‘IB I CHRONICLESnLetter From thenHeartlandnby Jane GreernWaiting for the MountainsnEastern Montana: a gigantic plate ofncongealed gravy. Chicken gravy. Anshimmering, menacing, pale silveryellow,nbegrudgingly patched withnsome better-off-nameless light greennculture. We’re talking stubble here innthis drought year, not chest-high grain.nThe gravy platter stretches east and westnfor 500 miles, from just inside thenNorth Dakota border to Shelby, Montanan(dare you to try and find it).nFriends warned us about the drive,nthe weeping monotony of it. I thoughtnthey were exaggerating. They weren’t. Inthought eastern Montana would bensimply an extension of beautiful, colorfulnwestern North Dakota. It isn’t. PastnBeach or Bainville, abandon all hope.nAn hour out of Bismarck, we all startnwatching the horizon, even though atnleast two of us know it’s pointless untilntomorrow afternoon. It hasn’t rained fornsix weeks; the high western clouds teasenus in more ways than one.nUS Highway 2 winds thin as a knifenthrough this curdled wasteland. Shoulderless,nwith steep, gaping roadsidenditches. Over every tenth long, flat hillnlies a despairing shack, up close to thenhighway. And every mile or so presentsna little white roadside cross or a group ofnthem. The largest marker we see isncomposed of 15 crosses. We pass a carnevery 20 miles (the driver invariablynlifting a hand from the wheel in greeting),nand the crosses—some decoratednwith fresh miniature plastic wreaths —nbeckon along the wretched landscape ofnthe straightaway like a trail we’rendoomed to follow into the ditch. Thesenpeople died from boredom, pure andnsimple.nSlender lines of large dark hills appearnand disappear in the heat likenbears in a fog: once to our left, later tonour right, eight and ten hours out ofnBismarck, respectively. Are these thenmountains? the kids ask. No, these arenbabies compared to the real mountains.nIn the rearview mirror I see my disbelievingnflatland children elbow eachnother and roll their eyes: sure, mom,nsure.nOne extremely clever Montana jokenenjoyed by North Dakotans, signifyingnthe sharp angst of human isolationnand, specifically, of man’s unwholenessnwithout woman, is: “Montana: wherenmen are men and sheep are fearful.”nThis witticism, a crucial ingredient ofnNorth Dakota office banter or an afterhoursnsports-bar dart game, is also anshameful lie: the few sheep I see onnour drive west look as though they’d bengrateful for any attention.nAnd then on the horizon, six hoursnpast Glasgow: the feral gray teeth ofnthe Rockies.nThe affable manager of the hotel innGlasgow, where we spend our firstnnight, tells my husband the next morningnthat we’ve taken the wrong route tonGlacier National Park. Well, what’s thenright route? Anywhere but throughnGlasgow, he says, not smiling. There’sna Pizza Hut and a Dairy Queen, butnno Hardee’s or McDonald’s in townnwhere we can get a quick sausagenmuffin breakfast to eat on the road. Mynhusband asks where we should eat, andnis recommended a truck stop in Malta,n70 miles west. (“He’d better hope thenGlasgow Ghamber of Commerce nevernfinds out about him,” my husbandnlaughs later, but I’m quite sure thengentleman is the Chamber of Commerce.)nFamished, we pull into a supermarketnto buy sweet rolls and coldnfruit juice. Our daughter chooses somenawful strawberry-papaya concoctionnstickier than her caramel roll, but nevernlet it be said that my kids don’t havensome fruit at breakfast.nWe drive. And drive. And drive. In anfit of desperate gaiety, we sing. “It ain’tngonna rain no more, no more.” (“Hownin the heck can I wash my neck / if itnain’t gonna rain no more?”) We sing itnfaster and faster, raising the pitch anhalf-step each time, all of us joining innthe frenzy. When we can’t go anynfaster or higher, we fizzle, embarrassednat our corniness; the kids look out thenwindow, and nothing has changed:nwe’ve passed three mile markers. Thenspace-time continuum is a cruel hoax;nno time passes and we get nowhere.nThere aren’t even any license platesnwith which to play that stupid game.nWhere are the mountains? the kidsnask. You said today we’d see mountains.nI offer a Little Debbie OatmealnCream Pie to the first mountainspotter.nThat excites them for exactlynnnfour minutes; then they return to theirnpastimes: sleeping (13-year-old girl)nand wet mouth noises (8-year-old boy:ncar chase, chicken, nuclear bomb). Wenrun out of cold pop, having drunk ansix-pack so fast we could all use anbathroom. The nearest one is a lifetimenaway. Our son is willing to use thenditch, but Jenny gives us a scorchingnlook at that suggestion. We cross then108th meridian and climb imperceptiblyninto our agoraphobic nightmare,nthe seventh circle of hell, where wendrown as we die of thirst.nDriving home, we take the Glasgownman’s advice and follow US 200 fromnGreat Falls to Circle. Frankly, it’s anhorse apiece. This time we do thenentire 750 miles in one day, leaving atn7 a.m. (our time) and getting home atn9:30 that night. During the afternoon,nthe landscape is so surreally tan andnthe towns so scarce that I exceed thenlegal speed limit by nearly half my age.n(The fine for even such speeding innMontana is a measly $5, paid on thenspot. And worth every penny. There’snanother Montana joke about a little oldnlady who gives the nice officer a $10nbill and says, “Half of this is for thenreturn trip.”) The kids are open-eyednbut catatonic in the backseat, andnnothing — neither food nor drink nornthe latest Starship tape — elicits a humannresponse. They are too bored fornsleep or mouth noises or even pinchingneach other.nBut all this week we rememberednthe mountains in our bedtime prayers,nand two of us have been taught, I hopen(and two reminded), that if God canndo that. He can do anything. The mostnwonderful thing of all is that the Rockiesnare, technically, a mistake. A flaw innthe earth’s crust. If life were perfect (ornGod less wise), we’d be standing sadlynin a different kind of place.nJane Greer edits Plains Poetry Journal.nLetter FromnNewfoundlandnby R.E. LiebnThe Community MeetingnI moved to a small island innNewfoundland’s Placentia Bay.nNewfoundland was settled mainly bynfishermen from western England andn