Unfortunately, to get from Livingston to Butte, there aren’t many options for a route other than Interstate 90, due to the mountain passes you need to get through – including Homestake Pass at the Continental Divide. In Vagabond Song, I call the interstates “unfreeways”:
“As William Least Heat Moon says, ‘Life doesn’t happen along interstates. It’s against the law.’ Those routes have been anesthetized for your protection. Movement is an illusion: the billboard cowboy wears the same hat in Abilene as Atlanta. The genetically-bastardized McDestruction-of-Local-Flavor-and-Sucker-of-Souls-Burger tastes the same in Sacramento or Syracuse.”
However, during the first stretch of the run, I-90 is concurrent with U.S. Route 191, a great border-to-border ribbon through the western states. It will take you to Arches National Park – “Abbey’s Country.” Somehow my road trip there didn’t make it into the book, but I remember the feeling of pilgrimage to visit the red rock maze of mind-boggling mystery and silence that was the birth-place of Desert Solitaire – one of the most important and beautiful books our country has ever produced. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this entry RIGHT NOW, and run to your local, independently owned bookstore or library and get a copy. Go sit on a log or rock, and read it.
Okay, now that you’ve read it, let’s continue on to Butte, Montana – home of the biggest hole in the heart of the Earth.
I like Butte. It has a similar energy and badassness as many Midwestern cities that have also been built, chewed up, poisoned and abandoned by industry. It’s a horrible and all-too common process of how the raw materials of earth and humans are transformed into money. But the humans who survive, like flowering weeds that crack the concrete, create some of my favorite art. I’ve seen it in Detroit and Saginaw and Flint. I saw it again in Butte at the Imagine Butte Resource Center where I had my reading.
The kind folks at the IBRC are a whirlwind of creativity. Collaborating on visual, literary and performing arts to build a vital culture to thrive in a post-industrial, battered but beautiful, landscape. The reading led to a passionate discussion of resisting corporate greed involved in further destruction of the land. In particular, we discussed the plans of Sonny Janda, CEO of Lucky Minerals, to put the health of Paradise Valley at grave risk just so he and his investor friends can get a little richer.
This audience-driven discussion reminded me of why I write. Why every artist needs to stay engaged in the Struggle. There’s no time left for “look-at-me, look-at-me, look-at-me” artists. We need artists who are warriors. Blissful, wild revolutionaries and mad saints with knife-sharp pens and brushes. With machine-gun typewriters and cameras.
I hope to keep meeting more of these poets of resistance on these hundred highways. I hope you, too, are busy sharpening your pen.