When my dad died, he left us kids some land he owned in Montana. Montana? It was the first any of us had heard about it -- I mean the property, not the state. Dad owned 40 acres in Wibaux County (pronounced WEE-boe), right across the state line from Beach, North Dakota, where he grew up. I envisioned building my rustic cabin in a place like this:
My dad's father had bought the land with a partner back in the 1930s; they were hoping to find natural gas under their property but no such luck. Dad and his brother each inherited half of it when their father died back in the 1950s and I don't recall him ever saying a word about it.
My siblings and I were excited about this surprise. My brother John and his wife went to visit my uncle and his wife in Colorado not long after we inherited the land, and John said something to Uncle Bill about going up to Montana to take a look at the place.
"Better wear your cowboy boots," said Uncle Bill.
"There's rattlesnakes everywhere."
Turns out, Wibaux, Montana looks less like the picture above and more like the one below:
Only, where our actual property is, much flatter. The prospect of building a cabin here suddenly seemed a lot less appealing, expecially when we learned that there's no water anywhere nearby. Then we had the land appraised: thirty-five bucks an acre. My quarter share of the forty acres wasn't even worth the cost of a plane ticket to visit, so when John told us how fond Uncle Bill was of owning that little bit of the wild west and suggested all of us kids simply sign our property over to him, I didn't hesitate to sign the papers. Uncle Bill died a couple of years ago and left the land to my Aunt Kathleen who, I assume, still owns it.
The other day I read this article and realized my aunt could be sitting on a goldmine! I was talking about it with A., the store manager, yesterday.
"Kathleen's my godmother," I said. "If someone found oil on her land and paid her millions of dollars for it, you'd think she could spare a hundred grand to help me pay off my mortgage. As a thank you for giving her and Uncle Bill the land in the first place."
"You'd think," said A., sounding skeptical.
Yeah, who am I kidding? "It would be like blood money, anyway," I said morosely. "We're supposed to be weaning ourselves from fossil fuels, and drilling for oil is only postponing the inevitable. I really don't want anything to do with it."
"You just keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better," said A.