While I was in Montana, I had one of my favorite experiences of my travels. Dave from a previous episode connected me with a few friends of his in Montana that were setting up their river camp for hosting a few students that they would be teaching some primitive skills to. A man named Barnes was who I got in contact with and as we exchanged texts and a couple brief phone calls, he determined they were comfortable with having me come and spend a night or two with them.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I camp, but I’m no mountain man, like what these folks sounded like to me. Barnes indicated that he wouldn’t be around when I arrived, but the others in camp were aware of me coming, so I could just settle in when I got there. Figuring I’d be out of cell phone service, I had written down a few directions to get me to the location. I got there without issue and pulled into the property. A great earth lodge was near the entrance. Driving down the dirt road a bit, there were two men out in a pasture, kicking a soccer ball at a makeshift wooden goal. I got out of my car and they looked at me and without a word kicked the ball in my direction. We made introductions and I got comfortable with Neil and Chris as we kicked a soccer ball around.
After a while, Neil decided throwing a frisbee around might be a little more low-key than soccer. So he ran and got his frisbee while I went to my car and changed into some shorts. We converged at the other end of the pasture that had been our playing field. A brown mound that had been at a distance earlier was now close enough for me to notice it was a rotting dear carcass. It seemed quite natural to them. The circle of life happening around them.
We tossed the frisbee a bit and then Neil joked that we ought to throw dried cow and horse manure at the frisbee as it glided through the air, to test our accuracy. Then somehow, we found ourselves actually throwing dried manure at the frisbee. The real challenge ended up being the task of catching the frisbee while dodging the flying manure. I joked that this seemed like a natural alternative to using meth, as there were a multitude of anti-meth billboards throughout Montana.
Soon Barnes arrived with another friend and we all converged, along with Chris’s partner, Bartle, on their hangout hut/kitchen. We ate and gathered around their wood burning stove, and started to chat. Often I find there can be some reluctance on the part of those that I record. But these good folks just carried on as usual. They talked about themselves, some for my benefit, but we joked and laughed and just enjoyed each other.
As we chatted, Barnes opened up and I was struck by how profoundly authentic he is. There is nothing contrived about who he is. He lives as he wants to. He is educated and chooses to live a somewhat isolated life in Montana and understands that life is a process and he’s learning just like everyone else. The beautiful thing in the whole experience was that he didn’t take himself too seriously. None of them did.
The bonus below is the group chatting about dumpster diving. I was interested to get onto the subject, because when we first converged in their hangout hut, Neil went to a corner and walked back with a handful of unwrapped chocolate and handed it to me while he sucked on a bit of chocolate himself. I happily partook, being a man with an ever-present sweet-tooth. As I savored this delightful chocolate, the discussion illuminated the fact that the chocolate had been found in a dumpster, during a dumpstering adventure. I would’ve felt sick, but for the fact that I felt like the chocolate was vetted, as they were eating it too. Neil proudly displayed the large sack of reject chocolate after the revelation it was from a dumpster.
My time with these wild folks was sublime. Seldom have I felt like I was in the presence of such authentic people. And that authenticity made it feel so natural that it barely seemed weird to throw manure and eat chocolate from a dumpster.