Published: April 7th 2012April 7th 2012
Over the River
If you have ever had an opportunity to take a train trip across the country, you would find yourself looking out at the tiny towns that dot the flatland of eastern Montana you may have wondered about life in these villages sparsely scattered across the plain. For me taking the train through the magical portal of Glacier Park and watching the sky open up and the land rest into a wide open grand plain where you can see to the ends of the curves of the earth is a familiar sight back to the place of my birth. Perhaps our subconscious holds dear the places where we come from and like a salmon we are drawn to return to these places and retrace our paths through life. I am able to hop on a train return “home” to the slow meandering bends of the Milk River and reconnect with my people, my grandparents the keepers of this land.
In truth, now that I live in Portland, the train is almost the only way for me to make this trip. The nearest airport is nearly 300 miles away. Amtrak trains travel along the top of
the Montana nearest Canada parallel highway 2 dubbed the highline of Montana. One can rest, visit and enjoy the view out the oversized windows of the train’s viewing car. Amtrak is by far the most relaxed mode of travel. I cannot help but enjoy myself and even visit with strangers and make new acquaintances along this route. You are likely to sit down with a stranger and part with a friend at your journey’s end.
I exit the train unshowered and a little weary in Malta Montana. The train rolls to a stop and it takes me while to feel my legs comfortably back on the ground. I wait for my grandmother to pull up in her old Cadillac and look out across the tracks to the cheerful little burg. I am already unwound and out of step with my usual city pace. I feel ready for the visiting, cards, ice cream and laughter that I will experience over the next few days.
I stay the first few days in Malta with my maternal grandparents and my mother, then travel 30 miles east up the road to Saco to my paternal grandparents home. I cherish these visits and
hold these conversations with family dear. I don’t get to go “home” often and each moment is medicinal.
On my second full day my mother and grandmother take me to see the sights in Malta. We take a trip to the Phillip’s County Museum where historic and prehistoric relics are intermingled. One can turn from a full dinosaur skeleton to view the intricate bead works of the native tribes in the area and walk down the hall to see the brands of the European farmers and ranchers who now occupy much of this land. Various intermingled bits and pieces of the past are displayed: Kit Curry’s gun, an old switchboard, a wall of bottles, an antique dress, even an old church sanctuary live together in this two story building. We wander around until we are all over stimulated and a little sight weary and head back to the house for some late afternoon tea.
After a few days in Malta, my aunt picks me up and we travel down one of my favorite roads onto my grandparent’s farm. Lambing season has begun here and people are staying close to home. A few minutes after my arrival a bum
lamb laying in a little box near the stove stands and walks triumphantly out of its box onto its new legs. Lambing can be heartbreaking when these creatures die, but watching a runt pull through is a captivating sight.
The days fly by and my departure approaches. I will miss my family, but I must return to my life. I re-board the train with a heavy heart and a mind full of new memories. My bag filled with the jerky that my grandfather bought me at the Saco store, a popcorn cake, a polka dot dress, a new pair of earrings and various other treasures. Another trip back to my past brings new awareness of my future, and I move forward bolstered with the knowledge that people believe in me and I’m encouraged to pursue my destiny with boldness.
There are more photos below