Yellowstone, Katabatic Brewing Company, Marks In & Out in Livingston, and some other moments from our early May summer in Montana.
Feeling really homesick for the good souls I love so much.
I insisted that Logan come to the fair with me. The fair is a microcosm of American culture: It’s big, colorful, gluttonous, loud, and silly. Children can shoot fake enormous guns that look scarily real from rough looking carnival employees. One can buy deep fried Oreos in large quantities and people watch. Rodeo visitors dress up in their best cowboy boots, hats, and belts. Men with large stomachs wear their largest belt buckles. The exhibition hall houses goats, rabbits, chickens, cows, and sheep, all for purchase or viewing.
Old people walk past children’s carnival rides decorated with busty women, hyper sexualized characters in skimpy outfits. Everywhere there is inescapable mud and dirt, in sharp contrast to the shiny neon and the lights. Food trucks line the parking lot, and one can devour anything from pork chop sandwiches to roasted corn to funnel cakes.
And I found a roll of 35mm film in a film shop in Bozeman that I hadn’t picked up, scanned in the negatives, and found all of this waiting for me. What an odd, marvelous late gift to myself.
The Parrot has been a refuge of sorts for me for years. I’ve written diary entries, finished and ended books, held hands, had serious conversations and said goodbyes here. I’ve consumed way too much coffee in the booths, I’ve even cried in them. I lost my wallet once and found it there, in the hands of the staff, who kindly kept it for me behind the counter.
The Parrot in Helena, Montana, has been a place for me to love going to since we moved to Montana in 1998. It’s always felt familiar. Some new owners just bought it and I quietly fear that it will change, though they have vowed not to change a thing. Helena’s had this marvelous staple around for over 90 years, and I hope that when I am old and brittle I can still slowly make my way through the screen door and hear that bell ring and settle into my booth, with a piece of honeycomb chocolate and a cup of cheap coffee.
My hands clenched the wheel of the old Subaru as I slowly turned the wheel to negotiate yet another slick curve, and I openly cursed the Montana Highway maintenance people, while Logan calmly offered to drive. You call this a highway?! This is a death trap of ice and bullshit! No gravel! No nothing! This is a heavily used road and THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE?!
Logan once again offered to take control, and I hissed NO and kept driving the car slowly over the icy turns of the highway. While I loathe driving over horrible roads, I fear giving up control even more. We crawled slowly, but the views were gorgeous. Frost covered trees, sage brush, and hillsides were passed, illuminated by the ever warmer light of the dying sun. It was, truly, beautiful in the way only cold, northern places can be.
We finally passed the not-real town of Norris and made our way down into Ennis. From there we finally found Virginia City, a summertime town known as one of the early capitals, when Montana was but a Territory. A flourishing mining town at one point, now it is a small town with lots of festivals and events in the summertime. We entered it in the midst of winter, with shuttered up windows and “closed for the season” signs inevitably hung up.
We called our Airbnb host and he led us in his little white truck up roads with no names to a renovated cabin from the 1880’s. He showed us around, shook our hands, and left Logan and I. We went and fetched Mary and Amy, unpacked the cars, and proceeded to cook a meal.
Logan brought lamb from a ranch in Boulder, Montana. We had stopped by their stand at the farmer’s market many times this summer. They always remembered Logan because of how tall and nice he is. The lamb in a pan, veggies in a bowl, and wine in our glasses, we set to palavering and cooking, drinking and enjoying the end of 2016.
The cabin was ridiculously well thought out. There were a huge number of books tucked away in discreet, beautifully hidden bookshelves. Plenty of firewood sat on the front porch. The small wood stove was an efficient beast, and quickly warmed the loft into quite a toasty nest. We perused books while the lamb stewed and kept ducking outside to admire the stars. Why is it that stars always look brighter in the cold? Is there something about frozen night air that makes it clearer? The sky hadn’t looked so big to me in some time.
Soon dinner was ready. Time flew by, and when Logan fished the lamb out of the pot, it slid off the bone immediately. Steam wafted from the meat and we took turns gnawing on one shank that wasn’t so clean. We poured a Tannat wine from Uruguay and settled in to devour a perfect New Years Eve meal together. There is always a marvelous simplicity to eating meals around tables with good people.
