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Amuse Bouche: ‘Five feet high and rising’

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By Scott Mechura EBS COLUMNIST

In his song “Five Feet High and Rising,” Johnny Cash sings: “My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the lord. We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home. But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.”

As a lifelong Cash fan, I’ve held this song high on my list of favorites.

These words always meant something to me. But they came to mind on a different level recently as I watched the news of the floods across Montana and communicated with friends in Paradise Valley; as I watched businesses and livelihoods swept away by the hour.

Big Sky is growing by leaps and bounds. I remember not so many years ago when restaurant owners would talk about how they had 12 months worth of bills, but only six months worth of income; truthfully, it was more like four months.

In an industry where profit averages about 5 cents on the dollar, you can imagine how those four to six months were so precious.

I’d hear staff talk about how on a given night the restaurant or bar was “crushing it.” And it was. But for every one of those nights, there were six or seven when it wasn’t.

Big Sky has a winter and a summer season to thrive. And while winter was where you “made it,” summer now allows us to keep the lights on and the kitchen equipment fired up.

Imagine tourism towns like Gardiner and Red Lodge that essentially only have one season.

Sure, it’s not like they roll up the sidewalks in the fall and roll them back out in the spring. But let’s be honest. They rely on the summer tourists visiting our parks and all the rich, environmental bounty Montana has to offer for their year-round survival.

A few months into the pandemic, I wrote about how the best way to assist our bars and restaurants was to purchase gift cards. This gave them some immediate income to stay afloat, without costing them too much upfront.

Another call to arms is in order.

These towns need us. They need our patronage.

Maybe you spend more in gas driving from Bozeman to Gardiner than you will having lunch at the Wonderland Café & Lodge or the Iron Horse. Or maybe it’s a weekend day you should be doing house chores, but instead you drive to Red Lodge and go to Foster & Logans Pub & Grill or Prerogative Kitchen.

We haven’t felt an economic pinch like we are now in 40 years. But for many of us, it’s just that, a pinch.

For the families and restaurant and bar owners effected by the floods, the pinch is more like a tourniquet. 

But Montanans are resilient. 

I’m talking about Montanans that are multi-generational. Montanans that have grandparents who survived the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl years, World War ll, the energy shortages of the late 1970s, and many other hardships.

But while the rivers subside, fertile land dries out, fish find new areas to spawn and the vast majority of us move on with our daily lives, there are those who will feel the pinch for years to come.

I don’t know what the coming year holds for towns like Gardiner and Red Lodge, but let’s hope they find their rich black bottom dirt.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry and is a former certified beer judge. 

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