Maize Smith: An Ode to Red Ants Pants

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I was ecstatic when our mud covered van pulled into the sleepy town of White Sulphur Springs, Montana. Among the post office, two gas stations, and a few bars sits the Red Ants Pants store. I could barely contain my excitement at the site of floor to ceiling stacks of workpants that greeted me inside the casually decorated storefront. As I stared up at the pants I thought back to the last time I needed to buy work pants…

In the summers, I lead youth trail crews in Idaho, an occupation I am probably too boastful about. Empowering youth, especially young women, through hard work in rural places provide the most exhausting and most fulfilling experiences of my life. Felling trees, moving cow sized boulders, and swinging a pulaski requires high quality, durable, well fitting pants. Halfway though the season I was due for a new pair of pants, my used Patagonia work pants had worn so thin the patches wouldn’t hold. So, I ran to the nearest ranch store to grab some new duds. I headed to the women’s section out of instinct, only to find one single table of Carhartts. My choices were between regular or “slim” fit. I tried on a few pairs in various sizes and, not to my surprise, none of them fit, especially not the “slim” fits. Red faced, I started combing for other options when a store clerk asked if they could help me. I asked if there were other work pants for women in the store. She sheepishly replied no and urged me to transfer my size to men’s pants. After a few warranted complaints, I obliged. The men’s work pants were stacked floor to ceiling, numerous brands, in a million different sizes. I tried on pair after pair after pair, nothing fit quite right. But, I needed pants, so I settled on a pair that were too long and rode high enough to touch my upper ribcage.

These pants did their job… kind of. They kept the sun, dirt, and bar oil off my skin, but they did not fit. How the hell am I supposed to dig topline and keep a bunch of teens swinging their tools if my pants keep cutting off the circulation to my brain?

Hence, my ecstasy when entering Red Ants Pants, these weren’t just any old pants, these were hardy pants made for women. Let me say that again, pants made for women. Well fitting, well made, pants for working women.

And the pants just scratch the surface. Not only does Red Ants Pants create a high quality product for hard-working women, they have become an integral part of the small town community in White Sulphur Springs and Montana in general. For instance, the creator of Red Ants, Sarah Calhoun, made a conscious decision to base Red Ants in an old saddle shop in White Sulphur Springs, a former timber town located in one of the poorest counties in the country. When the store opened its doors in 2006, Sarah worked hard to become a meaningful part of the community, but also support women and girls in rural spaces. Which lead to the creation of the annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival and the Red Ants Pants Foundation. The music festival brings together the people of Montana and beyond for three days of great music, local beer, and camping on a ranch just outside of White Sulphur Springs. The festival brings additional customers to local businesses and also raises money for the Red Ants Pants Foundation, which then supports leadership roles for women, the protection of family ranches and farms, and the preservation of rural towns. As a woman working in rural Idaho, I understand the value of connecting to places through your livelihood, especially for women who were historically told these spaces and this work was not for them.

I sure as hell am not the first, and won’t be the last, to admire the work of Sarah Calhoun. She built a small business that has extended its reach far beyond pants. Red Ants Pants has built community and support for women to realize their immensely beautiful potential in all spaces, and look damn good while doing it.

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Allie Leber: Contemplations on Coal

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It’s day 57. On the schedule for today, two guest speakers. First, we’ll be meeting with one of the men who was key in defeating a major proposed coal development. At this point we’re used to being presented with multiple viewpoints of an issue, we’ve even come to expect it. Sometimes we get these viewpoints over the course of a week, or even just a few days. And then there are some days when we see them both within a matter of hours. This was one of those days. We learn that just a few hours after meeting with our first speaker, we’ll be touring an open pit coal mine.

Not long after waking up, we head to meet with our first speaker of the day, Clint McRae. He and his father were major opponents of extracting the coal found in Otter Creek, one of the largest coal deposits in the world. We also learned they fought in opposition of the Tongue River Railroad, a railroad proposed as the main method of transporting said coal. After learning all of this about Clint, I was greatly taken aback to hear him open with the words “I’m not anti-coal.” But you see, Clint McRae is hardly what you’d call a communist, environmentalist, rock-licking hippie. He’s a fourth generation Montana cattle rancher.

He expanded his statement, “I’m not anti-coal, but I expect the neighbors of these facilities to be treated right. And they haven’t.” He explained coal in a way that seemed completely non-partisan. It wasn’t about whether this political party was invested in coal, or if that one was opposed to it. For him, it came down to protecting his land, and the land of his neighbors, for future generations.

It seemed to me that Clint was touching on something we’ve been studying continuously for the past two months, the 80/20 rule. This rule says that with any given mix of people, you may never be able to reach an agreement on 20 percent of the issues. These are things fundamental to people’s identities that they are not willing to compromise on.  The other 80 percent, however, is often surprisingly easy to agree upon. In general, we all want a good future for the next generation, and often, we all just want to keep things the same as they are.

This type of conflict resolution is key in reaching understandings. We are living in an era in which there is a stark division between the ends of the political spectrum. Journalist Naomi Klein says this “culture-war intensity…is the worst news of all, because when you challenge a person’s position on an issue core to his or her identity, facts and arguments are seen as little more than further attacks, easily deflected”. Clearly, facts and figures are not always key to cooperation. Understanding what people value is.

With this mentality of being open to listening to the values held by opposing sides, I tried to keep an open mind while touring Spring Creek Mine. Right from the start, it was easy to see that the people who worked there were not evil or malicious. They were good people doing what they believed to be best for them, just as Clint was. They were proud of the care Spring Creek took while extracting coal and then attempting to reclaim the landscape, and maybe rightly so. They were certainly making better efforts than any company I’ve seen back home on the east coast. Are these actions enough to qualify Spring Creek Mine as a responsible coal operation? I’m certainly in no place to decide.

I’d like to end with another quote from Clint. Echoing his opening statement, he passionately asserted, “I don’t have a problem with coal development if it’s done responsibly, but I’m beginning to wonder if it can be done responsibly.” These should be the questions we ask ourselves. The lines we draw shouldn’t be between parties, but between what is damaging to the land and to future generations, and what is not.