My friends, David and Vidya from Port Townsend, Wash., drove to Harlem to stay the week with me and attend the Montana Seed Show. We covered every event. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Sondra told us so much about the Seed Show. We just had to come see it.”
Our first event Thursday was the wool judging. Vidya knits, so she was particularly interested. “I was surprised to see so many varieties of wool on display, to get to talk to the judge about the wool. I was amazed at the different breeds of sheep. The judge was so knowledgeable, so thorough and conscientious as she handled the fleeces. And it was a special treat to see the young girl who won the Youth Division. She was so delighted with her ribbon.”
Thursday evening we sampled Death by Chocolate. David said, “That event was well named. It was very hard to place my vote. I had to sample some a second or third time to make sure I had made the right choice.”
After fasting the requisite 12 hours, we returned to the Harlem High School to have our blood drawn at the Health Fair, an annual event arranged by Fran Hodgson, Blaine County Health nurse in conjunction with Western Health Screening of Billings. Vidya said, “I’ve never been any place where the health department makes something like this available. Look how it draws the people. The Seed Show is the perfect place to do it. We are happy to be able to take advantage. I’ve put it off, having my blood tested, for years because it is so expensive.”
After having our blood “vampired” out into tubes, we devoured a delicious breakfast served by the Harlem Civic Association. Then my friends and I helped Kris Shaw hang her own art along with a display for Art Duff, an artist from Chinook who died in November and for whom this year’s Show was dedicated. There is nothing like volunteering to make a stranger feel like “part of.” By the time we’d finished, my Washington friends knew Kris, her husband David and many of the “neighbor” artists.
My friend David commented, “I couldn’t believe how many artists were here given how lightly the area is populated. Art seems to be an important part of the show, on equal standing with other endeavors. The gallery was always packed. The number of people who attended and bid at the Friday night auction is further evidence of the importance of art in this area.”
Vidya added, “I loved the quality of the children’s art — that had to be due to the encouragement of their teachers. What a gift that the kids can display their work where the whole community gets to see it.”
“One thing that disappointed us, we expected to see more ag exhibits, more agricultural influence,” said David.
“We wish we could have seen all the exhibits judged like we saw the wool judged,” added Vidya. “We learned so much listening to the judge’s feedback. I wanted to see everything in depth, to hear all the details. We are impressed by the number of loaves of bread, the pies, cupcakes. We would have liked to hear all the judges’ comments.”
“Pie should be the state food of Montana,” added David. “A real staple of the diet, based on what we see wherever we go, like at What the Hay and the Seed Show. The money the pies brought at auction! That really demonstrates support. People come prepared to buy. They know they will spend a hundred dollars — some high price — for a pie. They are donating for their community. Amazing.”
After the pancake supper Friday night, served by the FFA, my friends told me, “We get a real sense of community here. Look at how hard everyone works to make the Seed Show happen. Everyone, the kids and the adults, together. The pancake supper is great, the whole community, all ages, all the diversity, whole families gathered. Every time we come to Harlem some community thing is going on, and we get to go. Like the benefits for the volunteer firemen or the ambulance crew. There is always something going on that says ‘community.’”
After the banquet Saturday night, weary and sated as we were, I asked “So, is there anything you’d like to add, final impressions?”
“It’s kind of what we expected. Kind of not what we expected. All the stuff that goes on in this area, this empty land, here in Harlem, the county, the region. Basically it’s all home grown. The car show in Turner. The Blaine County Fair in Chinook. The Fall Festival in Havre. Everybody participates, whole families. Where we live, there are cities nearby. So kids, and adults too, go to the city to do city things. Here it’s a long way to the city. It’s all home grown.”
“Yet the pace is leisurely. It’s relaxed, but things get done. I know there is stress. Of course, you have stress. But it’s not the same kind of stress. People don’t rush. People take time out to talk to you. They don’t act impatient, brush you off. People like to talk. It’s not such a stratified society like most places. There are so few people, everybody’s job is important to everybody else. Everybody counts. It’s good.”
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)