Anne Devine, 1992
We almost rolled right on through Dixon last Saturday night; it was
the prospect of a toilet that poured us out of the truck in Dixon. We were
driving a quick and dirty, one-day tour of Northwestern Montana for the
International Wildlife Film Festival, hanging posters in gas stations,
supermarkets, and other magnets of smalltown civilization. Mick navigated
his beat up Chevy and I rode shotgun, the seat between us littered with
empty thumbtack boxes, extra rolls of tape, and a heavy duty staplegun.
After ten hours of repeating the poster rap, we had it down. But after
ten hours, we could hardly muster the enthusiasm to pocket the tacks as
we unfolded out of the truck. Reaching into the truckbed, I slid two yellow
posters from my portfolio and then shadowed Mick into the Dixon Grocery
& Hardware. The last, very last, poster stop.
The foreigness of Mick's warm lilt caught the ear of the long haired
woman behind the counter. It was my turn to model the goods. While he rattled
off a quick primer on the Festival I smiled and held up the poster, presenting
it in all its splendor. And please show this charming woman what she will
receive tonight. For your viewing pleasure, a handsome "lonesome moose
by lakeside" poster.
The moose, a species for the most part devoid of controversy, yet informative
as a symbol of wildlife; the moose, looked upon with favor by hunters and
wildlife enthusiasts alike. Coordinating publicity and acting as Art Director
for the Festival, such considerations have come to me mysteriously, via
some previously untapped intuition. Montana is new territory for me, and
with it comes a new complexity of values.
Where I come from there is no wild land, no wildlife. There are more
people living in the New York county of Suffolk than in the entire state
of Montana. One morning I recall my father found an opossum in his squirrel
trap and he called me and the dog out to the yard to look at it. Louie
stuck her snout right up to the metal and drew in a noseful of that 'possum
scent. A marsupial. My father drowned that opossum, just as he would've
a squirrel from the trap; to him the opossum was merely a rodent of a different
sort, not wildlife crossing from the woods into our yard.
In the months before I slipped through the George Washington Bridge
toll plaza and left New York in my rearview mirror, the prospect of my
leaving unleashed in others a longing for the romanticized grittiness of
the West. Across grocery baskets brimming with household cleansers and
paper products, women in their late fifties lamented their lost opportunities.
If only I had your spunk when I was young---I missed my chance to explore
this country. Drinking vodka gimlets in the East Village after-hours
clubs, friends pried at my decision to leave. Why the hell Montana?
You trade Manhattan, the twenty four hour city, for trees, bears, cowboys,
and outhouses? But then...Can I come out for a month to paint and
sleep under the stars?
Montana beckons to our metropolitan hearts, a state of mind unleashed
by a map blanketed with the green of forest and park lands where we imagine
wolves roam the rugged mountains and eagles float over the tall pines.
To us, a national forest is just that---a protected place where trees grow.
We do not know of the constant battle to whittle away these stands of marketable
lumber. It seems incomprehensible to us that an animal like the wolf could
spur vicious debate and polarize communities along the entire Rocky Mountain
Front. Crammed up against one another in a rush hour subway, shooting through
the bowels of the city, we cannot fathom that wildlife and wild lands create
such controversy in the regions where they struggle to exist. Rather, we
are content in our undisturbed ignorance and we continue believing that
these green splotches do exist; for us there is no other struggle greater
than surviving the city streets to reach our cubicles of safety without
The woman behind the register chewed on the inside of her cheek, darting
her eyes between me, Mick, and the lonesome moose. My bladder silently
screamed at her to decide on the damned moose poster. C'mon lady, its for
a wildlife film festival, not Earth First! This is National Geographic.
Lions and bats. Fun for the entire family, and educational to boot. I shifted
my weight, impatient to finish the task in hand and call it quits for the
"Sure, go ahead and hang it in the window up front there, by the
door. So they'll see it on the way in." As her gaze caught on the
thick flash of metal in my grip, her tone lightened, "But just don't
use that staple gun on my window."
As I slipped the roll of tape back into my jeans and stepped away from
the window, I gazed at the poster and wondered if any of our efforts today
mattered. Headed down the aisle in the general direction of the store's
toilet, I noticed tampons on the shelf neighbored plumbing supplies and
open stock hardware bins. How many residents of these rural areas would
venture into "the city" to watch wildlife films anyway? I washed
my hands with a scrap of soap. Remove any arguments or controversy surrounding
the issues of wildlife, and the film festival is still competing with VCRs,
the satellite dish, and the drone of miles between a comfortable couch
and the Wilma Theater in Missoula. A splash of cold water in my face to
revive my sagging spirits. It was awesome this afternoon to drive out of
Polson, the street we had just walked transformed into a channel of storefront
windows marked by the mustardy yellow moose posters. I flipped off the
light switch on my way out the bathroom door. They can't possibly come
if they don't even know about it. People will notice these posters, and
some will make the journey. That belief is what burned in me and Mick all
the way north to Kalispell and even here at this grocery store in Dixon.
I caught up with Mick at the counter. "Thanks again for letting
us hang the poster," I said over my shoulder to the cashier as Mick
was pushing open the door.
"Where's your momma, little one?" I heard him ask, catching
my attention. At his feet, trying to enter the store, was a scrawny mutt
of a puppy. "You are much too young to be out alone on a cold night
like tonight, " Mick murmured into the puppy's ungainly ear as he
gathered it in his arms.
There was no one else around the store front.
I fingered a thin red rope knotted tight around the puppy's neck.
"These ribs sticking out. She's no one's dog."
"One blue eye and one brown."
"First things first," I said as I pulled my knife and cut
the rope. I should have recognized that even such a simple act as the slice
of a blade could shred my resolve not to complicate my life with another
dog, or to try and replace the sixteen years of Louie's companionship.
"Can't be more than, oh, six weeks old. You sure are a cutie,"
"That pup's been hanging around the store for a few weeks. I feed
her sometimes," offered the woman as she came out from behind the
counter. "People drop their animals up here all the time, when they
get tired of them. Dixon is just that kind of place."
"Looks like you're in for a trip to Missoula and we'll find you
a home," Mick decided in a flash, transferring the dog into my arms
and then tugging open the stiff door of the truck. And with the turn of
the key, he said aloud, "she's taking to you already."
"You mean me or the dog, Mick?"
The headlights sliced into the darkness and the road to Missoula opened
up before us.