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Left of West: Forest Woodward Explores the American West

August 27, 2013
Filed in: Depth In The Field, Travel, Way of Life

31Photographer Forest Woodward sets out in a recently purchased — and barely running — ’77 International Scout to discover what’s left of the pioneering spirit in the American West. Along the route, a long stretch of highway from Southern Utah to Northwest Montana, Forest and his co-pilot Jessica Lowe are privy to roadside breakdowns, run-ins with remnants of the real West, and incredible scenery awash with history. Below, follow their documentation and insights in to what is truly Left of the West.12Eureka, UT || Picked up an old ’77 Scout down in Southern Utah figuring it would carry us North to Montana to begin a photo project exploring what’s left of the pioneering spirit that drew Americans West. As it turned out, it only carried us as far as Eureka. But that was as far as we needed to go to find Stubbs – tobacco spittin’ proof of the Left of West spirit. Climbing into the belly of the beast with Jess’ finger nail file and a chainsaw wrench, Stubbs gave us our first lesson on the importance of humor and good old fashioned tinkering in roadside mechanics.

 

4Broke Down, UT || Waking up to sage brush and a hot Utah sun. Part of the allure of the old International Scout was its potential to park anywhere and sleep in the back. Only problem is, we don’t always get to pick the parking spot. Breaking down after our first 150 miles let us try out the sleeping arrangements a little sooner than anticipated.6Heading North, ID/MT Border || You could put a blindfold on me, pluck me up from anywhere in the world and drop me here (though hopefully not behind the wheel of a moving vehicle) and I would know where I was by the feel of cool river air on my cheek and the mysterious dark breath of pine trees on my neck.7Southern Idaho || I don’t truly know who the old man fishing is. But something stopped me from driving past. I watched from a distance as he set his lines, and it seemed for a moment that perhaps he was my grandfather, my great uncle, me as a child. There is peace — they taught me — where the sky and water meet.8Southern Idaho, 2 || A loose clamp on the fuel line leads to our second encounter with a Left of West character . Spotting the leak from the window of his truck while pulling out of the gas station, Joe hopped out onto his one good leg and slid under the Scout to try to spot where the leak was coming from. Later, as we thanked him and talked about our travels and his, we learned he had lost his leg at the age of 19 while deployed as a door gunner in Vietnam. But rather than gripe about it, he was excited to point out that it had allowed him to corner the market for one legged extras in Western movies, and had done nothing to diminish his vigor for life. The laughter that he shared with us was deep and good.9Still in Idaho || Met these two ranch hands at the gas station. They weren’t much for words, but seemed like life out on the plains was treatin’ them just fine…10Missoula, MT || Finding a cool respite from the heat of the road in the calming waters of the Clark Fork.11Exit 0 Montana || Crossing up over the Montana/Idaho border, a lone cloud of dust trails off over the hills, marking the winding path of a loaded logging truck returning from the mountains. Dwarfed against a big blue sky, and nearly lost in the meandering valleys and parched golden hills, it’s smallness echoes a freedom that is our own to find.12Idaho Falls || Joe and his dog “Man” find me under the hood of the Scout in the hotel parking lot where they live. Shiny new tools in hand I am completely out of tricks. For the next couple of hours Joe takes me under his wing, and teaches me how to replace and adjust the points in the ignition system. Son of a tramp miner who eventually settled in Mudd, Idaho, Joe and his wife Dutch and their dog had hitchhiked back to Idaho from Florida. It took them 6 months. They sent us on our way with a bag of cold drinks that they had snuck in behind the passenger seat, and phoned us the next day to make sure we made it to Missoula safely.13Middle Fork of the Flathead || “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It.14The Corner of Space and Time || There’s a brown wooden door on the main street of Missoula with no sign to mark it. Locals know it as Charlie’s, or more mysteriously, “the corner of space and time”. Stepping through that wooden door, space and time take on a different meaning. I catch myself (after a strong whiskey drink or two) wondering if perhaps this really is a place where time has slowed down, hanging back a little further each day as the rest of the world picks up speed. Surrounded by the often smiling, sometimes scowling, black and white portraits of old patrons that cover the walls, and cowboys and river rats alike drinking elbow to elbow, the place fosters a strange sense of community that is distinct of the American West.15The Northern Pacific Railroad || Watching this train for the last 15 minutes I’ve realized I’m not the only one who has trouble slowing down. The faster I go the faster I need to go. But lately I can’t go fast. The Scout and her breakdowns, and summer in Montana and her lazy rivers, have alternately forced and cajoled me into a slower state of being. I wonder if, like Charlie’s, we too can sidestep the passage of time and linger a little longer.16Healing Waters || The year before I went to college I was diagnosed with a chronic ailment that doctors said I would have the rest of my life. I became angry for a time, and rebelled against well intentioned physicians and treatments. A year later, still struggling, I came to Montana for my first summer, and in Glacier found a special peace of mind. Summer after summer I returned, sometimes alone, other times with friends, but always drawn by a sense of rejuvenation. It has been 10 years now since that first summer, and returning there in good health I still find comfort and give thanks for the embrace of this land and water.17Wiener roast || Food tastes better when cooked in the open air…even when it only costs 99 cents and you cook it in the can it came in. Actually, that should be “especially when it only costs 99 cents”.18Apgar Village || 123 years ago Milo Apgar decided he wanted a farm with a view. Today the farm is gone, and so too is Milo, but his appreciation for the beauty of the lake is still shared by the countless thousands who have come after.

19Lake Mcdonald || Evidence of humans in the vicinity of what is now Glacier National Park dates back about 10,000 years. While life here in the winter would be a bitter struggle, laying out on the edge of Lake Mcdonald on a summers night it is fairly easy to imagine why we have been drawn here for so long.20The Skinny || The skinny on camping lakeside is that it’s really against the rules. We didn’t do that of course, but we did go for a dip. We’ll leave it to the imagination on whether it was a skinny or not…

21Polebridge Mercantile || Under the watchful eye of the bakery buck, David is stumped for the first time in 4 days. After guiding us effortlessly down the various forks of the Flathead, leading us straight to the finest of the secret camping spots of West Glacier, and seamlessly navigating us to the appropriate local eats and drinks, he at last falters while trying to decide between the legendary huckleberry bearclaw and the stuffed chicken roll at the Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery.

22Polebridge Mercantile || Operating in much the same fashion that it has for the past 100 years, The Polebridge Merc serves as a base camp, watering hole, community hub and bastion of the Left of West spirit in the still wild Northwest corner of Montana. After his initial quandary, David, to his credit, navigated the bakery in fine fashion – opting for both the bearclaw and the chicken roll.

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