Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The 2008 Nile Invitational in Billings

The Yellowstone River at the Springdale Bridge. Photo courtesy of Big
Sky Fishing.Com

On the Road to Billings

We had a great time at the Nile Invitational in
Billings this past weekend—for me, it ranks as one of the best weekends of my life. Considering where we started from on Saturday morning, it was even more amazing. We had both had very busy and somewhat difficult weeks at work, and when finally we staggered out of bed, neither of us really felt like going anywhere, especially since we had to hustle around and do some last minute housework so the divine Nikki, the most resourceful and generous dog sitter alive, wouldn’t open the front door and, as my mama would put it, fall back. But we managed to get everything spruced up and our gear packed and ourselves bathed and reasonably presentable, and about noon we loaded up Xena and headed east.

I have probably driven to Billings, Montana, more than to any other city, and from more different starting points. When I lived in Cody, Wyoming, I was in Billings about every other week on press checks, and generally I would shop for groceries or clothes while I was up there, because the fine merchants in Cody saw no reason not to fleece the local populace while they were doing likewise to the tourists who stopped in town on their way to Yellowstone. Since we moved back west, I have gone over there on business several times a year. Three times this past year, I drove back down to Billings from Poplar, which is, for those of you who are a bit foggy about Montana geography, damned near in Canada. There’s nothing between there and the North Pole but one string of barbed wire, and it’s down about half the time.

And yet I am never bored out there on Interstate 90—there is always something new to see. This time of year is particularly nice, though spring up here is not so dramatic as it was in Maryland, where the redbuds and dogwoods busted out into bloom and the daffodils and tulips hurtled up through the soil like they were rocket propelled, and one weekend every spring, hundreds of robins would appear and spend several days digging worms up out of the leaf mold in the forest behind our house. I do sometimes miss those early signs of spring, just as I miss the 100-year-old beech and oak trees I could see from my office windows, and the songs of the spring peepers looking for love, but I am not sorry to be where spring makes a more subtle, and often more teasing, entrance.

Probably the first signs of spring in the Rockies are the calves, who start to appear while there’s still snow on the ground. We saw what seemed to be hundreds of them on this trip, in the pastures by the highway, little Black Angus and Hereford babies, sleeping or nursing or capering among their mothers. Then too, the grass in the fields has started to green up, ever so slightly, and the willows along the Yellowstone River are turning bright yellow. There is still ice along the edges of the river, and some ponds are still completely iced over, but if you look closely, you can see the dark spots in the ice that bespeak the spring thaw.

Just before you get to Springdale, the road cuts through a draw between two hills, and veers very close to the river. This trip, we saw fishermen boating along that stretch, and the water was running swift and clear and very cold. That spot always puts me in mind of Holy City, in the Shoshone National Forest between Wapiti, Wyoming, and the east entrance to Yellowstone, where the Shoshone River swings in at the feet of crumbling towers of red stone, and where, if my request is honored, my ashes will be scattered.

Practically the only good thing I can say about my ex-husband is that if it weren’t for him, I would probably never have seen this part of the United States, let alone lived out here. After we had been separated for a few months, it suddenly dawned on me that the job I had been using as an escape hatch wasn’t all that great. The fact that my office was right across the street from his might have had something to do with my discomfort. Despite this revelation, I was too busy staying afloat emotionally to look for another job right then, but fate in the form of an old boss and good friend intervened on my behalf. Less than a year later, I packed up and headed out for Wyoming, and I haven’t looked back since.

And I am pretty sure that had I stuck it out with my ex, I would never have seen the PBR in any incarnation, let alone have become a fan or had the chance to see the action in person. My great and gracious BFF Elisabeth, with whom I lived for a few weeks when I had first moved out, and with whom I have since shared many hair-raising and gut-bustingly hilarious adventures, has not yet been to a PBR event, but she has entered into the spirit of the sport with as much enthusiasm and good will as she has always entered into any mess I have gotten her tangled up in. And there have been a bunch of them, believe me. Just one example: In a tip of the hat to Flip Wilson, Elisabeth christened the backward and repressive religious institution in which I was incarcerated while growing up the “church of what’s happenin’.” One night not long after my ex and I split up, Elisabeth drove me past the local branch of that establishment, and I tossed out the window, Frisbee-like, one of my ex’s gifts: a red leather hat with ribbon streamers, rather like those once worn by Parisian schoolgirls. It came to rest on the front lawn, where the very next morning the faithful were destined to stroll in for the weekly sermonette. Had they caught us, there probably wouldn’t have been anything left for the police to arrest.

Last week, I sent Elisabeth an e-mail telling her we were going to Billings for the Nile, and she replied, “I must say, I get a tremendous boot out of picturing the Evil Captain picturing you as a PBR aficionado. Mebbe I ride over to the COWH and see if I kin locate you red leather hat. You kin plaster it with PBR stickers and then I dee-liver it to the hole where the Bancroft Ranch once stood, yahoo.”

Elisabeth, by the way, is one of the most literate human beings on the planet, a journalist and an editor of great renown, but when we are corresponding, we both adapt a sort of countrified patois that we find so funny we sometimes literally roll on the floor, though not everyone thinks it’s that hysterical. Too bad about them. The Evil Captain is so-called not because he was genuinely evil (not all the time), but because he fit perfectly Bette Midler’s description of the Queen of England, “her royal hinney,” “the whitest woman in the world.” The Captain was (and probably still is) one of the whitest men in the world, unless he was (and is) sunburned lobster red. It occurs to me now that he almost certainly missed his calling—he should have been following Lillibet around, five steps behind her, toting her purse while she shook hands with foreign dignitaries. They’d have made a perfect pair.

But had I stuck with him, I would have missed my calling, too. So, Evil Captain Hinney, just this once, my hat is off to you. It is a privilege and a blessing to be able to do what I do and live where I live, and for that, I suppose, I must thank you, even though it was only by getting away from you that I managed to become the person I was born to be.

No comments: