It’s spring in Northwest Montana, late April, but the winds are blowing in from the north. The new grass may soon be covered with snow – like it was on Easter morning. Georgia is already seeing days of 80+ degrees and spring is almost a memory there. The heat and humidity of July will already be riding the wind. I know these two places. The opposition of the landscapes seems to be performing a strange alchemy, a forging of past and future that equals a present I can live with. It wasn’t always this way.
The sky is small in Georgia. The lay of the land and miles of trees – skinny pines and bushy hardwoods, block the horizon. I was lost there. For years I tried to find my direction, but I couldn’t see far enough. My vision was blocked. The shiny magnolia and the air, sultry with the smell of gardenias, only made it a slightly more pleasant prison. The smelting heat of August made it unbearable. Family runs deep in the south, as do secrets.
Sometimes honeysuckle permeates my dreams. The sticky-sweet smell reminds me of being a kid and pulling the stamen through the white tunnel of the flower. As it slid out the bottom, a single drop of honey perched on the rounded end like a tiny golden world, a universe of light.
Visiting Montana is different from living in Montana. After I moved, I had vertigo for a a year. I was dizzy all the time and the sedimentary soil was always threatening to give way under my feet. Driving down the road, I couldn’t keep my eyes on the asphalt, the horizon beckoned, making the details of driving seem petty and unimportant. The golden summer hills looked brown to me then, my eyes still accustomed to all that Georgia green. Homesickness overtook me often, a blue wave of despair that left me feeling sick with confusion and doubt.
I was running, there’s no doubt about it. Running from a failed life, running from my family, running as hard and as fast as I could. It was all I could do by then. I ran to Montana and into the arms of a man expecting a full-grown woman with instincts intact. There’s something I didn’t know about running for a long time – it’s very hard to stop. My legs and heart were so used to the pace, my effort so pumped with adrenaline that I was still running, just in place. Ben sensed it and expected me to leave at any moment. I wondered myself if I would.
The wind is howling outside, but I am warm. The old Victorian I live in holds me like a baby. She is my protection, my place to heal. She is a piece of the south plopped right down in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. She has found her place here. She’s different, but not too different from the other houses. She has discovered a dignity that would be lost in Alabama or Louisiana and she has discovered an inhabitant that will appreciate her like no other. We’re both very lucky and we know it. It will be hard to separate us.
The sun rises over the Mission Mountains. That is east. On a clear day you can see the peaks of Glacier Park across the lake. That is north. The big hill behind the town proper signals south. West is the direction I was running.
That's an excerpt from something I'm working on . . . . sometimes.
This is what I did Labor Day weekend and this is the land I call home now. My little town is on Flathead Lake in NW Montana. Flathead is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Flathead Lake shows her moods with color. Sometimes she's a deep blue, other times a coke-bottle green (remember those?) and sometimes she fluctuates between shades of turqouise, dark green, tourmaline and indigo. She can be smooth as glass or have whitecaps and 6-7 foot swells.
I started visiting this area of Montana in 2001 and I was immediately hooked. This is an extreme land. The summer days are long (17 hours) and hot and the winter days are short, grey and cold. Droughts and wildfires are common in the summer and long periods of grey skies and absolutely no sun are common in the winter. "What's to like?", you may be asking. There's an almost inexplicable feeling of connectedness with nature here. The mountains feel protective and nurturing. We're very near the wild things - grizzlies, wolves, elk, moose. I've seen most of them now. Glacier National Park, an indescribably beautiful area carved by glaciers eons ago is only a couple hour's drive.
I never thought I would move so far away from the south, but I seem to have found my sacred spot on earth here. I love the beauty, the people, the extremes and most of all, I love the feelings I absorb from the earth under my feet. In my perfect world, I would be able to live here and visit Georgia two or three times a year for a month or so at a time. My work situation doesn't allow for that now, but, hey, I'm working on it.
By the way, I love showing people this area of Montana. So if you're ever in the area, let me know!