Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Exile on Mainstreet

Exile on Mainstreet

Puddle, the Glory Days

Big Sandy's Main Street Puddle is no more.  At least this is what I am told.  Officially named the Joe Trepina Memorial Main Street Puddle, "Puddle" was paved over in October 2022.  When I learned of this mainstreet paving project, I immediately called a meeting of our clandestine puddle organization "Citizens Recognizing and Promoting Puddle," otherwise know as C.R.A.P.P.    We considered several strategies to save Puddle from the pavers.  But our pleas to city leaders went unheard.  Our attempts to put together a citizen petition were for naught.  The Montana Tourism Board was unsympathetic, and frankly, unresponsive.  However, we learned that there were dissidents within the paver cartel--patriots who were Puddle devotees.  Would they be able to help save Puddle?  Or were they too concerned about their jobs to get involved?  Would the dark of night offer any way to preserve this precious monument, or would Puddle simply be canceled?  Time will tell.  Our meetings were intense, and emotions ran high.  The pitchforks nearly came out, to be directed at the Puddle deniers and those who hated Puddle and all it stood for.  Cooler heads prevailed.  For now.

Members of the Paving Cartel

As the paving robots came closer and closer, I began to lose hope that Puddle would survive.  What would be the fate of Puddle?  What effect would its absence do to the spirit of our town?  How will we survive without the Puddle tourist trade?  Who will change the Big Sandy Wikipedia entry?  So many questions, all difficult to answer.

Whenever we as a society have questions about the future, the surest answer can be found in examining the past.  I believe that the history of Puddle offers us hope that it will rise again.

The first known photograph of Puddle is from 1919.  Those were the days when Puddle was uncensored, free from the rules of modern life.  Free from the constraints of tar, sand and rock.  Free from the new-fangled ideology of the 21st century.  But the world of asphalt caught up to Big Sandy.  And Puddle survived that.  Puddle overcame the adversity of asphalt and presented itself to the world as something timeless and undeniable.  Make no mistake, Puddle is not dead.  For now, Puddle is in exile under mainstreet, but civilization's efforts to destroy it amount to no more than a paw scraping the litterbox.

Puddle, 1919

The forces of government and the unpuddleotic that sought to obliterate Puddle will ultimately fail in their efforts.  Sure, they may have won this battle, but they will surely lose the war.  Puddle is now paved over again, but it will rise.  The transfiguration of Puddle has begun.  It will emerge again to delight future generations with its resilience and its charisma.  This is not an obituary, but a celebration of how a small thing, often taken for granted, can enrich our lives and our community.  Long live Puddle!

Life, the Universe, and Puddle

Friday, March 27, 2020

Puddle Origin Story

 The Big Sandy Main Street Puddle

In my hometown of Big Sandy, Montana, lies a small puddle of water.  Scarcely 10 feet in diameter, it’s located just off Highway 87 at 48.178412  -110.111571.  Officially named the Joe Trepina Memorial Main Street Puddle, it is commonly known as Puddle.  It was named for my late uncle Joe, who was the water superintendent for many years. I lived with him and his sweet wife Dottie one winter after my dad’s 4wd pickup broke down and I couldn’t get back and forth to school.  I shared the basement with their son Donnie, who holds the record for the number of consecutive plays of Don McLean’s song “American Pie.”  I swear, if someone plays that song at my funeral, I will haunt them for eternity.

Wikipedia, under the Big Sandy history entry, describes Puddle as “particularly charismatic.”  That is an apt description of the town in general, I think.  This idyllic community is overflowing with good will and happy people.  Sometimes, the town smells like wet dog, but other than that, it’s a great place to live.  That’s what they say, at least.  I live 20 miles out on Lonesome Prairie, but I do have my gallery in the town, so I get to check on Puddle with some regularity.

I began the Puddle Project April 28th, 2019 for one simple reason.  Or maybe not so simple, depending on whether you are a licensed psychiatrist or not.  Since my first posting on Facebook, Puddle has gained hundreds of fans in at least 13 states and Canada.  In June, fans will be traveling from every corner of North America—part of a developing pilgrimage to see and celebrate Puddle. Strangers approach me on the street to ask how Puddle is doing. 