Finally, midnight approached. We drank prossecco, bundled up, and went out into the front yard and gaped. We smoked a cigar that Mary brought and were mostly quiet, trying to not freeze to death. Each of us pondered what the year had brought us, and what the next would bring. I think that every single one of us, though, felt a quiet sort of satisfaction that we were welcoming a new year in such a place, with each other.
2016 was one hell of a year. It was full of quiet bliss, clear eyed decisions, hard work, and adventures of a smaller scale that were still very satisfactory. Reunions with friends I hadn’t seen in years, cooking and eating some amazing meals, and being able to breathe for a few months away from graduate school- these are the things I treasured.
Visiting Seattle to see Exa and Shelby. Logan visiting Victoria for the first time, where we ate all the pho and walked miles every day. Trips to Yellowstone for camping, seeing animals, stars, and pitching tents in the dark. Soaking in hot springs, seeing steam and relaxing in rivers. Driving to Minneapolis with Logan and Everett to see Savages with Mary. Relishing cold gin on the back porch of the Rialto with Ella as the summer sun sets. Taking a canoe down the Missouri on a hot day, covered in sunscreen, surrounded by pelicans, geese, and trout. Going home for Halloween and prancing around in all black, cooking amazing food and feeling the crisp edges of Montana winters whisper around me.
The darkest part of this year involved 3 months where I moved into the worst living situation I had ever experienced. It drained me emotionally and as a result my school, mental health, and many other aspects of my life suffered. Thankfully, I escaped that horrible situation (thank you Kalin and Matt and Morgan for helping me move!) and was able to go home for a month. Home was chaotic and beautiful. Some rather terrible events happened in our family but we were able to be together for those, and seeing my family weather difficulties together assured me that we will be okay, even if All The Horrible seems to dominate for the time being.
This year I have felt a bit listless. While many parts of my life- my relationships with loved ones and my family- feel stronger than ever, I have felt off-kilter with my relationship with my body. I haven’t been exercising the way I need to, and while I was living in the Hovel, I didn’t eat well. Mentally, graduate school has presented me with many challenges, and I have felt frustrated at the bureaucracy involved, the endless critiques and some aspects of academia that I struggle with. Self-doubt lingers as well.
However, I embrace 2017 with open arms. I am now in a beautiful apartment with a lovely roommate. Challenges are coming. Work piles up. I live paycheck to paycheck. But I wake up to the sun every day, and I wake up knowing that I am important, significant, and capable of so much.
I know too that this blog has suffered as a result of my bad living situation last year. Now that I am living somewhere much better, I hope to share more than bare snippets! I want to chat about literature, my favorite things, what matters right now, interesting things that others have shown me.
Now, time to fully fall into whatever 2017 has to offer.
My sister adopted the most beautiful little hairball last fall and I didn’t get the chance to meet her until last week! Co likes to sleep next to your face and makes lots of chirps all the time. She doesn’t like to be picked up and she’s surprisingly small for being so hairy!
Having not been to Bozeman for some time, Em and I attempted to find a cozy nook to settle into and catch up. Unfortunately, every such place was quite crowded. Nonetheless, we eventually found ourselves deep in conversation, talking about anything and everything in the way only sisters can.
Sisters and cats can cure any amount of the blues, it seems.
A few bits of home. Christmas tree cutting, petting my old dogs, making prosciutto, arugula, and mascarpone pizza, going to research at the Historical Society, and generally feeling quite content.
Flying into Montana at its ugliest reminds me how much I love it despite how dry and brown it is at this time of year. Hunting season is out and about, with men and women decked out in camouflage in the grocery stores and gas stations, likely just returning from a day in the mountains or fields, meandering buying milk and other things. I had forgotten about this simple aspect of life home.
