Montana is still “the last best place.”
Two days ago I returned from a vacation for a “big” birthday: a long, dreamy road trip through Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.
I write this during a steaming hot Saturday afternoon in Tropica. The skies just opened up and I’m storm watching with my animals. But my mind is still dreaming of places richly named: the Gallatin Gateway. Cowboy Heaven, an upper valley on Ted Turner’s extraordinary Flying D ranch dedicated to land conservancy and free range buffalo roaming. Skalkaho Pass. Choteau. Silver Bow. Medicine Lake. Bear Creek.
Just last week, I was driving up precarious mountain roads with terrifying drops (and no guard rails) and around glittering, icy blue lakes created by glaciers. I layered fleece, down and smart wool, loving the sensation of being cold. I sped miles stunned through incomprehensibly vast plains truly stretching “as far as the eye can see.” It was humbling. I was silent as I drank in the site of grazing cattle and horses gathering to eat their oats, fields of wheat recently cut, drying in the sun or packaged into perfect rolls. Landscapes studded with homesteads and ranches impossibly far from other people and towns.
The American West still is a place of dreams, of life lived hard with awe inspiring vistas and challenging weather. The romance of the west, its history and lore is still celebrated by all who live there. The beauty takes up your whole being and the world falls away. Fashion week in Paris? Devastation in Syria? Nothing seemed to matter anymore except the life at hand.
Hungry for American life, I cherished interactions with “my fellow Americans.” I listened to local radio call-in shows on our hours’ long drives. I spoke to farmers and ranchers, housewives and young bartenders. I talked to checkout ladies in supermarkets and people at the gas pump as I filled up the rental jeep in middle of nowhere station.
“Party?” I asked a young couple, pointing to their two carts filled with enormous quantities of food at the Missoula Costco. (Yes, I was in Costco, buying a long sleeve, smart wool tee, my new best friend.)
“Harvest,” she said. When I looked blank she continued. “It’s harvest time. We’re ranchers. Sugar beets. Feeding 30 farmhands.”
I always feel so far away from life in Tropica. I often feel other people are living better or more authentically. I feel deprived of many of the things of western civilization that I crave, like museums, theatre, cafes, fine restaurants and shops.
I don’t feel so far away anymore. Now I see that every place is far from some place and that we are all far away from somewhere. My challenge is to become more fluid, both mentally and physically. To move more easily in the world, the climates, the geographies, the people. And to return to the place where, for now, I’ve made a home and there are people waiting for me.
My DD has taught me something that seems so obvious but has eluded me: live the life you’re in. Duh. Enjoy other lifestyles and then come home to enjoy yours. Tropical Gal reporting for duty!
P.S. Above is a sentimental favorite, Lone Mountain, elevation 11,162 feet, in the Spanish peaks, a subrange of the Madison range, which is a subrange of the Rocky Mountains.
P.P.S. So much I’m not telling you, about cowboy bars and experiencing pristine wilderness after being warned about frisky bears who need to eat 20,000 calories a day before they hibernate soon…I could go on and on.
Hello my lovelies! I’ve missed you. Do you have any vacation revelations to share? Oh please do! In the comments box below. Do share this post with family and friends. And if you haven’t done so already, enter your email so you won’t miss a thing.