The Upside of Montana’s Yellowstone Country


Around the time of the Super Bowl, I saw this commercial for a Cadillac ELR, their newest hybrid car, featuring Neil McDonough (that actor on TV shows that you recognize but never actually know his name). I remember clicking on it from a social media site (probably Facebook) because one of my friends had shared it with the title “Is this still the American Dream?”

The premise of the ad is simple: work long hours and hard days, take your standard two weeks of vacation and you’ll end up with the American Dream …. and lots and lots of stuff. That dream presumably includes a Cadillac ELR. Which is fine. It looks like a decent car.

But the truth is, it doesn’t resonate with me, and from an informal poll of my Yellowstone Country friends and wannabe residents, it doesn’t resonate with them, either. People don’t come to Yellowstone Country for stuff (unless it’s pine trees, endless trails and tall mountains). There’s not a lot of “stuff” to be had. We’ve got small downtowns with small storefronts, local shops that take pride in selling things that residents make with their own two hands (including locally grown food and drink) and wide open valleys, breathtakingly big skies, fast-moving rivers, really wonderful neighbors … and that’s about it.

The upside to living in Yellowstone Country is that it embraces a different kind of American Dream. It strives to be a home to people whose idea of balance is work half the day, paddle/ski/fish half the day. People who find the experience of cooking at home, from your garden, as enriching as eating out five nights a week. Whose idea of a nighttime activity is sitting on the porch for hours after the sun has gone down, talking (or not talking at all). Whose idea of stuff is just enough stuff to get you down the river, up the mountain, to the trailhead and back home at the end of the day.

And even better is the fact that those are the people that want to visit. The people who think the idea of a long Sunday drive, winding through the mountains, with stops only for overlooks and picnics, are the kind of vacations they want to take. Who don’t scoff at the easiness of an 8-gate airport and who think that the greatest gift they can give themselves is more time. More time to explore this region, more time for sitting and reflecting, more time shredding powder without stopping to check your email. More time observing and understanding the animals that (literally) roam the streets; and less time checking in on Facebook. In fact, if we had it our way, we would follow the European model and take the whole month of August off (and seriously get out of cell service).

Which brings me back to the Super Bowl ads and what was great about Ford’s follow up ad. (I’m really not here to tout one car dealer vs. another. I’m simply highlighting differences of ideologies across the board). The heroine discusses her American Dream … of making the world a better place, stopping to actually consider the earth, to marvel in it, and to support your community, your friends and neighbors by buying the stuff that they make, grow and raise. By thinking and living just a bit more simply

To paraphrase Ford, this is the upside of living in and visiting Yellowstone Country. To carve out your own American Dream, that can be full of stuff, but doesn’t have to be. To be more enamored with the stuff of rivers and trees, mountains and wildlife, lakes and snow. To understand what shopping, eating and playing local means. To vacation and live a bit more simply and a bit more in awe of the world around us.