I missed driving, the 12oz glasses of Blackfoot IPA, the inevitable seeing of people I knew, because it was all familiar. Ultra-crunch leaves were everywhere, bare trees ready to embrace coats of snow. Bob Ross, the tree in Logan’s backyard, looked eerie and naked without his beautiful leaves. We had a fire on my last day, which Ella stoked to perfection. The wind made it a mercurial joy to have around, switching directions quickly, threatening to singe one or more of us. I was able to hold warm cups of coffee with loved ones close by. I hugged my sister, surprised my parents with my visit, and slept in. It was beautiful, and like all lovely things, quick, far too quick for my liking.
Saturdays are meant to be spent nibbling on baklava from your local Hungarian baker with the sun shining while meals are being mentally cooked up as you both consider all the options.
Shining jars of pure local honey glisten and you handle produce, feeling the bumpy skin of squash and smelling the roasted peanuts from the stand down the way. A producer snips off carrot stems to keep them fresher for you and people chat, eagerly telling their stories, talking about their vegetables and fruit, giving you more than just food, but giving you a loved, cultivated thing that they cared for enough and are now handing over to you.
Everybody remembers your extra tall partner in crime, and he knows much more about food than you do. He chats about lamb for a good while with some ranchers from Boulder and you people watch. At the end you leave with way too much food for two people but aren’t upset about it.
The Helena Farmer’s Market is a great way to start off a proper weekend. Grabbing a bagel from the Bagel Co. or getting baklava, sipping coffee from one of the food trucks, and letting all the smells and sounds envelop you. You can buy beautiful flowers, little fresh herbs, pheasant skins, jam, handmade hats, candles, fresh bread, multiple kinds of garlic, lip balms and lotions, handmade soaps, beautiful jewelry, and as much kettle corn as you want.
People have a special zest for the farmer’s market here- it’s always busy! Perhaps it’s because we Montanans spend 6 months of the year with fierce, bitter-cold winters, so our time for green things, for food that you can pluck from the soil, is so limited and we understand this relationship. We get to go somewhere with an abundance of beautiful, locally grown things that came from our harsh landscape, and while you hate the winter you love the summer, and ultimately you do love where you live. We love being able to be outside, and any excuse to gather together is taken. Once summer begins to fade, we keep our freezers full of quart bags of huckleberries and rhubarb so that pies can be made. Our mums can fruit and make jam for the long dark months, and some of our fathers gear up for hunting season so that elk, pheasant, deer, goose, and duck can once again be part of our diet and fill the extra freezer many of our families have in the garage or basement. We waste not, we want not, for soon this street and town will be covered in long-lingering chunks of snow and ice and the hours of the day will not be so kind. Better love the enormous sweet onions that call your name and buy the beautiful fresh carrots while you can.
Somehow film from mid-July stayed in the bottom of my handbag until last Saturday. I gave Prism Photo on Fort Street here in Victoria 6 rolls of color film and picked up all six a few hours later (those guys do a wicked job!). The next day, after a tearful goodbye to my mother, who once again came and helped me move into a new space, I settled in and accepted that it was time to let waves of nostalgia engulf me.
I scanned in the negatives, my trusty Epson machine humming comfortingly at me, telling me that all of these memories were not lost. I am back in Victoria, and it feels strangely wrong. Perhaps because the rhythm of here hasn’t sunk in yet. Perhaps because I have not seen enough people who make me want to remain here. Perhaps because my purpose, to write a thesis honoring and properly delving into the life of an incredible woman, was put on pause while I gathered my strength, made money working, and let my mental health state grow stronger. Perhaps because I am a bit behind my colleagues and the anxiety that parallels my strong yet quiet competitive nature has already made this lag seem massive.
I have moved into the spare room of an older woman’s apartment and so far that too seems strange. She is kind and quiet, lets me have my privacy, and altogether seems like a very kind soul. I fear that my want for space and order will doom me in this place though, and my mind fleetingly, even after only 2 nights in my room, tells me to find somewhere else.
Perhaps it is time to settle with all these demons that seem to mark my return here. Victoria has been a place of utmost success and utmost personal failure for me. From coming home to my apartment last year to sob to coming home feeling accomplished, I can tell you that this small city has seen the best and worst of me, at my weakest and at my most put-together. Coming back here, leaving my loved ones, my family, my car, my patterns, my comforts, is good but feels off. I loathe this feeling of something breathing down my neck, most likely my own horrid self-doubt spectre, quietly letting me know that yes, I can fail here, and it would not be difficult.
