1. Stargazing is a nightly thing and when you can’t see them, you miss it immensely.
Growing up laying out on a blanket late at night is one of the best things in small town Montana. According to vox.com, 80% of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way. I consider myself one of the lucky ones that can still see stars outside my window and can see the Milky Way only a couple miles out of town. I remember multiple nights around the campfire (or bonfire depending on the time of year) and staring up at the sky talking with the family about everything imaginable. We still do this today, not as often as we should though.
2. Friendships are a thing of a lifetime, the few kids in your class easily become kids that you are friends with forever.
I grew up with 80 kids in my entire school, it was a 9 grade school (K-8), that means less than 10 kids per class, on average. Can you imagine that? If you didn’t know every name for every kid then they must have been new. This had both good and bad aspects to it. The good was you created friendships that lasted a lifetime, but the bad was that growing up a girl there was a lot of drama among the girls in the school. When I was eight I remember coming home from school with different “best friends” every day. But the friendships that lasted are still strong 15 years later.
3. Hard work is a part of life, from getting firewood in 10 below weather to bailing hay in 90 degree weather, you don’t get to slip by without working hard.
Have you ever come home from a long day at work, at 15 degrees and had no firewood to heat your house? I have and do you know what that means? You get to go chop would and wheel it to the house in a wheelbarrow. It really teaches you a lesson in chores and hard work. I can remember having multiple school days where the bus just couldn’t reach our house back on 2 miles of dirt road covered in feet of snow or inches of ice. I can count on two hands how many times my dad had to use his own personal truck to pull out the school bus in order for us to get to school.
4. If you have more bars in your town than you have churches, that’s average.
I can remember when my older brother had decided to go to the public schools in the larger town over a small school farther out in the country (both the same distance away) he made his decision based off of the fact that the town had more bars than churches and it definitely only had one school and one store. To a 13 year old this meant literally nothing to do, ever, besides drink. Just to let this sink in, Montana ranks #2 (according to eater.com) in number of bars per capita. The number for Montana is 1,658 people per bar, meaning that Montana has 602 bars in the state. That is a fairly daunting number and when it comes to small towns, don’t be surprised if you have at least 2 or 3 bars.
5. Seeing more animals during your commute than cars is a normal everyday occurrence.
According to beef2live.com Montana has 2.51 cows to everyone human. That means there are over a million people in the state but almost 2.5 million cows. Seeing cows and driving over cattle guards on your daily commute is in no shortage in small town Montana. Also according to 50states.com, the average square mile of land in Montana “contains 1.4 elk, 1.4 pronghorn antelope, and 3.3 deer.” The last time I drove home for a visit (a 170 mile drive) I counted 6 cars and at least 30 herds of deer during the 2 hours I spent on the road. Talk about a stressful ride.
6. Driving miles to see a big box store is a weekly adventure.
Take a moment and think about this; how far ahead do you decide what you want for dinner? 1 hour before you start making dinner? 1 or 2 days before so you can run to the store? Well living in a small town means not having the ability to decide at the last minute what you want for dinner, it means planning a week or two weeks ahead just so you can run to town (which maybe an hour or two away) and buying hundreds of dollars’ worth of groceries. This also means that pantries, gardens, and canning are almost necessary the farther you live away from a decently priced store.
Montana fun fact: Circle, MT is the farthest spot from a Starbucks in the continental USA which is 185 miles.
7. A story that starts with “so I was at this party in a field” is not uncommon, actually a rather common occurrence.
I have heard so many stories about parties in fields, this is the normal once you hit high school in a small town. What also is normal is driving through the back dirt roads in a truck with a beer in your hand. Not that I condone this behavior, but there is nothing more impressive than watching your dad hold a beer, roll down the window (with the actual window crank), and shift the truck all at the same moment. Driving through the back roads and partying in fields are all a part of growing up in the middle of nowhere and the only thing that puts a damper on the party is the sheriff (who only comes around once a month, if you’re unlucky).
8. Dangerous animals are a large part of life and you better get used to it.
On any given day during the summer months, you can trip over rattlesnake walking through a field or run into a bear in the woods. Both of which can kill you in a matter of minutes or hours, depending on the severity of the damage they do. As of this year, one Montanan was attacked twice in the same day by the same bear! And what’s even more surprising is finding a bear in a Target parking lot or finding an elk in a schoolyard. But when I was a kid, there was one time that my mom was walking through our own backyard and almost stepped on top of a rattlesnake. There is nothing scarier than hearing a rattlesnake rattler and not knowing where it came from.
9. Dial up internet is not a thing of the past, but a thing of the present. And having cell phone service in a really desolate place is basically impossible.
That’s right, you read that correctly. My dad still can’t get high speed internet at his house, because guess what? They don’t have wires that go out that far from town. Can you imagine not having Netflix, Hulu, Amazon? Or not being able to update your PS3 because that runs off the internet? That’s a normal occurrence for small town Montana, even today. According to a study in January of 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission, 90% of the rural population is without access to 25 Mbps Broadband internet. And overall 87% of Montana is without this access… so basically most of Montana is without broadband internet. Scary thought, huh?
10. Fireworks, sparkler bombs, tannerite, and loud guns are not a thing for only holidays, but for whenever the heck you feel the need.
If you have never put a sparkler bomb inside a snow drift or put some tannerite inside a pumpkin and watched them blow up then you are definitely not living yet. When you live out in the middle of nowhere there is a great chance your neighbors don’t care what in the heck you do, or are so far away that they can’t hear you from their house. There was many a time when I was growing up and we would have a great Saturday full of shotguns and whatever we felt the need to shoot. That could be garbage cans, televisions, kids toys, barrels, or even straw targets put out at 100 yards. Almost every year we would even take a barrel of used oil and light the weeds on fire to decrease the fire hazard of dry grass.