August 19, 2008

Rocky Knob

The Rocky Knob is a restaurant on the side of the highway in the mountains of southwestern Montana. I get there about 3pm, ravenous because for various reasons all I've had all day is chocolate milk and orange juice. Where I'm going today is only another hour at most, but I'm so hungry I'm not sure I'll last till then. The Rusty Knob it is.

Door says "Entrance". I push at it. Won't open. Knock. Nothing. Push some more. Won't open. Are they closed, I wonder despairingly. But there are several cars parked here. I give up and walk along the front of the building. Ah, another door, looks the same as the first. I push at it. Won't open. Knock. Nothing. Push some more. Won't open. I'm really despondent now. I give this door one last hard push, and it opens so suddenly and completely that I practically fall into the room.

Nobody notices. Must be a dozen or more people, chatting and drinking and unaware of the ravenous Indian who's more or less picking himself off the floor and trying to look dignified doing it.

I wander in, past the bar and past a few occupied tables. One long table has three guys sitting at one end, with a place setting for a fourth. The other end is near a window, so I walk over there and sit down. One of the three looks up sharply and greets me with a hearty "Hi! How you doing!" -- just a little too hearty, though, and somehow I know that he's baffled that I've sat down at their table. How often does that happen? I could ask if I could join them for lunch, but I know I'm too hungry to be good company, so after a short while I excuse myself and walk over to the bar. There's a spot next to an older woman, and I sit down there.

"Nancy's the only one here today," says the older woman, pointing to the young woman behind the bar. "She's gotta wait tables, cook, bartend and take care of bills. Really rushed. So I told her I'd give her my order later, when she gets a moment."

I get the feeling this is a mild rebuke, only a mild one, for giving Nancy my order. Now it's too late. It's true, though. Nancy is like a whirlwind, taking orders, rushing into the kitchen, filling glasses of beer, rushing into the kitchen, writing up bills, handing out change ... but amazingly, she has my lunch in front of me in less than ten minutes.

The older woman is Kay, retired from the phone company. She talks about "goin' huntin'" regularly in these parts, elk and deer. Not this year, because her knees are bothering her and she doesn't know if she can make it on the hikes that are part of hunting. And what do you do once you've shot the animal, I ask. What I mean is, how do you cart the carcass back home, but the way I've phrased it, she misunderstands. Kay gives me an odd look, then with obvious and almost reverent relish on her face, almost as if her mouth is watering, she says: "Eat 'em!"

Yeah, I say, but what do you do with the carcass?

"Mostly," says Kay, "we have to cut 'em up right there, then bring the meat back. It's hard work, I'm tellin' ya. But good meat, mmm-hmmm!"

On the mirror behind the bar is a sticker that says, in sharp black-on-white, "Friends of the Bitterroot are NO friends of mine." Circle with "FOB" inside it, and a slash through. I get the message. I don't know of FOB, but from the name, and the tone of the sticker, I guess they are an environmental group that is interested in the ecology of the valley. I ask Kay what that's about, and she says dismissively and disgustedly, "Yeah, they're those guys who don't like anything." She pauses a few seconds, then says through gritted teeth: "Environmentalists." The FOB guys, she says, don't like mining, don't like hunting, don't like logging. There are concerns, she says, but "these guys are just extremists." They tie themselves to trees, or climb up into them so they can't be cut. "You have to understand, there are plenty of trees that can be cut. But these guys? They wanna stop everything."

A few more seconds pass. "Extremists", says Kay again.

On the board outside are two notices.

One urges readers to join the US Army, with this: "It takes YOU to make a difference! Are you up to it?"

The other is a For Sale sign. For sale are: One Elk mount. Three Deer mounts. One Grizzly Rug, blonde.

Seems to fit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reminded me of 2 of your posts: one on the hardworking ppl making an honest living at Alang shipbreaking yards, and also of the one on environmental protection in Sikkim.

These things can be so analog... would love it if you would put together a post that collects your thinking on the subject of environment.