These photographs are from the Montana Folk Festival in Butte. We found a peculiar front yard replete with skulls hanging and sitting everywhere. We walked past homes in disrepair, old trucks, quiet signs of life, and up steep hills. I tried to photograph Logan in a flower garden and love the grain and shadow that resulted. These memories, of good days, of being with people I trust and love, already feel like they were made years ago. I hate that feeling.
If I sound rather defeated, it is because my heart and body are both exhausted at the moment. I’m sure this feeling will not last.
These images have been a long time coming.
Ella, Logan, and I piled into the Subaru in Helena, then made the quick, windy drive into Butte.
The first sign you’re getting close if you come from Helena is the massive piles of leftover, contaminated dirt that block your view of the city. This reminder of Butte’s legacy is a dirty one. Then, you get a view of the 1980’s strip mining scars on that side of town. Then, finally, nestled in the valley, hugging steep hills, you see the sprawling city.
Butte’s steep streets provided us with exercise aplenty all day. Ella and Logan had to fight to keep up with my ridiculously frantic pace (sorry guys). We ate all kinds of food, but the hightlight was when those two decided to split the consumption of a massive smoked turkey leg. The thing was so damn salty and massive, yet looked amazing. I stuck with my pork chop sandwich and whatever other food stuffs I decided to try that day (it was over a month ago! I am so bad at this blog!).
Overall it was a joy to be in Butte that day. We ended the day in the Silver Dollar Saloon, a dark and cozy place where we listened to a guy who looked like Neil Young (“No, I’m not Neil Young” he made clear before he started) before we walked back to crash on Kristin’s floor (thank you!).
We parked the car in the two story parking area at the base of Mount Helena. My allergies, vicious as they were, matched Logan’s misery as he was getting over a cold. Two congested, miserable souls, eager for exercise, climbed the dusty, hot 1906 trail. It felt like an odyssey.
“I think they re-did the trail” Logan joked at one point. We were mouth breathing, disgusting creatures who agreed that we’d stop once we reached the cave. Thank god the cave wasn’t very far up the trial. We went back down and ran errands, buying droll things humans need to continue existing, like mascara, carpet cleaner, bleach, allergy pills, and Mario Badescu Silver Powder.
Logan did enter an Ulta with me for a few minutes. I told him it was my version of church, and it was fittingly Sunday. As we entered my particular branch of religious worship, I led him to the cologne section. We went deeper into the store. Shiny displays, lit up shelves of $30 lipsticks, blotting papers, blushes, and makeup in every shade of the world, all hemmed in with massive bottles of shampoo, conditioners. As I asked somebody if the Mario Badescu Silver Powder was all gone, Logan looked around, and from his high angle, surveyed the store. “This is a strange place…” he muttered to himself. Thankfully, they had my powder, and we left, me triumphantly beaming. (What would be the male equivalent of an Ulta? Perhaps one of the reasons I love Ulta/Sephora/etc so much is that they are very feminine spaces, and people who identify as women are welcome and there are very few intrusions of male identified persons. I am, when I walk into an Ulta, free to look at cosmetics, hair products, skin care products, etc. and not be surrounded by curious eyes of people who don’t value makeup or cosmetics in the way that I do. I am surrounded by people who likely share my interests, and I automatically am much calmer in said space.)
After running errands, we went back to the haus. Logan chopped rosemary, garlic, and parsley, and I got out the little cuts of lamb he’d purchased. Making a little sauce from yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, and some other ingredients, we also lit the grill and washed watercress (which I had never had before!).
Logan laid the lamb on the grill with sliced, garlic laden zucchini and we opened some Haufbrauhaus Pilsners, which I learned were very similar to the beers that he drinks when home in Brazil. The lamb and zucchini came off the grill and we devoured our meal with zest. Immediately after, we went and took a nap in the park. Fine day, Sunday.
