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The Bluepenciler

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60-cent beer

A large, pale yellow moon seemed to teeter on the very top of Green Mountain east of Noxon one recent evening. It wasn’t quite full, but was close enough for me to exclaim to Sandy and Chris, “Check out that full moon!”

They both turned in their chairs and looked. From where we sat in the waning daylight, Green Mountain’s brownish summit (made so by the fire that burned there two summers ago) and the moon perched there were framed between the aspens, a spruce and the Norwegian maple occupying my backyard.

No one said anything. Each of us, momentarily lost in our own thoughts, were mesmerized by the celestial body perched on the rim of the Clark Fork Valley like a king surveying his domain from the high ramparts of a castle. It crossed my mind that it would’ve been a good night to be up in the mountains, high among those ramparts, following the king on his royal promenade across the heavens. But I also knew it would be cold because of the deep snow lingering there, and with that thought a shiver ran through me. I shifted in my seat and bumped the already wobbly folding card table around which we were clustered.

It was almost disastrous. Three bottles of beer did their own teetering dance before we were able to bring them under control. It was a close call.

Really, though, it wouldn’t have been that disastrous. Chris and I were drinking cheap beer; about 60 cents a bottle. Sandy may have been a bit more dismayed had his Henry Weinhardt’s Dark Ale plummeted to the ground. But the commotion brought us all back to earth where we then commented to one another about the beauty of the moon, the melody whispering quietly in the aspen leaves overhead and my long, clumsy legs.

We decided to move the table over by the burn pile waiting to be set afire. And then a real disaster did happen. Sandy and I weren’t quite well enough coordinated to negotiate a small hump rising from the grass and a table leg caught on it. The resulting tilt of the table top dumped almost everything onto the ground, including the open containers of dip and salsa. Thankfully we had our beers in hand, but I personally felt the salsa was a much bigger loss.

The ants have had picnics there every single day since.

We lit the fire, roasted hot dogs, popped the tops on a few more of those 60-cent bottles, and well into the gathering darkness we talked. Sometimes the conversation was serious and sometimes it wasn’t. What did we talk about? Women, for sure. I remember that part. But who knows what else? It was the easy, comfortable kind of conversation common among friends. We were simply three guys drawn together by fire, food and the moon bringing about a casual end to an otherwise busy day.

Sandy, whom I’ve known since he was on the or-so side of 40 and is now 50, is a native of this valley. Chris, a young fellow pushing 23, I’ve known since his mom cradled him as an 8-month old baby in her arms. That was in 1981, in Canewdon, a tiny village in the southeast corner of Essex about 35 miles east of London.

Yes, he’s British. Sandy’s a Montanan, born and bred. I’m a transplant from Virginia, still referred to as a Commonwealth, insinuating some sort of allegiance to the British Crown, even after more than two centuries and a war for independence.

Our backgrounds vary about as much as the topography above which the moon marched that night in its nonchalant trek through the sky. Yet there we were, hailing from different corners of the globe, in the same space at the same time, divergent paths crossing at least for an evening, sharing a moment of our lives in a way you only do with friends.

I count myself lucky to have friends. They aren’t automatic, you know. You have to earn them. Friendship must be cultivated and it grows only as you reach out in friendship yourself.

I often feel I’ve not earned the friends I have. I’m not a particularly good cultivator of friendship. A bumper sticker in Toby’s Tavern says, “A friend in need is a pain in the ass.” On rare occasions I recognize the pain I can be and have been. Yet I still have some wonderful friends.

Two of them stood by me that night round the burn pile, hot dogs on a stick roasting over the glowing coals, talking about life and love, or maybe just talking nonsense, tipping back 60-cent bottles of beer. Good thing friendship isn’t measured by the quality of the brew.

It can be measured, though, by the quality of the moments one spends in the presence of others. And maybe by how one reacts to disasters like spilled salsa. How did Sandy, Chris and I react? We roasted hotdogs and drank cheap beer beneath a near-full moon. It was a good fire with a couple of good friends.

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Author info

Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

Tagged as:

Noxon, beer, friendship

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