WyomingBill

  Wyoming Paints WyomingBill and I are driving into the hills of Montana heading for the famous Ted Turner Million Acre Ranch west of Yellowstone. We leave early in the morning from Lovell, Wyoming heading west to Cody then north on Chief Joseph over Beartooth Pass into Red Lodge. Bill is excited with the thought of returning to a place he had spend some time back in the day. Ted Turner's Million Acre Ranch was once a sheep ranch that Billy worked at back in the early 70's.  The long drive gives Billy and I time to remember old times together. WyomingBill-13  WyomingBill-6We met in high school after football practice becoming brothers over the years.  We had spent a lot of time together on the beach, surfing, playing football and sitting in class, partying, playing pool and with the “girls”.  Many high school nights were spend together at the 311 Bel Air Apartment with other friends coordinating dates, discussing our report cards and Sunday steak dinners with his father. The relationship that we formed is best described as brothers.  My parents loved Billy thinking of him as their adopted son. My mom would cook an early Friday dinner for us before our football games then they would head out to the stadium to watch their boys.  The August before our senior year,  Billy unfortunately moved to southern Mississippi with his father. General Electric was downsizing so Mr. Matthews, Billy's dad had taken a new job with the US Naval Department at the shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  I say unfortunate for many reasons, first for me I was losing a best friend. my parent offered to have Billy live with us so we could finish high school together. It was considered in the end Billy felt that he needed to be there for his father. So during the first week in August 1969, Billy moved to Gulfport, MS. Billy’s move was unfortunate for several reasons, first we would no longer be playing, fighting through or graduating from high school. The seemingly endless time spent together was coming to an end. Billy was the very first friend I made when I moved to Daytona. Uncannily, his birthday was several hours post mine but it is past midnight so he continuously reminds me that I am older than he.  He moved to Daytona from San Diego and I from Connecticut. His Coronado experience while being different from mine somehow meshed perfectly with my New England experience. Both of us coming out of private schools to public school - Billy coming from Sanford Naval Academy while I came from Cheshire Academy - gave us a common different perspective from others in high school.   The second unfortunate reason relates to Billy.  Billy moved to a Gulfport beachfront condo during the first week of August 1969. Unbeknownst to all on August 17, 1969, his beachfront address would be taking a direct frontal assault from Category 5 Hurricane Camille, the second strongest U.S. land falling hurricane in recorded history carrying estimated sustained wind speeds of over 200mph.  Within 2 weeks of moving to Mississippi, Billy and his father were evacuated upstate from their new Gulfport home. In Billy’s words:  August 17, 1969 started a new chapter in his life. Everything they had previous was lost. Upon returning home they found nothing left of the building or personal belongings. Billy dates this as the end of a former life. The Matthews would be rebuilding their existence.   During our senior year, Billy and I kept in touch with him returning briefly over the holidays. Upon graduation, our paths went a different way. I headed to college while Billy with another close friend hit the road hitching across the USA eventually landing outside Grant’s Pass, Oregon where he headed into the Rogue River Wilderness for some homesteading. Back home people would ask me if he ever heard from Billy. Sometimes I did through word of mouth of others returning from the road.  After a year, Billy and Grub returned from the road moving in to a shared duplex with Bob, my roommate high school friend and I.  Billy settled, landing a job as a carpenter and finally an electric worker earning his journeymen’s license.  Grub left one night following a friend, Carol. They eventually married and moved to Flagstaff. Billy tried marriage having a son, Gab but it didn’t workout so he left in his truck heading to Montana. Which brings the story full circle to the place we were heading in the truck.   During the long drive to the ranch a lot of blues and sunflower seeds were consumed. Reaching the ranch in late afternoon, Billy proudly shows me the bunkhouse and dining hall. We talked with the present occupants then continued down the dirt road towards a camping spot in a box canyon.  The ride into the canyon was long and slow. Along the way we stopped at several abandoned homesteads, saw a herd of free grazing buffalo and Paint ponies.  The road eventually lead us to higher elevations entering the tall pines and firs. WyomingBill-18 WyomingBill-17

Wyoming Homestead

We set up camp at the end of the road along a stream at the base of the mountains.  Dried mud in the road showed indication of large bears and other wildlife.  I set up my tent before the sign – “Beware YOU are entering Grizzly Country.”  Sitting around the evening fire we watched the amazing crystal clear stars. The sun set behind the mountain late in the evening. This far north daylight lasts late into the evening. As I crawled into my sleeping bag I was convinced that grizzlies could read and knew they knew I was not in their country.  WyomingBill-19

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