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Locals We Love: 'Through The Breaks' Boat Builder, Jason Cajune

By Stio Mountain on
 Locals We Love: 'Through The Breaks' Boat Builder, Jason Cajune

Jason Cajune went to college first at UC Boulder and later at Montana State to study architecture, which he had apprenticed for in high school, but became disenchanted with the field and never graduated despite giving it several years. He started boat building south of Seattle with a logging job on the side before the Pacific NW sent him home looking for blue skies. Luckily, he returned to Montana with a few new skills and his dream girl at his side. Jason started his boat business in January of '95 in a shed. 2001 put the hurt on his business so he returned to school and became a critical care paramedic and worked for the fire department as a second job until a fused back sidelined him for good from the fire service in 2016. The boat shop had always been there through nearly 25 years and remains his shelter from the storms.

Where do you live and how long have you lived there?
I live in Livingston Montana just north of Yellowstone Park. I have lived here for 23 years.

How did you choose to live there?
I grew up in Northwest Montana on both sides of Glacier Park, around the Fathead Valley on the west and Two Medicine on the East side. My wife Vedra and I were married up there and started our boatbuilding company in Whitefish. Soon we decided to look at the Livingston area as a better place to run the business since there are more opportunities for river dories here and we specialized in fishing boats at the time. I had previously gone to MSU and knew the area.

What do you find special about living there?
Livingston is a lot like Whitefish used to be; a railroad town, logging and agriculture town, near the mountains and a national park. Outdoor opportunities are plenty; the Yellowstone river runs right through town and you can float minor whitewater near the park with Cutthroat fishing, or go east of town through cottonwood bottoms with big browns in the slow water. I've floated in with a limit of ducks and geese or a bull elk in the boat. Backcountry skiing is endless. Nearly every outdoor opportunity is here and is within minutes of town in any direction.

What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve had to overcome living there?
You've got to get through Jan and Feb when the wind comes out of the mountains and rushes out to the prairie. People go a bit crazy, especially if they are from the city and aren't used to the open spaces. It makes for a good reason for people to stay away. People move here in July when the living is easy and the cotton is high, then they start wishing for the subways and move back. It's a pattern. The bars and breweries and restaurants make for good escapes. Of course, if you've lived anywhere from Buffalo to Calgary you know wind is part of the deal, and unlike the west side, there's lots of sun. (The wind is awful. I hear Idaho is nice, you should try that.)

What is unique about your community that you wouldn’t find other places?
It has one of the best main streets anywhere with the old brick buildings from the railroad days still standing; a couple of live theaters, a great gear store, the original fly shop in the west, Dan Bailey's, and a great city park right on the river. It's known to have been discovered by writers and painters long ago so there's a fairly mature literary circle and bookish culture mixed in with cranky old timers. The fourth of July rodeo with the Absarokas as the backdrop is about as classic as it gets. There's the ancient model train museum, a ballet company, the oldest professional fire dept in Montana, and a hidden hang glider’s community. There's grizzlies and huckleberries on one side of the valley and cactus and rattlers and elk on the other.

How do you find balance between your professional career and mountain pursuits?
There's no balance. I don't get much done anymore. The year goes from ski season to early fishing to river life summers to bow season to bird season. There's no room for working.

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had exploring the outdoors?
I had many bear encounters as a kid in Glacier and more than a few mishaps climbing and skiing. A crashed paraglider in 1990, a motorcycle vs elk in 1994 and a sow and a cub bear spray party in 1992. That's when I got serious about fishing and ditched the adrenaline sports, sort of. Now my memorable experiences are napping while the elk are bedded down and being outside with my daughters.

Do you have any defining childhood memories from the outdoors that have influenced where you are today?
Two Medicine put the zap on my head that remains to this day. When you can go out the door from the cabin and row across the lake to climb peaks or fish backcountry lakes as a pre-teen it makes life in town seem a bit sedate. The closest town had one store and the clearest radio signal was Canadian. When I left Glacier as a 20 something I was a bit lost and unsure where to go or what to do. College didn't take for me even after 6 years and everybody started climbing inside and pretending like they were about to summit Everest from main street. I guess I was insulated from the trends all around me and it all seemed fake, still does. It was a blessing and a curse to have lived there; I compare every place I ever go to that valley.

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What role does nature play in your life and how do you choose to connect with it?
It's the path to simplicity. The worries of modern life go away when you are sitting in the dirt listening to elk bugle or cooking on a fire. The light is what I really love in any landscape; golden hour light or bright colors against a black and blue storm sky. Every time I get out I wonder what I am doing anywhere else. As my body starts to disassemble itself I love hiking slower and sitting on rocks, a lot.

What was it like filming 'Through The Breaks' with Tom Attwater?
I don't know if I can answer this in a good way. Obviously Tom is awesome. It was a little unusual and strange having the film crew with us and we just tried our best to do our thing. As a family, doing river trips is our favorite summer activity and we're very comfortable doing it so we just carried on and made them keep up. They made a beautiful film.

What do you hope people will take away from watching this film?
As a mountain kid, I visited the Prairie and Breaks mostly in the fall hunting season, but this was the first time experiencing the full green of summer and it was revelatory. I hope people will see that in many ways it is more rugged and expansive than the mountains and offers a view into a landscape that has been cast aside as badlands but is, in fact, a vast ecosystem with oasis-like river bottoms connecting desert and prairie lands with the Missouri River running like a main artery through it all. In the film we didn't even touch on things like hut to hut hiking and biking, horse pack trips, fishing the rivers for smallmouth, walleye, catfish and sturgeon; watching elk and mountain sheep and golden eagles on the cliffs. The breaks contain a massive amount of public land and paired with the APR lands you might never see it all.

If an old friend with city roots calls and asks what it’s like living the ‘mountain life,’ how do you describe it to them?
It's awful. One uber in the whole county, people smell like woodsmoke and beer, you're forced to eat game meat without preservatives and listen to stories of plowing snow and fixing diesels and hunting birds with your dogs like a peasant. Small town basketball goes all winter. It's so exciting here your face hurts from smiling. There's only one sushi place. You won't like it.

Watch the full film, "Through The Breaks" featuring Jason Cajune at -

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