When we saw Mwenso and the Shakes featuring Brianna Thomas there was a couple dressed in 1940’s garb swing dancing their hearts out, and I thought I really wish I knew how to dance. Thoughts of horrid, hyper self-conscious line dancing in middle and high school gym class came forth- sweaty palms, limited eye contact, and my inability to pass over control to my awkward dance partner. I never, ever have been a decent dance partner for this reason- I cannot let somebody just put their hand on my waist and anticipate their moves.
While I was bemoaning a certain lack in a specific skill set, we watched this incredible group of musicians make exquisite sounds. The Folk Festival is all about several things- running into people on the steep Butte streets, eating at the food stands, catching whisps of different sounds on the air as they travel from the multiple stages, and learning more about the world we live in. The fact that we get to do this in Butte, Montana, is awesome, and somewhat random. If you were to tell me that musicians and artists from all over the world in the 2000’s were going to gather in a former mining town as famous for its copper as it was for its red light district and fill it up with global sounds I would have said you were crazy.
Yet, knowing Butte, it makes sense. Butte reveled in its immigrants- Serbs, Croations, Chinese, Irish, Germans, Russians and Poles all made their lives here. The very foundations of Butte are steeped in multi-faceted cultural exchanges, and the Montana Folk Festival is all about continuing this tradition. What a good weekend! I have multiple rolls of film coming, and I cannot wait to put them up.
In one of these frames we were spending a brief few minutes reading in the afternoon before grabbing some pão de queijo in Bozeman; in another we walked on the windy, hot boardwalk, and in another a morning was spent at the farmer’s market. One photograph shows delicate bird feathers caught in the grass after the owner likely met some odd end.
Last night the wind blew in the windows all night and I woke regularly, quietly thanking Montana for sending a cold brisk night our way after nights of relishing the fan. The radio and the news are full of protests, sadness, and violence. Arrests that are questionable, pain and suffering that has simmered for ages, injustices, mistrust, and fear are all saturating every media form I look into. My heart is heavy and my soul is tired. My father and I had a serious discussion about what exactly is going on and it was saddening but good to discuss the blood soaked legacy of being black in America. While I will never understand what it means to live with such a history, I am trying to find ways to be the best ally possible.
We went to the Montana Folk Festival this weekend, drinking soup to stay warm and seeing people we don’t usually see. One of my old swim team mates is now a ranger in Glacier National Park, and loving it. I saw the delightful and gorgeous Caitlin with her radiant smile and wonderfully messy blond mane. I ate frozen cheesecake on a stick, Logan and Ella shared a massive, salty turkey leg, and we saw musicians from Cuba, New York City, Korea, India, and elsewhere showcase their marvelous sounds. We hiked/trekked/bemoaned the steep, omnipresent hills in Butte, and marveled at the massive, old buildings rife with details made by people long departed from this world. Children played in a massive pile of dirt, which attracted youths like a magnet. A drone buzzed obnoxiously overhead and I thought Oh right, it is 2016 and this will soon be way more normal to me. A brief discussion about getting a taskforce of people with boomerangs to destroy drones was brought forth, to general agreement. I made 3 rolls of photographs that day, and will see them soon- Logan is headed to Missoula and offered to take them for me. I cannot wait to see what they look like!
Time has sped up. It is already almost mid-July. My mind buzzes with things I need to do:
-Find a room/apartment
-Make significant headway on The Thesis
-Finish applications for TAing
-Spend as much time doing things that are worthwhile
-Take Logan to Glacier
-Get all my general life shit together which will never happen but always goes on these To Do Lists anyway.
I am working a lot, trying to keep from letting quiet anxiety creep into my mind. The next year will be full of challenges and dilemmas, potential for opportunity and failure. I want so very much to be proud of myself and feel accomplished, and this has been lacking as of late, despite the fact that I work, study, and love plenty.
I’ve come to love making photographs from the car.
This summer has been spent in various cars, both driving and sitting, in passenger seats and back seats. I’ve seen rushing rivers, deep woods tinged with the setting sun, dry plains soaking up the last bit of spring moisture in Eastern Montana before they relegate themselves to bone-dry browns and yellows. Foxes, elk, bison, antelope, deer, cows, and all other manner of living things have been seen and admired.
Here are some slightly blurry images made from a fast moving machine.