One of Gary Larson’s cartoons that has lingered with me over the years is the one where a small wooden shed sits in the middle of a construction site with a big mound of dirt. Above the shed is the sign “Fred’s Fill Dirt and Croissants”. I love it because it appeals to my love of contrasts and supposed contradictions. It is also the story of my life. Granddaughter of rich people from Philadelphia who made their fortune in bobby pins and hair nets and the granddaughter of a failed farmer who ended up on the Ford assembly line. Trained to teach lofty subjects to college kids, but happier doing pratfalls in French farces in Off Off Broadway theaters. Now living on a cattle ranch going to boat floats and book readings in one week.
“BOAT FLOOOAT! BOAT FLOOOOAT!”, the guys on shore yelled out to a river raft filled with pirate hatted young men.
“BOAT FLOOOOAT!” the pirate river rafters yelled back.
Here I was at the boat launching Yellowstone River access called “Otter Creek” near the town of Big Timber in Montana. It was 9:30am and people were crawling out of their tents and stumbling, literally, into the morning glare. Everywhere people were breaking camp, pumping up their rafts, standing in line at the one public restroom, and eating breakfast burritos from a yellow school bus turned into a mobile food court. A whole line of rafts were already in the water ready to cast off together for this “Mardi Gras on the Yellowstone.”
“YELLOW BOOOOAT!” the shore guys yelled as, yes, a yellow boat drifted by.
A couple minutes passed and a yellow and grey raft appeared peopled with Vikings or maybe elk. Attached in a row to the raft like a stumpy tail were three inner tubes with some more Vikings/elk.
“TUBEEEEERS! TUBEEEERS! the shore guys yelled displaying yet again a keen eye for the literal description of what passed in front of them. There was something quite wonderful about this full throated yell of the obvious that made me giggle like a schoolgirl.
Next in line was a boat with some guys, a gal and a dog named Duke. He looked like a big brown canine version of Leo Di Caprio on the bow of the Titanic.
Okay, so you get the drift of the drifting boats at this annual affair that resembles Mardi Gras in that it involves drinking, rafts dressed up like floats, and, of course, 8 hours into it, the showing of the breasts by the female pirates, Indians, and cowgirls.
A few days later and I’m walking into a cozy little bookstore in Livingston, Montana filled with used books where a book reading is to take place. 25 folding chairs are placed in the only available open space and in the back are chocolate covered strawberries, cheese, crackers, wine and Pellegrino.
We are here to hear the author Thomas McNamee read from his new book “The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat”. It’s a biography of the New York Times food critic, Craig Claiborne. Tom has several very wonderful and well received books to his credit and also reviews books for the New York Times. His “Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse” is a riveting description of how Alice came up with the idea of farm to table and had an incredibly wild and fun time doing that in Berkeley, California in the 1970s. Tom has been coming to Montana to write for over 15 years. There is something in the air here that lures writers of all sorts.
So here I am at a literary event sipping wine instead of chugging rum coolers and sitting on a folding chair instead of lounging in a rubber boat. I sat and listened to a wonderful description of a dinner Claiborne had eaten in Paris with over 21 dishes and the finest wines in the world including a Chateau d’Yquem and 1917 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
I loved listening to the story of “The Feast” and discovering the snobbiness of Claiborne. But I have to admit, I had to suppress the urge to yell at the top of my lungs, “BOOOOK GUUUUYYY!”, throw back the rest of the wine while pulling up my top to expose my breasts.
That’s me and my life. I’m always trying to bridge the gap between different worlds. Can it be done? Can we merge the upper class fly fishing dignitaries who fly in on private jets with the boat floaters? Can we merge the riders with the writers?
Next year I am going to propose a combination of the two types of events. We should have done it this year because local writer William Hjortsberg published his epic biography of Richard Brautigan whose “Trout Fishing in America” was a must read in the late 1960s. Brautigan ended up in Montana where he befriended the bad boys of the Paradise Valley including Hjortsberg, Tom McGuane, and Sam Peckinpah. Here’s an idea: “Gatz” Hjortsberg should have been the Grand Marshall of the Boat Float.
Don’t let anybody say there is no poetry in a day of floating the river with good friends. Don’t say there is no way we can all actually understand each other and get along. Dream that impossible dream. Yup, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t sell fill dirt and croissants because your marketing message is confusing. Tell them to get a life.
Found the band who recorded the first cut on this video. It’s The Nadas “The River” on their album “Transceiver”.
Note: Once I figure out how to transfer my I Pad movies to my desktop or figure out how to edit on my I Pad better than I do now, I will have better music on my own videos. I need an assistant.