Thick clouds obscured the moon as we left Minnesota; it was a broken night; as I was drifting in and out of consciousness. I awoke to find myself in a big land, a giant land, a giant landscape of low rolling hills and sullen sunken valleys. In the dark it took on the appearance of an alien or lunar landscape.
It was so big and so empty and so dark, but even in this darkness there was vision, there was no traffic, no house lights, no road glare and so much of what was to be seen, could be seen through the darkness. The solitude was broken only by the occasional over lit tractor-trailer rumbling along through the darkness coming in the opposite direction, but they were few and far between and we were for all intents, alone in this primordial land.
The rumbling of the bus lulls you, but the bus is riding catty corner tonight on account of its suspension and as the wind blows fiercely the driver turns the wheel the other direction correcting us back, Slowly, ever so slowly, the sun claws its way up over the hills horizon as the clouds break. Up in the high clouds the sun reflects its full spectrum against the checkerboard cloud patterns giving the appearance of a daytime aurora.
The washouts and worn down hills tell of the age of this magnificent dinosaur playground. This land cries out to us that it is still here and has been here always. Its permanence mocks our own transitory nature. There is nothing but brutal emptiness here, nothing, but there so much of it.
It is indeed something worth seeing even, if just for one time, because when you look upon it. This land will remind you that we are not necessary to this planet; it can get along just fine without us. It was here before us and it will still be here long after us.
Vistas of the occasional ranch house which call out of their solitude "that you must want to be here. You must desire to be in this space without end." Away off in the distance miles and miles away, the relics of ancient mountains remain, though humbled by time. Roots and relics of long ago stones, left like jagged teeth against the pale blue skyline. Are we leaving this place? Or are we merely entering a new phase? The smoke gray summits and charcoal white ridges rise up surrounded by their ink black counter parts. Who could create such a place? Who could create such a place and create man without knowing what would eventually happen.
The small outposts and habitations with their broken down cars and rusting machinery are the only modern ugliness in this endless field of primitive beauty. Strange shadows play upon the hills and play tricks upon the eye. Where are these shadows coming from? I don't know and I cannot determine, yet they are real, just one more mystery in this mysterious land. The panorama changes minute by minute, and just as you begin to absorb it and to conceptualize its beauty, it changes. The frozen rivers tell us to slow down, for we are moving through here too fast.
Rivers never lie, and the awesome beauty of a blue sky river running serpentine through the brown tan canvas assures you that this river is telling us the truth, we are moving too fast, our destination lies ahead of us and out departure is long gone. We know less than the family of deer nibbling on the frozen grass or the eagle circling lazily overhead. We are rising up now, going up the road towards where the river has just come from and what it all means I can't say, I am a stranger here, just passing through, looking out the cold glass window pane like a museum exhibit of an amazing ancient land. It has things to show me and secrets to tell me, if only I have eyes to see, and ears to hear.
We are on the high plains now, far above the ridges and washouts. As trees begin to dot the landscape as the cattle try to escape the cold wind in the ravines as the blown snow fills the rivulets. Higher and higher we go, more ridges appear sharper and taller and stonier than those before. Triumphant primordial rock palisades decorate the high ridge peaks. The small rocks mark only their minor defeats lying down hill in the dirt, harbingers of times eventual victory over us all, come one day; come someday, come that someday when that someday comes when we will all be long gone from here these stones will remain.
As we approach Billings Montana, the signs and sheet metal begin to dot the ridge. The scope and scale of the landscape make them look like tombstones laid out on some, long forgotten, Boot Hill. Billings sprawls off into the hills and rides a staddle of these mountains; it is a gathering point, a lifeboat of modern humanity in an ocean of rock time.
Beyond this point white-capped mountains rise to surround us, no more amateur mountains, as this is the true boundary, this is the edge. The edge of a far off magic land, bounded not just with mountains, but also by nightfall. We shall sneak through these mountains under the cover of darkness, but first the sun must shine into our eyes, one last time, as a grand finale for this production and as the curtain closes, the embers of Missoula burn bright against the darkness with a thousand tiny lights, each a hearth, each a home, each a story and each a universe unto themselves.