Initial Facebook Post

Everyone wants to be part of “Puddlemania.”    Some say the water has healing properties.  A batch of vodka made with Puddle water is distilling as I write this.  Poems have been written about Puddle, courtesy of Big Sandy’s mad subgenius Steve Sibra.  I’m reaching out to Jeff Ament about writing a song, and maybe a doing benefit concert.   Our county commissioner has given me a verbal commitment to designate Puddle as a county park.  Negotiations are underway with our city council to install a permanent water supply to Puddle, complete with a fountain pump and a timer.  If a daily fountain show won’t bring in the tourists, nothing will.  My sources indicate the American Prairie Reserve is attempting to buy the section of Main Street where Puddle is located.  We will fight them and their vast amount of East Coast money.  “Save the Puddle, stop the APR” posters are being designed, and a Puddle Preservation Society has been formed, with a “meet me at the puddle” event planned.  Maybe I’ll see you there.  Senator Tester will speak.  My attempts to get President Trump to designate Puddle as a National Monument have failed, but Tester has promised to strong-arm the Donald.  Quid Pro Quo.  Not a day goes by that I don’t get an email, message, or phone call about Puddle—many wondering if merchandise is available.  But the one question I never get is “WHY?”

Summer in the City
Puddle as Metaphor

Is Puddle a metaphor for the decay of small rural towns in Montana?  Does it represent the crumbling infrastructure of our agricultural economy?  What about the aging population in towns like Big Sandy and the governmental abandonment we feel?  Will the media denigrate us as simple-minded irrelevants clinging to Guns, God and Puddle?  Could it be the “Puddle of Youth?”  Is it an oasis of hope for those who wander the desert of meaninglessness?  What about those who deny the existence of Puddle?  Will their disbelief prove to be the last straw that holds together our community and ultimately the World?    Am I crazy, or a visionary?  Am I the OWG (old white guy) equivalent of Greta Thunberg?  All of the above, and none of above.

One Dog's Water

Puddle as Conceptual Art

Conceptual art and the philosophic school of thought known as “Absurdism” have long fascinated me.  For those of you who didn’t waste a good chunk of your life going to art school, conceptual art is a movement that prizes ideas over the visual or physical components of works of art.  In short, just the expression of an artistic idea suffices as a work of art—no actual work needed.  It is so simple, at least on the surface, that many would reject conceptual art as being anything other than crap.  The key to creating “good” conceptual art lies in the mind of the audience, an art critic, or a gallery owner.  The more it is talked about and written about, the better it is.  By this standard, Puddle is a successful work of art for me.  Talked about, written about, and potentially monetized.  

Local News Coverage

Absurdism is where my real interest lies--the idea that we can find meaning in a meaningless object like Puddle.  This was my mindset when I first dipped a toe into the water.  And if I could entice others to find meaning in the meaningless…then the project would become a fully realized work of art.  I understand that some may find that offensive—but art does not exist to please everyone all the time.  Sometimes, people just need to have fun.  I know I do.

This American Life
Wizard or Wacko?

Being the man behind the curtain has come with a cost, however.  Time, energy, photo-shoots, posters, t-shirts, scale models, vodka labels.  I need employees, but who has time for that?  I have enough trouble with the one employee I already have.  I have repeatedly turned down media requests for more information and interviews.  “Puddlepalooza, Three Days of Peace and Puddle” is scheduled for June 19--20.  Stay tuned for the limited edition poster.  There will be a parade, music, young women wearing tall boots, stray dogs, games, and a lot of drinking.  And tons of unhealthy food, including the Big Sandy favorite, Weasel on a Stick.  

The possibilities for Puddle are endless.  Ideas flow like Lonesome Prairie coulees in the spring.  Art can be hard work.  My mind is on overload, and Toto is nipping at my heels.  It might be too much, but I am not afraid—I have the heart for it.  The big question is—do I have a brain?    

Holiday Spirit

Interested in buying a Puddle Palooza poster?  It's available on my secondary website.

Here's the link: 
Puddle Palooza Poster & More

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Harvest Dust

I'm clearly no below links to my YouTube channel.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Crazy Larry

As spring opens the ground for another season of renewal, I sadly say goodbye to Crazy Larry, my shop cat.  He was a wonderful animal and an important part of our farm family.  His presence and companionship is terribly missed.  I suppose that some of you reading this don’t like cats, and that’s ok—Larry probably wouldn’t have liked you either.  One of my favorite memories of Larry was when a neighbor stopped by the shop, and I warned him to watch out for Larry.  He laughed off my warning and a moment later Larry’s claws came out and he was hanging from the neighbor’s crotch.  Larry didn’t demand attention, but he was great at earning it.

