We made it a family outing Tuesday morning, this whole voting thing. We met at the courthouse, masked, our hands sanitized at a dispenser just inside the back door. We were almost giddy as we posed with our signed and sealed ballots for a couple of selfies.
One at a time, we stepped inside the clerk’s office to let our voices be heard from the ballot box. I’ve always considered voting to be both my right and my civic duty; a dear friend of mine, the author Maryanne Vollers, just the other day characterized it as a sacrament. I like that.
Voting this year was more exhilarating than any other election in which I’ve participated over the last forty-eight years, beginning with my casting a vote for Shirley Chisolm in the 12th Congressional District of New York City. In thirteen presidential elections only two of my choices won—each of them twice. Hell, even the only Republican I ever voted for lost.
As we were leaving the courthouse there was for me an anticlimactic sense. In the past, I’d vote and would spend the evening watching the results trickle in state-by-state until the wee hours and listen intently to the talking heads, well, talk. It’s the highlight of every two years for a politics junkie.
This year it would be twenty-one days before hearing the first results from the Atlantic coast and the exit polls that precede them from various states. That seemed an eternity.
And now the campaigning and the commercials and the fliers can have no impact. I’ve voted, and all I can do is wait and hope for the change I think we so desperately need.
We found the perfect antidote to the ennui that was settling upon us—a mini road trip.
It is our good fortune to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and yet most days we barely take note of that fact as we go about our daily business, tending to our chores, running our errands, and whatnot. A few weeks ago we went in search of the steel horses (https://jimliska.com/behold-a-steel-horse/) and Wednesday we trundled off in search of whatever we might find.
Almost as a duty, we recalled John Steinbeck’s writing of Montana in his 1962 travelogue, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
A lot of things have changed in the sixty years since Steinbeck wended his way across this state, but the sheer beauty and majesty of Big Sky Country remains in its towering mountains and mesmerizing plains, its rivers and streams. Its majesty whispers. And it’s a state populated by people who might not like your politics but will be the first to offer help should you need it. We Montanans are nothing if not basically kind.
We took our new dog, Beau, with us for our short jaunt. Beau is a one-year-old Shih-Poo who will not leave Geri’s side unless by force. He is cute and bubbly and blind. In the Beast, as we call the SUV, he sits on Geri’s lap, or crawls behind her back, or climbs up to perch atop her head. We don’t know for certain why he does these things, but we assume it’s because, being blind, he doesn’t ever really know where he is.
It had been many years since we last drove across Swingley Road, a winding gravel road that for twenty-four miles traverses hill and dale over the northern base of the Absaroka Mountains from just north of Livingston east to McLeod. There, one can find the oddly delightful Holly’s Road Kill Cafe, whose motto is the alluring “from your grill to ours.” (Check your political correctness at the door.)
Up Swingley a couple of miles, we met the first approaching car on our little trek and were reminded how driving outside of town requires drivers to offer a two-fingered wave from the top of the steering wheel. Of the dozen or so vehicles we met, not one failed in this back road ritual.
For someone who is rather terrified of heights, this twisting route of blind turns offers some spine-tingling moments and fervent hopes that the brakes are good. The rewards (many) are worth the risks (few, really, unless it’s muddy, snow-covered, or icy).
The sun shone brightly Wednesday afternoon and the autumn colors of the trees and other foliage were at their splendid best—bright reds and yellows, deep, muted auburn, and gold. The aspens quaked dutifully in the light breezes. The creek bottoms glistened like ribbons of light. It was trying to snow.
I’ve noted here before that from this arboreal temple I see the beauty of the world and its many wonders. I get a sense of what a greater being might have had in mind in the creation of paradise. It offers affirmation of my faith.
I was reminded of some words from Spinoza, the 17th Century Dutch philosopher.
“God would say: Stop going into those dark, cold temples that you built yourself and saying they are my house. My house is in the mountains, in the woods, rivers, lakes, beaches. That’s where I live and [it is] there I express my love for you.
“Stop reading alleged sacred scriptures that have nothing to do with me. If you can’t read me in a sunrise, in a landscape, in the look of your friends, in your son’s eyes… You will find me in no book!”
We hadn’t decided if we’d go the distance to McLeod before we got to Mission Creek. We decided to keep going, knowing that we could always turn around. A well-defined tree line came into view in the south, and from the north, about fifty yards in front of us, a yearling (I’m guessing) black bear popped out from the roadside barrow pit.
Seeing wildlife is nothing new—even in town—but it always seems like a gift that nature wants us to notice, enjoy, and appreciate.
We watched the bear for several moments as it dilly-dallied across the road and stood then, looking intently at something. It turned toward us as if acknowledging our being there, and lumbered down into the brush.
It seemed like we had found what we didn’t know we were looking for. Our heads were cleared of the world’s troubles, if only for a few hours.
We drove a few more miles and turned around. Crossing over Mission Creek, we noticed a small heard of mule deer scurrying down the roadside into a dense thicket.
It was a very good day.
Photo by Courtney A. Liska
Chicken Pot Pie (Deconstructed)
I first made this in March, and it has become a go-to dish during the pandemic. It’s easy, quick to throw together, and invites improvising with whatever you might have in the fridge.
For the two of us I use half of the breast meat from a roasted chicken, cut into bite-size pieces. Boil some diced carrots in a cup of water (or stock) until almost tender. Add some chopped onion, celery, mushroom, potato, frozen peas, corn, and/or lima beans. Cook until the potatoes are tender, and thicken with corn starch or instant potato. Add a little heavy cream and then add chicken to warm. Season with fresh herbs like parsley or thyme.
Serve poured over warm biscuits.
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
2 cups flour (sifted)
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp, salt
3/4 cup milk
6 Tbs. butter (frozen)
Mix dry ingredients together.
Grate or chop the cold butter into small pieces and add to the dry ingredients.
Mix with a pastry cutter.
Add milk to the flour mixture, stirring to make a shaggy dough.
Knead into a ball. Roll or pat dough to 1/4 ” thick, fold in half two or three times.
Cut into circles and place on a prepared (butter or parchment paper) cookie sheet 1″ apart.
Bake for 12-15 minutes.