After the vacation

Lone mountain

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!

xo Liza

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.




13 thoughts on “After the vacation

  1. Loved reading this, Liza! I grew up in Missoula and went to university in Bozeman. It is truly as you describe and the people remain friendly and helpful. Another gorgeous place to explore is Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park region – and northern Idaho when you need another dose of something different! Being in those places reminds you that you CAN smile at people on the street; talk to three ‘old guys’ sitting on a bench and come away smiling and affirmed (in a really good way!) and just mosey – when did we lose that word and way of living, and why? Thanks for the reminders – it’s been a long time since I’ve just tripped around someplace that is beautiful but not exotic.

    1. Kate! Thanks for writing! I loved Missoula and felt I could live there. Also like Philipsburg…but too small. The cultural life, the physical beauty…it had everything for me. I also liked Bozeman and spent time in Big Sky area. I did drive up to Flathead lake and Glacier and loved it too of course. What’s not to love. I’m so happy that my piece resonated with you.

  2. You really covered a lot of country, Liza! When you think fondly of Missoula and what if…remember the snow, the below 0 temps and driving on ice 🙂 Darn…no place is perfect!! It all comes back to having 2 places 😊 That’s my ‘if only!’

  3. Hello Liza,
    How nice, you’re back! I missed your blog!
    I live between several low mountain ranges (German Wine Route, Mountain Road and Black Forest). But that is not nearly as interesting as your experience in The American West!

  4. I enjoy reading your blogs so much, maybe we are kindred spirits. Montana is beautiful but next time make it all the way to Washington. That state has it all. I have traveled the world and am always glad to come home to my little town on the Olympic Peninsula.
    Thanks for your posts

    1. Hi Karen! Thanks for your kind words. I will make it to Washington…since I think my next big trip will be an Alaska cruise, leaving from Seattle. I long to see Washington and Oregon. I will now go look to see where the Olympic Peninsula is on my map. Carry on!

  5. Karen, I have to agree with you about Washington State! I live just south of Seattle and when I’ve been away, thinking well… I could live somewhere warmer, it seems as though the pilot is giving me a personal tour on the way in! Last time we flew from the south all the way up the islands, banked north of Seattle then down the east side of the city. It was glorious! What town do you live in? I am looking for a small town community; less expensive than the Seattle area; and hopefully… without as much rain and gray in the winter!

  6. You are funny, Liza! It’s great to connect with people and try to figure out life. I often also think about living near Merida, or San Miguel de Allende, or…?? I think part of me wants a change of life. Do any of you feel that way or are you all settled and happy?

  7. Your daughter has right when she says “live the life you’re in”, Liza!
    A wise thought.

    Kate, I understand your thoughts very well. I often think about living in Santa Fe / New Mexico.

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