Like many of the Siamese breed, he had a short fuse, but I believe that was the result of an inferiority complex due to his shorter than average tail.  He compensated for this shortcoming by being fearless—he would take on anything or anybody.  This likely contributed to his death.  His body was never found, but the most likely scenario is that he was torn apart by coyotes, fighting bravely until his breath was gone and his fur was soaked red.

He enjoyed his life with us in the shop.  He enjoyed lounging in a box in front of the radiant heater.  He enjoyed sleeping on top of the coffee maker.  He enjoyed sleeping on my lap every morning while I drank coffee.  The coffee, by the way, was double filtered—there was Larry hair everywhere inside that coffeemaker.

Every piece of equipment brought into the shop or parked out front was thoroughly inspected by Larry.  He seemed to feel that that was part of his job.  He wasn’t a very good mouser—he preferred rabbit—but he did well enough I suppose.  He much preferred very large mice with short tails, which I always thought ironic. 

The last time I saw Larry, we had breakfast together.  I ate oatmeal, he ate a mouse.  Then we went our separate ways.  I never saw him again.   I had 14 years with him, but it feels like yesterday when my wife brought him home.

Every morning when I pulled up to the shop, he was there, waiting for me.  Some mornings I forget he is gone, and expect to see him.  I think of him when I pour that first cup of coffee, knowing that it will not taste the same.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Gallery Event October 5th

Coming to the Gallery October 5th, 2018...

PLEASE join us for this event!  The Gallery is located in Big Sandy, next to Hwy 87, across from the city park.  No rsvp required, but if you are on facebook, please go to the event page check the appropriate box so we have some idea of how many will be attending.

A unique reading of prose and poetry, selected from the accumulated works of Steve Sibra and Christian Downes, both experienced writers and published authors. Sibra is a Big Sandy native who brings a small town Montana perspective to unusual tales of absurdity and introspection. Downes is a widely traveled poet whose work embraces nature and the natural world in a way seldom experienced.  A basic writing workshop 
will be offered: (2 sessions, Wed & Fri, please inquire if interested). 
There is no charge for this event or the workshop. 

STEVE SIBRA was born in Havre, MT, grew up in Big Sandy, and has lived his adult life in Seattle, Missoula and Big Sandy (not all three at the same time).  He is mostly retired from a lifelong career involving the buying and selling of vintage comic books.  Steve's writings have appeared widely within the narrow realm of the small literary press; nearly 50 of his pieces have been published in the past four years.  He currently lives in Seattle with his wife Stacey.  They have a dog who was named after Steve's mother's eldest brother.

CHRISTIAN DOWNES has traveled the high and low places of the world, learning, writing, and teaching. He resides in a humble cabin that he and his wife built in the island-woods, with their little red dog, Turkey.    Downes received the Allegheny Review’s 2013 Poem of the Year (chosen by Sarah Arvio) and a Reynolds Award from Nota Bene (2011). He earned an MFA in Poetry from Seattle Pacific University, and he is a regular feature in the Pacific Northwest.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Waiting for Godot to Call

Waiting for Godot to Call

After our long winter here on the farm, we had a short spring, which means that everyone is behind on the fieldwork.  This, in turn, means long days in the field, running the equipment, trying to get the work done.  Most days it seems pointless to envision a time of leisure or even a time of less stress.  One day I witnessed a neighbor pulling some equipment out of a mud hole for the second time in the span of a few hours, and I texted him, saying the stress level is pretty high this spring.  His response was “at this point, mere stress would feel like a vacation.”  It seems to be our lot to toil sun up to sun down, and one of the side effects of spending those long days alone is the problem of over thinking.  What I thought about, too much I’m sure, is the story of Sisyphus.  He was the one who, according to Greek mythology, was sentenced by the gods to the underworld, and his punishment was to roll a boulder up a hill until it got too steep, at which point the rock would roll back down the hill.  Then he started over again, with the same result, day after day, week after week, year after year.  Farming seems a lot like that sometimes.  We kill the weeds, and they grow back.  We plant the crop, harvest it, and then plant again.  Pick  rock, and more rocks work their way to the surface.   Every task is repeated over and over, year after year.   Like Sisyphus, every morning we start again, knowing that tomorrow we will start again.

