The wife of my husband’s imaginary friend called to invite me to a party.
(For the full rundown on my disbelief that these neighbors living on another planet to the north were attempting to make contact with us, see Part I to this story: Beau’s Imaginary Friends, Part I.)
Needless to say, after months of harassing Beau over friends I assumed were a figment of his imagination, I was surprised to hear a real voice belonging to a real person on the other end of the phone. Curious, and feeling a little friendless out here in the sticks, I agreed to attend the party.
I could’ve stayed home to do the dishes. Goodness knows they needed done. Instead, I loaded up the kids and drove over 44 miles of dirt road to attend an Easter party at the school nearest our house. We didn’t know anybody until we walked through the door.
“Will any of our friends be there?” Asher wondered as we drove the dusty miles northeast.
“No,” I answered. “We are going there to make new friends. We will have to smile, and look people in the eye, and introduce ourselves. Can you practice saying: ‘Hi, I’m Asher’?”
He said it. “Emi, can you say ‘Hi, I’m Emi’?”
She said it, and our pickup bumped over so many cattle guards I lost count.
Twenty miles north of the VX we came across the first sign of habitation: the lane leading to the ranch where Beau’s imaginary friend is employed (and where the wife of Beau’s imaginary friend had called me from). Trusting that I would soon meet her at the party, we drove on to tiny Cohagen, the size of a blink on the edge of Highway 59…
… and home to not only a Post Office but also a one-teacher country school. This one teacher has 12 students from kindergarten to 8th grade who come from surrounding ranches as far as 25 miles away to attend school. When these kids reach high school age, they will probably attend Jordan, a little over 20 miles up the highway.
The Cohagen teacher and her students had organized an Easter egg hunt for community children out in the schoolyard. (I apologize in advance for the boring brown tone of all these photos. We have just been that dry. Actually, praise God, as I’m writing, it’s raining.)
After the Easter egg hunt outside, the children gathered in the little Cohagen gym for treats and games and a picture. Isn’t it amazing how many country kids live in the Cohagen area? (Well, if you consider us — or anyone else — at 44 miles away to be “in the area.”)
I tell you, the ag industry has a bright future with all these young and vibrant folks returning to family outfits or seeking out jobs on ranches and farms with the intention of raising their families in a rural way.
For a couple decades, it seemed, many quality young people just weren’t returning to the ranch or farm. But these days — three cheers for my generation! — the brightest of the bright are choosing agriculture as both a lifestyle and a career.
Of the fellow moms I spoke with at this party, some do hail from family operations… but many are just like us, just ranch or farm employees working for other folks… and many of these originally came from states clear across the nation, just holding onto the dream of working in this big, beautiful ranch country. And now that they’re settled here in the middle of nowhere, they are certainly being fruitful and multiplying. As you can see in the photo, there are school-age kids at Cohagen, yes, but also several pre-schoolers like my kids, and even three tiny-tiny babies!
I made lots of fun connections at the party as my kids ran around chasing balloons and jumping in place with excitement as they watched the bigger kids doing big-kid stuff. Never afraid to ask a question, I found out a lot about who’s working for who on what creek. I visited with the gal from the Smith Place, which I remember from when the PV leased it back in 2001. I got a run-down on the various ranches scattered down Little Porcupine (we live on Big Porcupine) and on what’s going on with the Beecher Place (birthplace of a ranch horse from my childhood that was named — what else? — Beecher). I met Liz, the wife of one of my husband’s imaginary friends — and Susie, the wife of the other imaginary friend. (Liz and her husband work for a family whose son had recently played on a basketball tournament team with my nephew.) I met Amber, whose husband manages an outfit owned by the holistically-managed Grasslands LLC… and I grilled her on the details of the holistic management topic, which is one I’ve always been interested in. And I got to see Bethany, patient of My Sister the Physician, who recently delivered her third baby on the side of the highway en route to the hospital in Miles City (you might have read about her in the Billings Gazette).
