Next Year Country
NEXT YEAR COUNTRY tells the story of three Montana families who hire a rainmaker in an attempt to bring relief to their drought-stricken farms. Montana is a state under siege; the drought that has lingered here for the better part of the last two decades is the worst the American West has seen in over 500 years. The impact on Montana’s small family farms has been profound, as many have been forced to sell out and move to town. NEXT YEAR COUNTRY profiles three families who persist in living and hoping through a punishingly dry time.
Matt Ryan is a retired New York cab driver now residing in the foothills of California’s Mount Shasta. He describes his craft as being more art than science, and although he prefers not to elaborate too much on specifics, he insists that most of what he does comes down to the rapport he has with Mother Nature. Montana farmer Phyllis Fuhrman has employed Ryan since 1991, and she gives him sole credit for the rain that has fallen on her farm in the state’s historically dry northeast corner throughout Montana’s recent drought. “Some people think he’s just completely wacko,” Phyllis says. “That’s OK, lotta wackos around”.
Gary Gollehon is the eldest of three generations of Gollehons living with him and his wife, Becky, on his great-grandfather’s homestead near Brady, Montana. Viola Hill is the 94-year-old matriarch of Hill Ranch, a cattle and sheep ranch located just south of the small central Montana town of Winnett. Drought pushed both farms to the brink. When news of the work Matt Ryan was doing with Phyllis Fuhrman in northeast Montana became front page news all over the state, both farms, along with farmers from ten other counties across the state, hired the rainmaker and paid him $10,000 for the promise of rain.
Becky Gollehon thought her husband had lost his marbles when he agreed to hire Ryan and pay his exorbitant fees, but when rain fell for three consecutive days following the rainmaker’s visit, she turned believer. Hill Ranch recorded the second wettest June they’d had on record following Ryan’s visit, although the drought later returned.
Rains have returned to most of the sections of Montana where the rainmaker worked. Where the drought persists, it is considerably less extreme today than it was. Some believe Ryan deserves the credit; others cry foul, have labeled him a phony, and worse. The rainmaker brought hope to communities where it was in short supply, and for some farmers that was enough to hang on for another year. A farmer’s hope dries up during a drought, and farmers need hope like they need rain if they are going to make it. If hope is the only thing Matt Ryan delivered for $10,000, was it worth the price?