Edwards Family Rockpile  1911--2018

The story of Sisyphus enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in 1942 when the philosopher Albert Camus wrote an essay called “The Myth of Sisyphus.”  Camus was a rock star in France and among the culturally elite in the 1940’s and 50’s and can be credited as the leading proponent of a school of thought called “Absurdism.”  The Absurd refers to the conflict between man’s desire to find meaning in life, and the realization that there is no meaning.  Camus promoted the idea that even though we know that anything we do is pointless, we should try anyway.  For him, Sisyphus was a hero—he tried to push that rock to the top of the hill knowing he would fail, and yet he did it anyway, again and again.  And that is how farmers feel sometimes.  Most farmers do not spend their life working in order to achieve a payday, or accolades, or that vacation to a seaside resort.  While our ultimate goal is to feed the world, many days it feels like the meaning of life is to simply work to get the work done.  And it never gets done.  Camus concluded his essay with these words:  “The struggle itself….is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy". 

The Threshers -- digital painting of family snapshot

The photo at the top of the page, “Waiting for Godot to Call” is in reference to the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot”, which is the most famous Absurdist play ever written and was required reading when I went to school.  As a teenager, trying to understand the play made me feel like Sisyphus, and the process of getting through it was itself an exercise in absurdity.  But as an adult, and as a farmer, it has a lot more appeal for me.  If you haven’t read it or seen it, the play is about a group of guys standing on a country road waiting for another guy, named Godot, to show up.  And he never does.  So what’s the meaning of the play?  The Absurdist perspective is that there is no meaning other than to sit through it and enjoy the struggle of trying to apply meaning.  The larger view is that the play prompts us to examine our lives and find our “meaning of life.”  What is the meaning of life?  Every year, hundreds of books are written on this topic, and thousands more are waiting to be written.  But I feel that the meaning of life can be found in our purpose.  If you can find your purpose, then you find meaning.  And I think that for nearly everyone, finding their purpose results in happiness.  But purpose has to find you to be authentic.  Purpose is born out of passion.  Our purpose is to defend and promote that which we are most passionate about.   For myself and many others, that passion is rooted in faith and family.  Others may have other passions, other purposes, for good or ill.  Purposes shift, I think, as we mature, and as our situations change.   But there is joy in authentic purpose.  Maybe not the sort of joy that has us dancing in our underwear—perhaps it represents itself as getting up every morning to toil in the fields, day after day.  

Prairie Storm

Here in Northcentral Montana, in this region known as Lonesome Prairie, we exist in relative isolation. At times we are nourished by the beauty of the wide-open spaces. Other times, we are fending for ourselves against a harsh, uncaring environment. We feel the weight of previous generations—the weight to succeed as they succeeded—to persevere as they persevered. The pressures that society feels—social, political, financial—are all there, but with the added pressure of having no control over the weather, which is critical to our success as growers. We strive to work with the land as if in some sort of partnership, but in reality, we are not separate from the landscape. We are as much a part of it as a rock in the field, or the antelope wandering the prairie. In the solitude of this agrarian wilderness, there is joy in looking out over a sea of wheat and watching it turn golden as the harvest time approaches. We feel in our bones the year of labor that went into the crop, and we acknowledge the possibility of it all being gone with one severe storm. We know that we see it as our fathers did, and their fathers before them. We are home. We are Sisyphus, waiting for Godot.

Golden Grain

What started me down this thought path was a photograph I took—the one at the top of the page.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a photographer for most of my life.  For years I was involved in commercial photography, photographing weddings, families, and high school seniors.  For the past 10 years, I have focused on non-commercial Fine Art photography, attempting to represent the passion I have for this this region of Montana.  That creative process brings me joy.  The day I photographed “Waiting for Godot to Call” I had the pleasure to be in the company of two other photographers who share that passion.  Dennis Dorr is one of the finest outdoor photographers in the state (check out his work at his Facebook page) and Cathy Anderson is one of this country’s premiere action portrait photographers.  Her personal work can be seen at

I’ve known Dennis a long time, and Cathy was a speaker at the conference we were all at: the annual convention of the Montana Professional Photographers Association.  By the way, I did very well in print competition at the convention, and the image that received the most awards for me is being offered at a special price for a limited time.  If you’re interested in hanging "Harvest Squaredance" in your home, or giving this print as a gift, head over to the “what’s new” page of my website and check that out.  Here’s the direct link:

Harvest Squaredance
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