|ICBM Missile Silo, Central Montana - 012813|
When you zip around eastern and central Montana (and much of North Dakota) you see these places. The are about an acre of fenced in concrete, asphalt, and a few electronic devices. They are scattered all over the landscape and often have cattle around them quietly grazing. Under that bit of concrete though lies the potential death of millions of people. It is the ultimate potential energy device humanity has every created, the intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, just waiting to become kinetic.
I grew up in the 70's and 80's with these all around me. As kids, my brother and I would play a game counting the number of missile silos we would pass while on family trips. Mom and dad didn't say anything about our game, but by the look on their faces we could tell it was not a game to them.
In junior high and high school, we watched movies like The Day After that chronicled the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust. We read Alas, Babylon. We were told that if WW3 started, we would be some of the first to know as we would watch the missiles rise out of the earth and go into space to come back down on the USSR. We also knew that we would have about 20 minutes to live before we would burn up in a flash.
Once after school, a few of us talked about what we would do if we saw the missiles launch. A few with teenage bravado and hormones exclaimed a desire to die not virgins, so they would go find their girlfriends to spend those last minutes with. A few said they would race home to family and spend time with them. I just got sad because I knew my home was thirty minutes away and I would die alone. Whenever I heard a sonic boom (a monthly or even weekly occurrence), I would worry for an instant that a missile had launched and gone super sonic on its one-way trip over the arctic. I would close my eyes and say a soft, mumbled prayer, "Please. Not this time."
In 2011 I took a long road trip around Montana. On the third to last day in that state, I started to come down with a nasty cold. I could only do a couple hundred miles of driving before I needed to rest. I was sad because I knew I would be sick on the day I would drive my favorite road in Montana, Highway 200 between Great Falls and Missoula.
I love that road because it tickles my fetish for geological boundaries. It is where the Great Plains runs head on into the Rocky Mountains. It is my favorite place in the world. That day though, I was feverish and wanting to both enjoy the beauty and just get to Butte and a warm bed.
About forty minutes west of Great Falls, I saw the deja vu-inducing missile silo site. I quickly grabbed my camera and shot five images as I sped by at 70 mph. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to take those photos, so I made it a quick pass. After I set my camera down, all of those high school memories from a time when our enemy was the USSR came flooding back. I suddenly felt both lonely in the car and nostalgic for Montana. I looked in my rear view mirror at the quickly receding silo and and whispered in a horse voice to it, "Please. Not this time."