Naming the Places

When I was a boy, even into my late youth, all I saw from yard of Mother’s house were fields and scrubland pasture. We named the draw that came down out of the hills behind of the house, Main. The three major draws that emptied into it, we called First, Second and Third. Dad liked that we spoke of this wilderness in terms of town addresses, as if this made these wild-lands ours. They were not exactly wild lands, being property of a neighbor. But in the fall, he moved his cattle onto the hayfields, and left the ridges and draws to us and others who might be looking for a deer. Third draw eventually became Deer Draw, because during one hunt, we shot two of them as they came up out of the bottom and across the ridge toward where we were planning the day’s hunt. First Draw became Bear Draw, and the small arroyo that junctioned it about halfway between Main and the ridge was Porcupine Alley. One of us shot a wandering black bear, probably an-almost-domesticated transplant from the Park, in the draw; and the Alley got its name because one of the dogs came out of it with a nose full of quills. In those days, we were the only house out there at the end of that road that nobody had given a designation except perhaps Country Road xxx (whatever). And if we saw a car on that unnamed road, it was bringing visitors or a lost soul.

This was long ago, before our neighbor sold his land and moved into town. He sold to a real estate developer, and over the thirty years since, roads have gone in, switchbacking hillsides and snaking the ridges lines. The new roads have names like Prairie Dog Trail, Bald Eagle Court, and Osprey Way. Although the Columbian   Ground Squirrel is native to this country, prairie dogs are not. And these hills are arid, scrublands, somewhat distant from Osprey fishing grounds. The Bald Eagle is making a reappearance in the country. There are houses now on the ridges where we hunted, their windows glinting down into the draws that no longer require names, although Porcupine Way is now, unofficially, referred to as Ernie’s Canyon because a person of that name built a log and rock summer house on the ledges above it.

Most mornings, now, there is a fairly constant traffic raising dust on the old road. It has been named now, and there is a road sign on the corner with my Dad’s name on it. Some of the cars raising this dust are transporting commuters to jobs in Bozeman or Dillon. There are also cars coming the other way, bringing house cleaners, care givers, landscapers, septic tank pumpers and real estate agents with their clients. I have neighbors now, but if I hike into the old scrubland, I follow new, strange roads. And of course, I do not hunt that close to so many houses and roads.

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