By Diane E. Bokor
In the 1970s, something in the culture shifted. You often heard of people going “back to the land.” Tom and I were among them. That is how I ended up here in northwest Montana, reflecting on one of the biggest decisions of my life. We were twenty-five-year-old city kids who married after meeting in college. We were old enough to be completely emancipated and young enough to do some pretty stupid stuff. We were greenhorns.
We had made a life in the great white city on the hill (San Francisco) when we caught the bug. We sold everything that would not fit in the back of our grey Dodge Ram. We quit our jobs and hit the road in search of our piece of “the land.”
We arrived in Kalispell the first week of May, 1976. It was hot that week, 90 degrees hot. This pleased me greatly, as there were two things that gave me pause about this adventure: cold temperatures and wild bears. I’ll work on my fear of bears, I thought, this is going to be just fine. It’s just not that cold here.
All but our brand spanking new REI camping gear went into storage as we headed “back to the land.” Well, not literally “back” as we had not actually been there yet. We had a plan. Tom and I would spend the summer exploring the region, campground by campground. In the fall, we would decide where to settle, where to buy our piece of this land. Then, we would confidently figure out the rest of the story.
We had been living in our tiny two-man tent for three weeks when Memorial Day weekend rolled around. It rained for four solid days. I now know that this is a typical Flathead weather pattern. That weekend I was traumatized for four days, peeking out of a blue nylon tent flap, cold and damp, nibbling on candy bars. It was too wet to start a fire. It was too wet to crawl out of the tent. Forty-three years later, I can tell you that even with climate change, it will rain at some point on Memorial Day weekend in the Flathead.
Later that summer, after drying out, I awoke at dawn to a noise coming from the direction of our campsite picnic table. Severely nearsighted without my glasses, I sat up in my cozy down sleeping bag, rubbed my eyes and opened them to make out a park ranger bending over our table. Weird, I thought, why is he up so early? With my glasses on, I was shocked. HOLY MOSES! A BEAR! A man-sized black bear was standing on his rear legs, rooting through the box of groceries we had covered with a plastic garbage bag, to keep it dry of course. The bear had found our green grapes. Greenhorns with green grapes.
Due to my life long fear of bears, I was pretty sure I was going to die. Obviously, I did not. Tom was able to find the Dodge keys. I grabbed my single-lens-reflex Minolta. In our pajamas, like commandos who scurry along the perimeter of a battlefield, we made our way to the passenger side of the truck. Once safely ensconced in steel and glass, I snapped evidence of our stupidity. If not for the snapshot this whole incident might be lost to the mists of time.
Back then, there were no signs instructing campers about food storage. There was no host coming by each evening to warn/threaten campers about food storage. There were no campground brown metal communal food lockers. You can thank me and Tom (and the rest of our ilk) for all that.