Saturday, August 13, 2022

Human nature hunts for sweet life

by Margaret E. Davis
| July 17, 2022 12:00 AM

A couple of weeks after I moved here last fall, a Kalispell resident buttonholed me at an event to ask if people had been kind to me, as a newcomer to the valley.

“I always say,” she said, “‘If they’re not nice, they’re not from here.’”

Her words stick with me as I hear and read the angst and even anger over people moving in. Within the span of one recent year, 3,681 people moved to the Flathead, making it the fastest growing county in the state.

I sometimes squirm over my newcomer status. Often I feel compelled to add that I grew up in Helena — I always get a little mad at myself when I say that, as if I have to justify living here. I love getting to know my new town: exploring, meeting people and supporting the arts scene, including teaching a bookbinding class at Kalico Art Center.

Montana feels much the same to me as it did when I left it, in my early 20s. I do notice a new (to me) urge among people to out-Montana each other.

The vast majority of Montanans came from somewhere else in the not too distant past. Even the Native Americans, such as the Kootenai (Ksanka Band of Ktunaxa), ranged widely and “home” would happen in different places, depending on the seasons and where the buffalo roamed. The Blackfeet descended from tribes in present Saskatchewan. Only the Salish and Pend d’Oreille have been traced to continuous occupancy in parts of the Flathead Valley as far back as 12,600 years ago, according to archaeologists (this from “Montana Indians: Their History and Location,” a publication produced by the state’s Office of Public Instruction in consultation with the tribes).

By these standards, my presence doesn’t rate a blip in this state’s history; same with my grandparents who were born in the early 1900s in Conrad and Whitefish.

My grandmother’s dad came from Norway, finding plots of Montana land to work that were always more full of rocks than the last. He might have been called a “honyocker” — a pejorative term derived from the German “Honigjaeger,” or “honey chaser.” He changed his name from Moen to Moe, worked as a barber to make ends meet, and watched, for example, his entire crop wiped out by a single hailstorm. He found more stings than honey.

At the Kalispell Gun Show this spring, a bookseller displayed a copy of “Strategic Relocation: North American Guide to Safe Places.” As I paged through it, the seller said, “I’m not going to stock that anymore.” I asked why.

“Because it’s got Noxon in it,” he said, “and I don’t want any more people moving there.”

I browsed on, but not before he told me how cheaply he’d bought his land in Noxon years ago when he moved to Montana.

Like bears, we humans always chase the honey, to make a sweeter life. Sometimes we don’t find it. Sometimes we do.

Audience development director Margaret E. Davis can be reached at 406-758-4436 or

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