I was only in 7th or 8th grade when I saw my first bar fight. I was standing out front of the Double Front restaurant waiting for a takeout order with my friend Mark Cranston. It was a warm summer evening, so we were just hanging on the sidewalk, probably talking about soccer. Two men came tumbling out the open door of Al & Vic’s, a bar directly across the street. They were pummeling each other. One guy got the other guy down on the sidewalk and was banging his head against it. Then the roles reversed, and more mayhem ensued. Someone inside called the cops. At the sound of sirens, the two men stood up. By the time the cops arrived, the combatants were arm in arm, backslapping, and while we couldn’t hear the conversation, it was clear they were claiming something along the lines of, “Oh, no, officer, no problems here!”
That’s what I recalled when Scott McMillion, editor of Montana Quarterly, asked if I’d be interested in doing a piece for him about the Double Front, which has been in the same family now for three generations. I said hell yes I’m interested. The results are out in the latest issue of the magazine, just hitting shelves today. I wrote and photographed the piece. Besides leading me to go back and back and back eating more Double Front chicken than I have for three or four years combined, it was fun.
It’s my second appearance now in the magazine and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love print, and I was a huge fan of this particular magazine before I ever started pitching magazine stories anywhere. It’s the best Montana has to offer. You should subscribe.
Oh, and for you trivia buffs, my author photo in the contributors section in the back was taken in the restroom of the textbooks department at the Bookstore at the University of Montana. It has these great white walls. During my time helping out there last summer I referred to it as “Studio C.”
This is a shot I took last October just outside of Butterfly Herbs on Higgins in Missoula. I don’t recall this fellow’s name and can’t find my notes, but I do recall his goat’s name was “Deer.” And what a goat! I could smell him from a block away. They were hitchhiking around America, spreading a message of love and unity, organizing rides via Craigslist. He was in Missoula to join with a guy from Seattle who was running for President.
Some street photography. I love taking pictures of my friends. And when Mara, friend and occasional co-worker, texts me, even on a day off, and says, “Want to split some nachos with me?” the only possible answer is, “I’ll meet you on the corner.”
After talking to my mom, who suggested that maybe the willows had been cut intentionally, I called the local FWP office and talked to the manager who handles Council Grove, Mike Hathaway. Turns out they did indeed do the cutting, or at least it was done in their name via an Americorps volunteer, who also performed the initial planting. The tops of the trees were starting to die, and they were being damaged by the wind, so they were cut in hopes of encouraging root growth. Mike and I also discussed the fact that people were still obviously accessing the river via that closed spot, even though there is available access about twenty feet away. He asked my opinion as to what I thought should be done next, etc. So it was a good conversation. I told him I felt a little guilty for feeling the outrage, and he told me I shouldn’t. “Get a group of us managers together,” he said, “and you’ll hear plenty of stories of just the kind of vandalism you suspected here.” So while I briefly thought that maybe people DON’T suck, it turns out they actually still do.
Whenever I’m not traveling, every day I take Darla the Adventure Dog for a walk at a river access location nearby called Council Grove. It is actually a primitive state park. During poor weather, or cold weather, we practically have it all to ourselves. As summer rolls in, it sees more and more use. It’s beautiful, with copious wildlife, primarily birds. It is an easy place to love, and sauntering there is often the highlight of my day. I know it is for Little D as well.
A few weeks ago, along about a 40-50 foot stretch of riverbank, where the edge has broken off and collapsed into the flow of the river when it runs higher than normal, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks people posted several signs that read as follows:
Willows have been planted in this area to restore natural habitat, prevent flooding, and stabilize the river banks. Help keep Council Grove a great place for both wildlife and people by not disturbing the vegetation on the banks, keeping your dogs on leash, and accessing the river at suggested river access points only. Thank you for your cooperation.
I’ve spoken with the game warden a couple times when I’ve encountered him down there, and he’s a nice enough guy. He realizes most people don’t keep their dogs on leashes, and isn’t really a hard-ass about it. But as it gets busier, he needs to enforce it. I understand. Most people take the risk. It isn’t a big deal.
They planted at least 20 or 30 willows along that bank. There is a perfect access spot right adjacent to the closed area, with a sign indicating it as such. I was out there Monday the 15th, and the new growth looked good. The next day I left on a work trip, and wasn’t out there again until the afternoon/evening of my return on the 19th. In the intervening time some fucking asshole had come along and cut off all the willows and absconded with them. They range in size from a bit bigger than my thumb to as small as my little finger. All gone.
Who the hell does something like that? Some jerk-off mad at MFWP? And they’re too dumb to realize it’s everyone else they’re hurting too? It is the kind of senseless vandalism I just don’t get. Leaving cigarette butts and beer and soda cans and shit like that pisses me off because it’s lazy. This fills me with rage. What sucks is they will likely never be caught either. What a waste. I’m making tons of effort these days to try and get my head straight and be a better person and all that, but stuff like this (not to mention racism and mass shootings and free trade agreements and oil rigs headed to Alaska and on and on… ) really makes me wish for a freakin’ pandemic or something. Truly.
Well. Rather than close on a bad note, here is a collection of Darla the Adventure Dog in action at Council Grove. She’s always happy so long as some rambunctious puppy isn’t all up in her grill.
And here are just a couple other shots I’ve taken there recently.