Bruce is a real cowboy.
He has a ranch with horses and a big American flag flying out front, and he has a guitar and he knows how to play it.
I met Bruce Anfinson on a sleigh ride up at Lone Mountain Ranch near Big Sky, Montana. A full moon shone through the forest of lodgepole pines, casting silvery shapes on the snow. Powerful draft horses pulled us uphill as I listened to the man in the cowboy hat tell his tales—unrehearsed, off-the-cuff stories about life out west.
It’s a different country out here—this Montana. Yes, I figured that out about five minutes after arriving, but now, at the close of my journey to this winter land of log cabins and pine fires, crystal icicles and howling coyotes, I could truly feel how wonderfully foreign yet familiar this great northern state is.
In the light of the cabin’s fireplace, as we ate our dinner of ribeye and berry cobbler, Bruce plucked out a song about cowboy artist Charlie Russell. I remember well the January 1986 issue of National Geographic that detailed the life of this American traveler and painter. As Bruce sang his tribute, I listened to the lyrics, thought of all the other adventurers that have ventured this far north, from Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea to later pioneers, the cowboys and Indians of old to the real cattle men and Native Americans of present.
No question that Montana attracts those who like room to roam—and although my first visit lasted only a week and a half, I have roamed a lot. I clocked a thousand miles on my rental car (that’s a hundred miles a day) and barely made a scratch on the wide open map of Montana.
After dinner was done and the guests all snug in their cabins, Bruce and I chatted until midnight. We talked songs and places. “Music is a universal language,” Bruce said to me—and he’s right—but so is travel. Though we’d never met, we talked as old friends around the campfire, and for an instant, I had a small taste of true cowboy culture—not the pistols and wrangling and dazzling outfits, but a guy who was born and raised beneath the Montana’s big skies.
In the midnight hour, when so many were fast asleep, Bruce played me my very own concert, singing out an ode to the state that he loves.
“Home is Where Montana Is,” he sang, and he meant it. Though I am a foreigner from back east, I knew every lyric he spoke because after ten days in Montana, I have lived all the lines of his song.
Will I ever return? I hope so. I love all the places my job takes me to but I hate leaving them so soon. As a destination, Montana is too humungous to visit just once, so like a true explorer, I am already plotting another expedition back to big sky country.
For now though, I am content to sing along to Bruce’s song, and though I have left it far behind for now, I remember only how much Montana felt like home.