During the past four summers, I’ve attended two Montana weddings both of which used hay-bales as rustic pews for those attending. The first was at a ranch near Utica where hay is important enough for the annual What the Hay Festival to have become the state’s number one tourist attraction. The bales were arranged in concentric circles around a tent which sheltered the ceremony from the sun and from ash falling out of the fire-browned sky of the year 2000.
The second, in August 2004, also included bales and a tent, but was much more exotic to northern Montana. A self-defined “mix of Sindhi, Irish, Scottish, Sikh, Jewish, Quaker, Sufi, Norwegian, Buddhist, and Montana traditions” the ceremony and the tent (mandap) where it was held were fundamentally Vedic. The vivid color of the mandap, garlands, and offerings contrasted brilliantly with the setting: a meadow ringed by an aspen grove, close to an old Metis cemetery, on the slopes of Ear Mountain in the Rocky Mountain Front, 25 miles west of Choteau.
The wedding bales are an expedient pretext to share some visual impressions with those fortunate enough to attend the recent magical ceremony and other hay mates who may be interested its remarkable beauty.
Most of those attending stayed at the Stage Stop Inn in Choteau, where they were greeted by a sign congratulating the groom and bride.
The groom’s mother comes from an old Great Falls family; his uncle is the rancher who married four years before. His step-father is my brother-in-law. The family built a dream cabin on the South Fork of the Teton River (Ivan Doig’s “English Creek” for those familiar with Doig's superb trilogy of Montana historical fiction).
The wedding party gathered at the cabin, and the ceremony was held a few pastures away, over which the two family groups made their separate ways.
After the families greeted each other at the Mandap, an old college friend, accompanied by the daughter of a favorite professor, sang an Irish ballad.
Then the groom's stepfather gave a Jewish blessing, attended closely by his stepson and his kvelling father.
The guests took off their shoes, sandals and cowboy boots and entered the mandap or sat on the bales just outside,
and the most sacred parts of the ceremony led by a Hindu pandit and his daughter began.
Here are some of the more solemn and vivid moments.
At the end of the ceremony the Holy Fire (Havan) was extinguished.
Following the Quaker tradition, all the guests, beginning with the rancher-uncle, bore witness to the marriage by signing the license. The groom had to buy back his boots from mocking maidens, while others watched.
Parents posed and the newly weds kissed.
The elders climbed back into the wagon and led the procession back to the cabin under the sun-tipped cliffs of Crab Butte.
Leaving the bales, mandap and offerings, the newly weds walked together down the twilit, aspen-lined meadow.
Back at the cabin, several additional Sindhi and Irish rituals were held, involving milk, salt, and oatmeal, further blessing and unifying the couple and their families.