Standard-issue lab & RE license

Couldn't agree more with the writer to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle who suggested that our Montana state commemorative quarter design oughta be a dog in a pickup. I would even propose the new quarter should display a triad of images: the pickup dog, a replica of a Montana real estate seller's license and the official seal of the NIMBYs (as yet to be designed... anyone?). It's long been a joke around here that when you purchase property in Montana, you receive a standard-issue lab or golden retriever plus a versatile bandana with the usual print on one side and a real estate license on the other. You can either adorn the dog or go into business.

Seriously, I'm surprised that there wasn't a horse anywhere in the current proposed designs. The West and Montana would be nowhere without the horse; even throughout its current gentrification and upscale mansionization, Montana is inextricably linked to the horse. Horses are still everywhere, including my own backyard, and they still give plenty of otherwise soft-bottomed Hummer drivers a reason to toughen their asses in the saddle, face a subzero wind to feed and water, callous their hands and go to Murdoch's.

How soon we forget that the Montana we signed on for was driven by the secret desire to get caught in a duststorm or a blizzard or a forest fire or a deluge of rain that swamps everything we've worked for in the last six months. We grew up in, or chose on purpose, something that's harsh because we want to be the kind of people who can take it.

I'm not saying everyone who comes to Montana wants this, but the fact is, yes, those things still happen here. They're not just some Lonesome Dove romance or historical footnote. They still go on in Montana, even for those who have enough money to make a cushy no-dirt-under-the-nails horse life if they want. And sure, plenty of monied folks do hire someone else to deal with this nonsense in a harsh climate, and they stick to their professionally designed interiors while some hired hand is out in the cold.

But there are also people, even among the newcomers and the well-off, who do it themselves because by God, that is what Montana is about: a 125-pound woman blindly guiding thirteen storm-panicked1200-pound horses through a crippling hailstorm to the safety of the barn by herself; the frostbitten night when she went after the two SUV-loads of skiers who hit the ditch hard; the morning she dug a drainage trench out of the barn because it's been raining for five days straight and the foaling stall flooded and the young of the year are coming; her Christmas Eve crash course in colic that introduced her personally to many of the things she read about in All Creatures Great and Small as a kid; her bruises right above the knee that come from bumping bales of hay up into the pickup and later up into the storage shed; her black eye from the fast-swinging head of a surly lame gelding; her makeshift bed on the hay bales beside the broodmare's stall where she can keep watch for the coming foal; the endless cold nights in a neighbor's riding arena where she exercises the horses alone, and then drives the 4-wheeler or walks back home in the dark under more stars than anyone thought were out there.

Another serious omission from the quarter designs, like it or not, is the trout. Appropriately non-native (at least by the existing rubrics that require at least one of your ancestors to be an amoebic member of the LOCAL primordial soup in order for you to stake a legitimate claim in Montana), introduced sporting trout species changed Montana forever. One could reasonably argue that the rainbow and the brown have contributed as much to this state's economy and even destiny as any other force -- not only are thousands upon thousands of people drawn here by the promise of the trout, but a significant number of those eventually become landowners in Montana. They also become, whether they move here or not, fierce guardians and protectors of trout habitat and the glories of a pristine Montana environment, which translates into a better sphere into which we receive all sorts of tourists: photographers, dreamers, motorcyclists, climbers, hikers, kayakers, gawkers, explorers, writers, geocachers, artists and wildlife enthusiasts. I maintain that it all starts with the trout -- because trout fishers in Montana are second to none in contributions to and personal involvement in environmental causes, and because, after all, the very concept of catch-and-release fishing means, in its purest form, that you don't even have to catch them, you just have to stand next to them. Witness the idea of the "long release" whose premise is that once you've fooled a fish with your expertly tied fly and impeccable presentation, the catch is not just secondary but really, completely unnecessary and even disruptive to the real art at hand. The overriding theme here is not dominance or destruction of the natural world, but an all-consuming attempt to join with it in whatever way possible, even if that way is only as thick as the floating fly line that connects us to it.

Among the current designs, I have to choose the buffalo skull. Maybe that really is an apt symbol: it's about all the things that are gone now, or will vanish soon. We do remember, even while we embrace and love the new Montana.

I think of all the people who are still somewhere else, hoping that Montana will be the West they dream of. It's debatable whether Montana can still live up to that dream, no matter how sincere they are in wanting to adapt to the place, rather than having it adapt to them. It's just that more and more, Montana becomes homogenized and takes on the character of the places others fled. The character of old Montana is bleached out in the sun, where it still lies stark and stubbornly enduring as we build something new -- not something bad, no, not bad at all, and in fact, mostly very lovely. But different.

The buffalo skull seems right as one symbol to say all that.

50 State Commemorative Quarters Designs

Written By:Hans Conser On July 19, 2006 5:15 AM

I couldn't agree more about the quarter, I hate the skull design.

Here's the thing: That ugly design was not chosen by the public. The website had a major coding flaw so that when you click on the skull design to zoom in for a closer look, it counted a vote for that design! The other designs did not do this.


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