Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Waiting for Godot ...

Today's quote is only partially about Montana, but it's evocative enough that it needs to be posted. This description of Highway 12 in Montana and the Dakotas is from the 1993 volume, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris.
You should have filled your gas tank in Aberdeen, especially if you're planning to travel after dark. For many years there was no gasoline available at night (except in the summer) between Aberdeen and Miles City, Montana, a distance of nearly 400 miles. Currently there are two 24-hour stations in towns nearly 200 miles apart. On the last stretch, the 78 miles from Baker, Montana, to Miles City, there are no towns of all, just a spectacularly desolate moonscape of sagebrush. Farmers will usually give or sell a little gas to stranded travelers, and small-town police forces often have keys to the local service stations so they can sell you enough to get you on your way. But the message is clear: you're in the West now. Pay attention to your gas gauge. Pay attention, period.

But it's hard to pay attention when there is so much nothing to take in, so much open land that evokes in many people a panicked desire to get through it as quickly as possible. A writer whose name I have forgotten once remarked, “Driving through eastern Montana is like waiting for Godot.” I know this only because a Lemmon Public Library patron brought me the quote, wanting to know who or what Godot was.


  1. That Kathleen Norris book is dear to me, and this is a great excerpt.

    For me, driving through Eastern Montana is rather hypnotizing...and it's so startling to finally reach a town and realize there are other people on the planet.

    Sometimes, (and this may be a prairie girl thing...) driving at night, through this enormous emptiness with the window down and whatever radio station that will tune in, is the best medicine for a heart in turmoil or head that is clogged with too many decisions to make.

  2. Funny, Mark, I was just looking at the google map's satellite view of that stretch the other day... You might remember that when I moved from the Twin Cities to Seattle, I drove the trip mostly on old Hwy 12. But I turned left at Baker, on your recommendation, to visit Medicine Rocks, where I had one of the most quiet, even desolate lunches I can recall. From there, rather than backtrack up to the reliable pavement of Hwy 12, I opted to head SW through Ekalaka, Ridgeway, and Hammond, and then hit the concrete slabs again so I could could get to Bozeman the next day for a work conference call, and then lunch with a certain shaggy character there in town :) From there, the need to make some time had me back on the slabs up to Garrison, where I met up with Hwy 12 once again (albeit now sharing the ugly interstate slab until Missoula). But from Missoula, I was able to depart the interstate and follow 12 all the way to Starbuck, WA, where once again, the need to "get there" caught up with me, and I had to head diagonally up across WA toward Seattle. Maybe some day I'll get back that way and travel Hwy 12 between Baker and Garrison.

    Really enjoying your MT blog, Mark.


  3. Fond memories of sputtering into a gas station after coasting downhill for the last 20 miles...

  4. @Andi: I definitely know that feeling! As well as similar stories that turned out to have more adventuresome endings. :)

  5. Growing up 70 miles south of Miles City I have always loved that spare landscape. It is a freeing land; More animals than people, so the people are more friendly and helpful than people in the overpopulated places I've lived since.