Even before I made it to Melstone, I was planning to look up Bud Hjelvik. We had met unexpectedly in 2002 a few miles east of town.
My dog friend Leo accompanied me in the early days of that trek. To provide breaks, relieve the pace, and cool Leo off, we stopped every few miles at ponds and streams, ditches and rivulets of the Musselshell River. At most, I took my boots off and dipped my feet. Leo played and laved himself at the same time in the cooling waters.
But I made an exception when we came across an extraordinary expanse of irrigation ditch near Melstone. It was wide and clear and bounded by concrete. It was like a shallow swimming pool. Furthermore, the pool was hidden from the nearby highway by a high grassy berm.
Well, it was a fine place for Leo to refresh himself. And, why not his master?
I stripped naked, tip-toed in, and started throwing the cool element all over my tired and sweaty body. The moment was wonderful but short-lived.
Of a sudden, a pickup appeared atop the berm and its driver stared at the naked bather as he passed by.
I quickly dried my body, dressed myself and regrouped. Shortly thereafter, the unexpected intruder returned. He introduced himself as Bud Hjelvik, nearby rancher and sometime ditch rider. I returned the favor and explained our presence in his ditch.
Bud and Leo and I had a great visit. We found that we had common "family" in Lavina. Lois Boe, Bud's sister-in-law lived there and owned the FastGo Gas Station with her husband Sid, the Mayor of Lavina.
I took a favorite trip photo of Bud and Leo. Whenever I saw Lois in later days, I had to ask about Bud.
On passing through Lavina just a few days back in 2013, I had to get on the phone to Lois and ask how to find Bud when I made it to Melstone.
After a couple days in that micropolis, I - along with new dog friend Sam - hiked the 3 1/2 miles to Bud Hjelvik's ranch home.
We caught up on intervening times. Bud thought out loud, "It was only 4-5 years since you passed through here."
I had to tell him that 11 years had gone by. Much had happened in my life. Bud's wife had died and he had dealt with a number of health problems. And, he had had a recent injury to his shoulder - another story. Still, at 82 years old, he is very busy and active on the Hjelvik Ranch with his son Brent and grandson Dylan.
Bud and I got together once more a few days later. And again unexpectedly, in Ingomar after I resumed my 2013 Walk.
It was Saturday night at the Jersey Lilly. Charlotte McDevitt and I had made a birding excursion near the Yellowstone River. Birds were scarce, but we had made a day of it and returned to Ingomar for beans and burgers.
The Lilly was not quite busy for a Saturday night, but people slowly began to collect and move tables into a line. Then, of a sudden, I thought I descried Bud H. near the entrance to the bar. And, it was he - along with his favorite crony and fellow guitar picker, Joe Kanta. The two moved towards our table and introductions were made.
We talked for a while and the two older gents eventually settled in with family and friends. But not before I asked if "you are going to play tonight?"
Gnarly old Joe, who is slowly going blind, had to say, "You have to talk to my manager about that."
Well, one might have wondered who the real manager was. In any case, food was eventually eaten and guitars appeared.
The two entertainers pulled their chairs out from their tables and started to play a string of old country standards and favorites from their repertory. Bud and Joe have been jammin' and playing for small groups for years.
The watchers hardly gave them full attention, but they clearly enjoyed their gift of strumming and singing.
The two oldtimers played for most of two hours. Before the night was out, they had emulated Cash and Owens, Haggard and Robbins, and a host of other country greats and not-so-greats.
The highlight of the night was a long rendition of Kenny Rogers's The Gambler: "You gotta know when to hold 'em, you gotta know when to fold 'em, you gotta know when to walk away, know when to run."
Bud Hjelvik and Joe Kanta
That was a touching lyric which most surely had keen meaning for the musicians. They had both passed 80 years and were still energetic and generous enough to share their talents with neighbors and strangers alike.
The Gambler drew out some voices from the audience as did a few other closing tunes. Then, people slipped away into the night, but only after hugs and thankyous were shared. This blogger took several photos to give hints of the sweet moments at the Jersey Lilly Bar in the tiny town on the lonesome prairie spot called Ingomar, MT.
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Amity and Unity to you.