Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

South Of The Border

Posted on: July 10, 2012

It was exactly the kind of July day you’d expect south of the border. The sun blazed without mercy. The usual breezes were absent. The dust hung lazily in the air. Thermometers agreed: 107ºF. The cattle didn’t do their customary mozy from one field to another. Today, they stayed put…in the drinking ponds. (Click to enlarge.)

Stayin’ cool in the pool

Nuthin’ unusual about this until you consider that the border I was south of was the Canadian border.

You probably have a fair concept of the Mexican border: multi-lane traffic jams at the crossings; high fencing everywhere else…gotta keep the bad guys out. But did you ever wonder about our northern border? Maybe you’ve crossed through in a one- or two-lane affair. Fencing? Not so much.

…and the old one. (Pics taken before planting)

The new border marker

Our Border Patrol keeps a never-ending eye on access points not located on any map. They have mounted cameras and motion detectors. They actually do catch ne-er do wells who would traffic drugs or perpetrate terrorism on our lands. You rarely see our good guys around…until they’re needed…then they’re there like white on rice…right out of nowhere.

I spend a fair amount of time near the border. I’m so close so often that the Patrol probably has an active file with my name on it. (Thank God I was 16 when I committed my last crime.) Lately, they’ve even waved at me as I approach on the back roads. Have I passed muster, or do they wave at everyone?

The two-fingered wave. Farmers and truckers alike…most will lift a couple of fingers from the steering hand to acknowledge you; it’s the regional courtesy. I’ve seen variations elsewhere. I’m glad they do it here.

I’ve written before of the pleasure of meeting and doing business with people who live off the beaten path. It almost always evolves into something of a friendship.

In the tiny town of Westby Montana, only six miles from the border, there’s a farmer’s co-op, a hardware store, a restaurant and a very small grocery store: Al’s Meats. I didn’t think much of Al’s the first time I walked in. It’s just an old, hardwood floor place whose shelves are stocked with the essentials. I soon came to realize, though, that Al’s had a major reputation for quality meats.

100-year-old cutting tables on left

Al’s Meats in Westby MT (pop.168)

First, I bought beef jerky that didn’t pull my teeth out. Then I started bringing Al’s bacon back for the home folks. Every time I go through Westby, I shop at Al’s. Now they know me by name. I like that.

But back to the border. When the oil trucks aren’t roaring past, it’s an incredibly peaceful place. You can hear yourself think. You wonder what the countryside looked like before they started poking holes in it. You wonder how much longer the locals will tolerate the intrusion before finally deciding to flee. For now, they’re holding their own. It’s all they have ever known. It’s their land. It’s what they love.

The access trail to my northernmost landowner actually crosses over into Saskatchewan before curling back into the U.S.  The first couple of times I went there,  I felt the eyes of the Border Patrol upon me. But no matter…once on the farm, the utter peace and quiet make the trip worthwhile. This is the way American settlers have lived for many generations. City boy that I am, I find myself wondering if I could fit into this lifestyle.

It’s a nice thought.

%d bloggers like this: