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A long time ago, when I was a 19-year-old lad, I pounded the Hound all the way from White Plains across this great land to Missoula, MT, where I enrolled at the university there. My adventure began when a high school chum stopped to visit over Christmas and explained he was a student at the university there. Joe went on to tell me that Missoula was “an old fashioned Wild West city,” and the hunting and fishing in the surrounding areas were exceptional. Given that I was a fly fisherman, my ears perked right up.
“Why not apply?” he asked. That was during winter of 1960, and I had been mulling over my future with no real plan. Anyway, perhaps mostly on a whim, I sent an application to the university and was accepted. I spent four years and one full summer, pursuing a curriculum in fishery biology and in 1965 received a degree in that field. Then it was decision time. As a result of the time I spent in Missoula, I had become completely captivated with Montana.
So the last day on campus, I walked around the “Oval” several times, pondering why I was leaving. My dilemma was compounded by the fact that home was 2,500 miles away in New York State. But family ruled. Next morning, Kate and John drove me to the station, where I boarded the North Coast Limited. During the long train ride, I kept telling myself, “This is just temporary; I’ll go back.” But it was to be quite a while.
In 1988, I was invited to go on a fishing trip to West Yellowstone. I was ready to leave when the phone rang and I learned that a family member had passed away. No trip to Montana that year.
Then came September 11, 2001. This time I was really going to make it back. The day began sunny, clear and cool. Nice weather for that time of year. I met my friend at Westchester Airport for the flight to Bozeman via Minneapolis. Our flight left at 8:36 a.m., right on time. About an hour and 15 minutes into the flight, the captain came on the intercom: “We’re about 45 minutes out of Minneapolis and will land soon.”
Ten minutes later, flaps were down and the captain spoke again. “We’ve been diverted to Traverse City, Michigan; Minneapolis airport has been closed.” I turned to my friend and said, “There’s been a terrorist attack, and Osama bin Laden is involved.”
When we landed, people at the front of the aircraft were crying. We were ushered to the terminal, where monitors showed the Towers falling and smoke everywhere. Airline staff gathered us and explained that lodging and meals would be provided until flights began again.
We were there two nights. Nothing was flying. I called a car rental and arranged for a vehicle. The next morning, we left for Minneapolis to connect with I-90. Then it was on to Fargo to catch a few hours sleep. Next morning we were off early, crossing the plains of North Dakota and Eastern Montana. We passed Glendive, Miles City and Billings. Then somewhere east of Livingston, the Rockies emerged as tiny white dots on the horizon. I was almost overwhelmed with emotion. In Bozeman, yellow tape cordoned off the airport terminal; the parking lot was deserted. We checked in, signed for our rental, and headed for West Yellowstone.
It was quiet there, almost eerie after the terrible and stressful events of the previous few days. Floating a dry fly on the Madison, I realized how lucky I was to be there, away, from tragedy of the last day. I was happy finally to have made it back to the “Big Sky,” but deeply saddened that it had to be in the shadow of 9/11.