Learning Through Travel
Travel is a beautiful source of knowledge and understanding. Within our own small world, we have a fairly predictable daily schedule; we know our neighbors and enjoy our friends. Remove ourselves from that comfort zone and we discover new people, different lifestyles and different values.
In search for the perfect upland hunt, my wife and I and our dogs, travel significantly during the fall hunting season. In fact from mid-September through the end of October, we logged over 7000 miles in our truck. That exposes a person to many different life experiences.
One of our annual fall destinations is Plentywood, Montana. Plentywood is a small western town that makes you feel comfortable the moment you arrive…whether a new or repeat visitor. But change was in the air this time. The first change we noticed is that the diner next to our motel was closed. In the past, we would always eat breakfast at this diner and visit with many of our western friends. The next change was the small sporting goods store across the road from our motel was closing…a going out of business sign on the front window announced the news. And, a further sign of change were the scarcity of guests at our motel. Being removed from our daily comfort zone at home, we started asking questions.
The changes we saw were (and are) a direct result of a downturn in oil well drilling. Where oil field workers from neighboring North Dakota helped maintain a robust economy in the small town of Plentywood, the downturn forced many to close their doors. This is a perfect example of a “boom and bust” economy. Not something we experience in New England…except maybe in the logging towns.
However, while we’re feeling the pain of our Plentywood friends, there was a sudden influx of white vans rolling into town. Each van carried ten to twelve Mexicans. My wife and I thought it was a Mexican invasion. Suddenly, there were Mexicans in the local A&W Rootbeer stand, in the grocery store, at the gas station and filling every room in our motel. Although they all seemed very pleasant, we had a difficult time finding any that spoke English; and our Spanish is stale. Finally, one pointed to an individual who was slightly better dressed and looked a bit more groomed. We approached this man and found a very friendly and eager to speak gentleman. He explained, in English, that he had 128 workers with him. They travel the west building 125 foot high concrete grain silos. They work 24 hours (three shifts) and usually complete their work in five days. In the first sentence, I mentioned “knowledge”. Being from New England, who would have thought there was such a job?
Speaking of knowledge, there is no better place to gain a local understanding of issues than at the local diner. Although the diner next to the motel had closed, another had opened down the road. Although there were about six tables in this diner, the same two were occupied by the same people every morning. The most common subjects were harvesting crops, crop prices, ranch land prices and high school football. Of those subjects, back home, high school football was the only subject we might hear being discussed. The price they’re getting for corn is down considerably from a few years ago. That means they’re looking for a grain that provides a better return. With the presidential election still ahead of us, surprisingly, there was never any politics discussed…at least none we heard.
While traveling, every hour of every day offers new experiences and brings new knowledge. During your next trip, take advantage of the opportunities to learn about local customs, concerns and daily life.
Paul Fuller has been an outdoor communicator since 1971. In addition to writing this column, Paul is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV show. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org