Teri Orr: Part two: A river runs through us
The first half of my drive up to Ruth’s ranch was boring- I-15 in Idaho. After I reached Montana, I stuck to surface roads, followed rivers, and hopped the Continental Divide repeatedly. It was a stunning late summer day. About an hour out, Ruth called, and directions got a little wonky. When I reached her road, I said I was within ten minutes. And when I drove into the gates and over to the ranch house, I saw that the rest of the women were waiting to leave in a little Mule/4×4/ vehicle. I parked, and Ruth said -jump in. I did- right in front, and we were off. And then, after a quick lesson at the first gate we had to open and close, I became the gatekeeper for all the rest.
Ruth showed us the Jefferson River- where it curved, where the best fishing hole in it is, the spotted egrets and sandhill cranes. That was before we saw the eagle land on the bare tree branch and watch us, watch him. We greeted the cattle she let run on her land. They are owned by the guy next door -a writer, producer, and filmmaker who has attended Sundance more than once.
When we arrived back at the house, the other women took off for their lodgings down the road. Ruth and I caught up on her wide porch with beverages and apples. The sun set long before we had finished our conversation. I slept seamlessly.
Ruth runs her own ranch with little help. She is about a decade my senior. I was in awe.
She suggested I check out Butte the next day. I was smitten with the grand Victorian mansions of brick and stone in the Copper Capitol of the world when those homes were built.
I had been warned -many streets were closed for the filming of Yellowstone 1923. Helen Mirren was in residence – ditto Harrison Ford- stars of this episodic prequel. Ruth had suggested a little café I easily found for a late lunch. When two young couples walked in – dressed in the clothes you would wear if you were from Hollywood and thought this is what western folks wear- I was pretty certain I had spotted actors.
When I went to the counter to pay for my lunch, they were there. The tallest handsome young man wearing jeans with creases in them and perfectly coifed hair, did a quarter turn and just said –hello. I have spent enough time in The Business; I know that pose. I said- Hi back and added- are you visiting? He looked surprised and said – Working, actually. Ah, I said, Yellowstone? And he looked surprised and said, why yes. I said I was from Park City, and we had been ground zero for the series. He said, Wow! I am headed to Park City for a little work when I leave here. And I just smiled.
Dinner was back at the ranch with the four women from the night before and the addition of Ruth’s neighbor- married to the film guy but a rock star creator of a medical device she gave birth to after she couldn’t get women the help they needed when she ran a kinda hotline.
Also in attendance was a Butte philanthropist and fundraiser who helped create the Orphan Girl Children’s Theater and was the force behind the recent community swimming facility. A maker of good trouble. Oh, and Helen M had leased out her apartment for her movie stay.
And finally, the woman who grew up in Divide, Montana, on a ranch outside of Butte and was a part of the team in 2005 that won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work-Atoms for Peace- in Iran (Persia, she is quick to add, is still what the proud people call that land.)
The women from the mule ride the day before had united decades ago at Stanford -when as med students, they all had issues with the male head of their department. It was enough to keep them together all these decades. Through the requisite marriages, births, deaths and charity work literally around the world.
Work in Africa and China and the Middle East. Work in fixing fistulas for women raped in war zones and in helping transgender humans get the plumbing right. And, of course, the chainsaw-wielding heart surgeon who runs the Search and Rescue unit with her twin doc sister in La Jolla- were simply inspiring.
When the sharing circled around the room, I ended up last to tell my story. When I started with my children’s clothing store at Tahoe, the woman who lives next to Ruth said, Wait! YOU owned Ruffle and Ruffnecks? And before I could answer, she said, I worked in the tiny movie theatre next to your store when I was in high school.
And she went on to work in the un-doctor part of medicine and then created a medical device. And is married to the cowboy next door, who is in film. They had been to the Eccles, here, repeatedly for films during Sundance. Sometimes there are so few degrees of separation.
I drove to Helena the next day, the capital of Montana, and saw the Charlie Russell art gallery with art hanging so raw, up close with no glass. I did not touch those oils, but I did breathe them in. There was a very hip pottery collaborative on the outskirts of town for decades, so I stopped there.
Ruth and I spent the last night back on the porch, watching the day end and the animals settle in. In the morning, we said our no-nonsense goodbyes. I knew the way. I would be back, and soon it would be Sundance, and she would be in Park City.
Driving home, I was loving the off-roads, and then I saw the sign for Yellowstone. I drove into the Lodge area to grab an ice cream and Old Faithful was being just that. I saw bison, more eagles and fisher people catching fish on The Madison.
I ended up in Jackson around 5 pm. Tired and considering a sleepover. But it was Friday night in a resort town, and I knew the odds. I found an off-site Mexican place, ate well and kept driving. Until about Kemmerer – the sun was setting, and I considered getting a room. I decided I would reconsider at Evanston. About 20 minutes and now in the middle, of the middle of nowhere, I had listened to all the bad radio possible.
I wished for human contact. So my phone rang. It was my craziest Park City friend of 40 years. I told him my circumstances. He decided to talk me home-like I was some pilot with no controls left, talking to the tower.
And for nearly two hours he talked to me about “woke “ culture and local politics and art and hope and disaster scenarios and all the right stuff to keep me alert. We hung up when I pulled into my driveway.
It had been my most excellent adventure in such a long time. It had been a lifetime in the making. I returned to my new home in my same hood grateful for another Sunday in this Park…
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