The outlaw Montana that I moved to 15 years ago and that my Eastern friends had apprehensions about--many of them quickly dismissed once they visited and fired a few rounds from the target pistols I own or took a pickup down to a local bar with a poker table in its back room--is setting like the evening sun. Ragged former cow towns like Bozeman are turning into suburbanized high-tech meccas for Ph.D.s who like to go rafting and snowboarding. These immigrants have brought with them an exotic culture of dining spots that feature formal wine lists, bookstores that sell titles besides the Bible, sports that don't center on the killing of animals and taverns whose air is as clean and clear as the expensive vodka in their martinis.That all seems to jibe with what David Sirota wrote in his retrospective on Brian Schweitzer's kickass gubenatorial campaign. Now what I'd be curious to know is if these trends are unfolding in any other Upper-Midwestern states. Are environmental issues cropping up in North Dakota or Wyoming? Are any other towns up there turning into "high-tech meccas for Ph.D.s who like to go rafting and snowboarding"? Could Boise turn into the next Bozeman? I'm not sure why it's just Montana of all places that seems to be turning more liberal.
But the old-timers are turning bluer too--perhaps as a result of choking on the polluted air that issues from the state's assorted smelters, refineries, pulp mills, oil and gas wells and non-emission-controlled exhaust pipes. The inevitable legacy of almost everyone doing pretty much anything he wished is a huge environmental mess, from the copper mines of Butte, where the water table is thick with heavy metals, to the asbestos mines of Libby, where laborers are dying in large numbers from chronic respiratory ailments. No wonder Montanans legalized medical marijuana last fall. The stuff is said to ease the pain of battling cancer, and up in Libby at least, that pain is great.