A man and a woman sweep the dust from the treeless main street of Wisdom, Montana. At first this seems a foolish task — one for those with too much time on their hands and an unhealthy craving for tidiness. But if the dust were allowed to settle, this tiny outpost would resemble a ghost town. The couple push the dust west toward Idaho; the wind picks it up and deposits it right back at their feet. But I sense progress somehow. And dignity.

I and my daughter, Rose, watch them through the plate-glass window at Fetty’s Cafe, where loud locals and timid out-of-towners are gathered for their morning-coffee ritual. We have just spent a night camping out near the Continental Divide, at the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley. Our hips are sore from sleeping on the ground and rolling east in our sleep, down the slope of the divide. We are covered with Montana forest duff and road dust.