We Blakes really enjoyed the party at Cohagen. I can’t imagine any better public school situation than that little country school. The big kids were helping the little kids, the whole community was involved, the parents were so present. (Unfortunately, Cohagen is not a school option for us because of the challenging road conditions. Still… we got friends there.)
The time came to load the Blake children up and head home to the VX. (As usual, we were the last to get to the party and the last to leave.) I didn’t get a chance to take photos on the way to Cohagen — we were late for the party as it was — but I stopped about two dozen times on the way back home to the VX to capture the scenes from our journey to share here.
Asher needed to stop, too… to pee… three times.
Emi thought it was appropriate to wear her Easter dress and tights to the party… and to take a little nap on the way home.
Our first turn heading home was off the highway at Little Dry Creek:
I am beyond shamed to admit that shortly after leaving the highway here, I became very disoriented about my route home. Suddenly the road forked and I had no idea which fork to take. Though I was sure one fork was only a ranch lane, both roads seemed equally well-used, and I didn’t remember seeing this fork when I was driving to Cohagen.
After all these years of being a tough Montana ranch girl — of priding myself on having an awesome sense of direction and a real feel for the lay of the land — I was very surprised that I didn’t know which was to go. I went a ways down the left fork and was still unsure. I discovered I did have cell phone service this close to the highway. So, knowing Beau wouldn’t be inside, I called our Sand Springs friends the Pottses, who are Garfield County Aficionados. They weren’t sure either — I mean, I don’t blame them even if they are aficionados. How many forks in the dirt road actually exist in Garfield County? Probably thousands — but they thought maybe I should be on the right fork. So I turned around and gained the right fork… which I followed until I ended up in somebody’s yard.
This was the clear answer I’d been praying for, so I turned around again, regained the left fork, and never looked back. For future reference, this is what the left fork looks like: (Actually, obviously, the scenery is not a lot different compared to the right fork.)
There were many interesting sites to see on the way home, like this baldy cow, who is not going to let her belly get in the way of grazing vertically:
And like this other fork in the road, about 24 miles west of Cohagen. On the left fork are my tracks from the trip to Cohagen. (Not a lot of traffic coming or going our way, huh?) If one took the right fork, one would end up at the home of Liz and her (real, not imaginary) husband. They are our closest neighbors to the north. I will let you know that I was not one bit disoriented at this junction about which fork I should take to get home.
Also, that Asher was totally fascinated by all the potentially volcanic hills we saw on our trip:
On the way home, we crossed the infamous Acorn Flats (why are the Acorn Flats so infamous? It seems like most folks we come across are familiar with at least the name and want to know where we live in comparison to Acorn Flats. I need to do some research here):
Somebody Back East is wondering, “Now why don’t he write?” Name that movie:
The next three photos show three different fingers of Devil’s Canyon, which is at the very top of the divide between Little Porcupine and Big Porcupine. Part of Devil’s Canyon is actually on VX land, which means we were getting close to home when I took these pictures… but Devil’s Canyon is actually completely fenced off from livestock — partly because the boundary line runs right across the canyon and would be very difficult to fence, and partly because somebody at some point in history must’ve said: Gol darn that Devil’s Canyon, I’m never gatherin’ that darn thing again. Fella spends more time tryin’ to cross the dern thing to get to the cows on the other side, and by the time ya get there them fool cows done headed for the next draw, and ya can spend all day thar and never get all yer cows out. Let’s put a fence around the whole darn thing and forgit it. (Feel free to throw in expletives. Whatever suits your imagination.)
Leaving the heights of Devil’s Canyon behind, we came to the edge of a ridge where we could see down into Big Porcupine Creek, on whose banks we reside.
Not far down the road from there, we met Beau in his work pickup headed our way. He was worried over why we weren’t home yet and was headed out to look for us. I had to explain that I’d stopped two dozen times on the trip home to take photos. And, not one to claim all the blame, I pointed out that Asher had had to pee, too.
Our trip to the Cohagen country school was a grand adventure, and I thank our new friends for inviting us to the party. I’ll leave you with this:
Don’t tell me about your prairie dog problem.
Your tumbleweed problem neither.
© Tami Blake