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MacDonald Pass - Montana

MacDonald Pass - Near Helena, Montana





MacDonald Pass -Tall Bearded Iris - Baisch 2019



MacDonald Pass is a real place, about 6300 ft in elevation, west of Helena, Montana some 15 miles. It has a rich history, but everything about memorializing it in this 2019 Baisch introduction is about my own history.


My earliest memories include driving the narrow road that seemingly leaned right over the edge of the earth into eternity—depending on whether you were going up or down it. Eternity was on the down side. Going up, a child in the back seat looked out onto a rock wall with conifers taking tenuous footholds where they could find them.


It seems to me now that we never made it from the valley floor to the top of the pass without the radiator boiling over. There was a natural spring off on a wide spot in the road, where a metal pipe pouring a spout of crystal water had been fitted into the mountain side. The spring was always a stop on our way from the bottom to the top; a place to let the car cool, to put water in the radiator, and often to have a picnic.


Then there was Frontier Town, a magical old-west destination quite near the top of the pass. I believe the Frontier Town sign is still there—it was the last time I was by that way but the gate was closed and locked. I remember Frontier Town as a fantasy land of reconstructed old buildings and trappings and the best destination restaurant a kid could hope for. I liked to sit at the bar (yes, the bar) on a saddle-stool. We ate steak and shrimp, though I’m not sure how or why as we weren’t well off. I imagine it had something to do with the fact that the family was in the restaurant business locally. Friends were friends.


In the winter, weather permitting, we collected kinnikinnick on MacDonald Pass—low-growing evergreen branches with bright berries: perfect for Christmas decorations. We went rabbit hunting near the top of the pass, overlooking the fabulous Helena valley. A rabbit was dinner, not target practice. As were pheasants and grouse, deer and elk.


MacDonald Pass is a place my mind goes to in memory. One of my father’s favorite places, maybe his actual favorite place on earth.


This iris is one my father would have loved. It’s somewhat old-fashioned; a rich blend of purples, testament to simplicity--royal in stature, distinctive and unassuming in the manner that my father preferred things to be: more wild than civilized.


M L S Baisch - 2019