hunting, ranching, Montana, people, neighborly

Helping hands and kindred spirits.

“I want you to be concerned about your next-door neighbor. Do you know your next-door neighbor?” —Mother Teresa

In Montana, the outdoors, and the people, abound with opportunities to learn. Wisdom lingers in aspen leaves, elk tracks, and small-town-diner conversations. Experiences are complete with lessons, many of which, for me, come at the end of a long, rough road.

A couple years ago, I found myself up one of these bumpy dirt roads, the truck locked in four-wheel low. Locked, as in would not come out, despite trying everything we knew of. Crawling around in low gear up in the hills was no problem, but we had over 100 miles of highway to travel, too. Plus, I had an elk hanging in the trees that needed to get cut up and cooled as soon as possible.

As my compadres and I fumbled around under the vehicle, a rancher came up the two-track. He was on a morning walk, getting himself and the dog some exercise while enjoying the sun of a fine November morning. His name was Mike, and he lived three miles down the road. We explained our situation and, although he wasn’t sure he could fix it himself, he invited us to his house so we could work on it in his shop.

When we got there, Mike offered us food, drinks, and warmth by the fire. He tinkered around with the transfer case and tried a handful of troubleshooting tactics. Once he exhausted his knowledge, he made calls to his ranch hand and a couple local mechanics. Never mind that it was the weekend and everything in the nearest town was closed—he knew personal numbers, and he didn’t hesitate to dial them.

All it takes is an honest effort to see where the other is coming from and the maturity to not get offended by a simple disagreement.

As we waited for return calls, he told us about his life, struggling as a cattle rancher for many years, eking out the thin times to make a good life for himself and his family. Compared to his, my upbringing had been relatively easy. I’d had my hand held all the way through high school, and always had support to right me wherever I went wrong. Mike had it tougher, and I sort of envied him for it. Over an hour’s chat, the contrast in our backgrounds and value systems became apparent. I didn’t care much for cows and he was confused by some of the ideological trends of my generation.

Sure, we had our own opinions, but they didn’t get in the way of being able to understand one another. We regarded each other with mutual respect. Mike had given up the better part of a Saturday to help strangers. He showed me that though we have our inherent, fundamental differences, we often find ourselves in the same boat. All it takes is an honest effort to see where the other is coming from and the maturity to not get offended by a simple disagreement. Mike had a thick skin and a kindred spirit, two things that we could all use a little more of these days.

Though we were unable to fix the truck that day, I left oddly satisfied. I learned something from that rancher. By opening up his home, Mike told us that he was willing to see where we came from. He showed us the value of being a good neighbor and the importance of looking after each other. He offered generosity to people who didn’t share his way of life. And he did it all at the drop of a hat. What more can you ask for?