Montana is a myth. It’s a myth of fly-fishing paradise, quiet valleys all to yourself, the biggest, starriest sky, the friendliest folks, and the Last Best Place. It’s where people like Justin Timberlake and John Mayer come to “find themselves”- which really means, they’ll go to Big Sky or the Gallatin Valley to be around other ridiculously rich people, just in a more rural setting, to play pretend when they drop into a dive bar. A year or so after they come, they’ll produce albums with ridiculous titles, where they’re draped in blankets or something rugged and look like they’ve been busy doing things outdoorsy.
I prickle at all of that. It’s all fluff and disconnected from the reality of a lot of us who dig our cars out of the drifts made by the plows- if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere the plows actually come. It’s de-frosting your car with a hairdryer because freezing rain made it impossible to open your doors. It’s waking up on Christmas Eve to -25F and drinking hot tea like it’s your lifeblood because it’s so fucking cold out. Everybody looks uglier with 4-5 layers on, and hypothermia ain’t cute either. It’s breathing in the forest fire smoke in the summer and accidentally finding yourself hot-springing with people who will later have sex, actual sex, in the hot spring while you’re turned around (which is very rude, and also not sanitary). It’s waking up to the opening of rifle season and having it sound like World War I outside, but it’s really just the first day of hunting. It’s carrying bear spray when you hike because they’re real and out there, and you’re so glad they are. Montana is realizing the sleeping bag you brought is not nearly warm enough in May, because May in Montana is a camping crapshoot.
I say all of this knowing that I have fully fallen under the spell of Montana’s charms. I’m lucky enough to have been raised here. I’ve stared at the sky, come across fresh bear tracks, heard elk bugle, and I’ve seen otters play in the river. But those are precious moments, not normal at all. Something about seeing Montana so totally glossed over, made into something poetic and so #hashtag worthy, just fools you into thinking it’s all craft breweries, perfect campfires, tying flies, star gazing, and downhill skiing with a side of rugged, outdoorsy Hemingway-esque masculinity. In reality, the reason that there is so much literature about this place that inspires others is because you can do a lot of thinking when you’re stuck inside for months at a time. Having such a long, cold, dark winter makes us go crazy in the summer. We relish spring because Primavera is a flighty wench here, gracing us for only a few weeks. Autumn is even more fickle, coming only if she decides to, while Winter may stay into June or come as early as September.
As such, here are some recent photographs from my cheap new phone, of that long, dark Winter. Of us really having to blowdry our car doors open, with two extension cords to get the damn thing all the way out to the car.