Aki would not have liked the barn cat that greeted my arrival at my grandfather’s Montana ranch. I still think of it as his even though he died in 1923. He homesteaded the bench land before he passed and left my grandmother with three children under 8 and a crop in the ground. Thanks to her two bachelor brothers, she held on to the ranch through the depression, surviving drops in wheat prices and hail storms that flatted the whole year’s crop in minutes.
Last night I slept alongside the Missouri River in the hotel where my grandparents spent their one night honeymoon. The next day they rode 40 miles to the ranch in an open buckboard. It was well below zero and snowing. They lived in a one room shack until grandpa built the Craftsman style house where I ate dinner. It was ordered from a Sears catalogue and shipped in parts from Chicago.
Meadow larks sang while I visited the family cemetery and later when I walked among the abandoned tractors, harrows, and shacks that have accumulated over a hundred years of farming. I spotted a loaping bear cross the far side of a field of winter wheat. A half an hour later an antelope trotted into view near the same place. Beyond the antelope low rounded hills and a flat topped butte rose above the field. The farmers of my family are responsible for beauty of the ground where the antelope stands. It enhances the natural beauty of the high ground beyond.