning of driving and photographing sounded preferable to a morning of locked-in-a-small-house-with-wild-two-year-old-boy.


The drenching kind of morning light we had driven through just thirty minutes earlier was mostly gone. The Suburban slipped on ice in places as I drove into the shadow of the sugar beet factory and took a few pictures of the mess. It’s a few blocks down from our house and days like this one it makes inside of my house smell like something died underneath it.


My childhood was mostly spent in Dayton Ohio- full of huge, old, shut down factory buildings made out of brick and corrugated steel just like this one is. They mostly stood empty and graffitied.

I like that this one still runs.


Billings is spread in a low valley along the Yellowstone River and is walled in on two sides by sandstone cliffs. Unlike Dayton, almost every industrial building here is full and cranking.


It’s not like mountainous western Montana here or even like eastern Montana where the prairies are spread with wheat and sky. This part of the state seems to have overflowed up from the high desert of Wyoming. It surprised me the first time we drove through.

It makes for a landscape that is decisive, tough, and gorgeous.


The air is mostly too dry for frosts thick enough to mention, so this morning was a small but noticed delight. The girls scratched pictures in their frosted windows all the way to school.


We drove south out of town and in less than ten minutes we were here, looking south to the Bighorn Mountains that straddle the border with Wyoming. You could see nothing but land and sky for hundreds of miles.


The Pryor Mountains got bigger as we drove, and I thought how someday I want to take the girls to see the wild horses that live up in there.


At some point we got out and walked. More than once I smiled at my cute kid as he walked just like a little boy, hands casually pocketed. It was like he knew he was made to walk through this kind of beauty just like he was made to eat things that I make just for him, no need to stop and make a fuss.


I knelt to get a picture of thorns and old fencing and thought how it’s a wonder of life to have the gift of feeling, to laugh at my two year old’s sense of humor, to see thorns coated with the most beautiful frost that the morning sun just lit on fire.


Late morning as the sun washed everything too pale to photograph nicely and it was time to head home, I stood high above the city noticing how smoke columns rise higher than the tallest buildings.


The wild boy sitting behind me was ready for some lunch so we drove down the rimrock to our little white rental house.I love surprises. And Montana is full of them.


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