Oct 192009

When our family moved to Missoula, Montana in 1965, I couldn’t help but notice some strange looking letters on Mt. Sentinel, a nearby hillside. Anyone who drives eastbound on Interstate 90 through Montana can’t help but notice a large letter “M” on this hillside in Missoula. But if you look closely beneath the concrete “M” you may be able to see some other letters, though they are not made of concrete.

In the mid 1960’s the letters were quite evident. Just to the south of the zigzag hiking trail that leads to the “M” there are two Greek letters; capital Sigma and capital Chi. Sometime more than 40 years ago, members of the Sigma Chi fraternity dispersed fertilizer in the shape of these two letters on the hillside. This was no small time operation as the letters were quite large and correctly proportioned. Due to the unique geology of Missoula, Mt. Sentinel is mostly devoid of trees, at least on its west face. Until a spotted knapweed infestation in the mid 1980’s changed the situation, the hillside face visible to Missoula was all wild grass.

Missoula does not get a lot of rainfall, less than 14″ a year on average. Consequently, the grass on the hillside is much like a lawn; if you don’t water it, it becomes dried out and brown. But in the spring it’s green for a while, and this is when the Sigma Chi letters would really come out.

Over the years, the Greek letters faded. Your best chance of seeing what they looked like was in color postcards from the 1970’s. Postcard photographs were often taken of the hillside in Spring, as that’s the only time it gives off a feeling of life!

The photograph you see here was taken by me in September 2008. As you can see, the letters are still there, though very faded and broken up.

Simple fertilizer had that much impact. So why is it that the crop circle guys don’t do this? Crop circles don’t last, as by definition they are made in vegetation that is eventually harvested. Why don’t we see more of this sort of thing?

As you may know, most crop circles are based on radial symmetry, as that’s the easiest kind to make with the conventional “stomper board”. The layout is easy too, as you just need a fixed center and ropes for constant distances. Euclid would be proud. But one could just as easily disperse fertilizer as stomp down the crop with a board. It would be vastly more permanent too.

Back in the 1980’s, Missoula had a microwave reflector panel located on Waterworks Hill that was constantly receiving a new paint job in the form of a large peace sign:

Several websites devoted to this unique political and artistic expression are found on the Internet. The peace sign has been gone for some time now, but is still fondly remembered in Missoula. Here is a photograph I took of a display inside the Butterfly Herb in September 2008:

Interestingly, someone has tried to resurrect the venerable peace sign, again on Waterworks hill:

Frankly, it just doesn’t stand out. It seems to me that if Missoula’s leftists really wanted to make a lasting impact with a big peace sign, they should have used the same technology that the frat boys did back in the early 1960’s…

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Growing Up In Montana

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