To the north, the first traffic light is 144 miles away.
To the south, the first traffic light is 92 miles away.
There are no traffic lights here in Chester, Montana.
A privilege of our American Futures journey is that, occasionally, we can fly our small propeller plane far, far away to places like Chester, Montana. Chester lies at the top of the country, 30 miles as the crow flies from the Canadian border. From even farther west, we flew over the Bitterroot Mountains, which then rolled away into the high plains, with fields of green, yellow, and gold. The rivers below us meandered. The rail tracks looked very important. The roads indeed didn’t need traffic lights. In the skies, there was not another plane in sight for hours.
We had just spent some time along the Washington-Idaho border, to see one of the newly-finished Maya Lin installations for the Confluence Project, along the path of Lewis and Clark’s expedition some 200 years earlier than ours. And we were heading to the American Prairie Reserve in Northeastern Montana, to see the new rewilding of the American prairie with native bison, pronghorn antelope, and other animals. Chester was more or less on our way.
Our friends Phil and Patty Aaberg live in Chester. Phil is a musician—a pianist and composer with a collection of awards, performances, and collaborations that more than prove his bona fides to anyone who hasn’t had the good fortune yet to hear his music. Windham Hill Records, nominations for Grammies and an Emmy, and some 20 albums with names like From the Ground Up and Live from Montana.
After time on the east and west coasts, Phil and Patty moved to Chester, a town of about 1,000 people, to the house where Aaberg grew up, right across from his old school. Partly, they were looking for such a place to raise their young son (the older three were grown by then) and partly because, well, Montana always had a strong pull on Phil.