Notable black Montanans: Part one of black history in Montana.

As a Montana historian I think that because Montana is overwhelmingly white and our collective history is overwhelmingly devoted to masculine narratives (boring) our education systems do not talk about the Other nearly enough. The Other means just about everybody who isn’t a straight white man. The thing is, those stories are not only incredibly interesting, but very important. If you can’t picture a Montana that was full of immigrants, queer folks, black people, indigenous people, Latinos, etc. you can’t fathom their realities in the present and future. We’re a state with a history of being full of people from all corners of the earth, with complicated pasts and widely differing value systems, who made efforts to build communities, have families, make a living, and define themselves! And it was NOT just the rugged mountain man, the independent cowboy, or the long suffering homesteading couple in their sod-roof house.

Right now with a big social and societal push for immediate action and justice for black lives, I wanted to write a series of posts about some notable black residents, publications, societies, etc. and also some links to other resources. I was raised in Helena and not once did I have a class where even a fraction of our time was devoted to learning about the black experience in our state, so I am starting from scratch. Join me! (Let’s be clear: I will make mistakes.)

I attached lots of hyperlinks to other great sources because all of this is knowledge I’ve pulled from various archives, newspaper articles, black history resources, etc. and so you can go do your own learning!

This is just part one, by the way, so please be patient. I started out with some notable and interesting Montana residents but I think I need to flesh out more contextual information in the next post for these folks to fit into.


Since white dudes have hogged the “rugged individualist man” trope (le sigh) let’s put some black men in there, because you better bet they were there!

Let’s talk about James Pierson Beckwourth! 

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Image via BlackPast

James Pierson Beckwourth (c. 1800- 1866) was apparently known as far as France for his adventures in the American West (oui oui!). He lived for several years with the Crow (Apsáalooke) nation, participating on raids against the Blackfeet, learning the Apsáalooke language, marrying an Apsáalooke woman (or two, depending on your source), and having adventures that make me want to have a beer with the man and just listen.

He was a trained blacksmith born into slavery around 1800 (sources differ on his date of birth). His white father technically owned him (just in case you didn’t know how shitty slavery and the laws surrounding it were), but freed him at some point. Most of Beckwourth’s Montana adventures occurred after the 1820s, while he worked with the Apsáalooke nation. When he wasn’t there he was getting a mountain pass named for him in the Sierra Nevadas, running a store in Denver, being a professional card player in California, or trapping just about anywhere in the West that had fur-bearing critters. He is the only black man who had his adventures in the West published under the grandiose (and glorious) title The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians in 1856. (The link will take you to a Wayback Machine copy of the entire book.)

Beckwourth dictated his life story to a Mr. Thomas Bonner who was working in the California gold fields in the 1850s and one wonders how much Bonner’s hand had in skewing some of Beckwourth’s words (there’s a lot of power you have as the writer of something being dictated to you!) . Beckwourth’s book, while successful, eventually became dismissed as the far-fetched tales of a big-mouthed black man by white readers. Meanwhile, white men could tell the same stories (whether truthful of not) and be taken much more seriously! James spoke at least two or three languages fluently (if you’ve ever seen Apsáalooke written out, it doesn’t seem like a casual language you just pick up), traveled thousands of miles on horseback and on trains, probably got away with his life by the skin of his teeth more often than we can know, but still had a lot of his stories written off as fables.

It’s important that if we’re going to continue to glorify the “intrepid mountain man” trope (as Montanans can never seem to NOT do) that we include such larger-than-life characters as James Pierson Beckwourth. Black men were just as adventurous, determined, creative with their tales, and hard-living; we just don’t have as much testimony about their experiences. This is purposeful: keep in mind that the reason men like Beckwourth aren’t as well known as Jim Bridger and the like is because they were kept out of narratives or telling their own stories by multiple, strategically placed barriers. Today Beckwourth’s book is considered a valuable primary source for information about the US Army, the Apsáalooke people, wildlife, geography, and information about diseases!

Mr. Beckwourth died in 1866 in Montana. He was working for the US Army leading them to an Apsáalooke outpost when he died, and some believe he was poisoned.

Mary Fields 

Mary Fields Photograph via http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/ from the Ursuline Sisters Archive in Great Falls

Mary Fields with the Cascade Baseball Team Photo via http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/ from the Wedsworth Memorial Library in Cascade

Mary Fields (1832-1914) is something of a folk legend if you live anywhere around Great Falls. She came to Montana around 1885 after working for a convent in Ohio. She traveled on the Missouri River and worked at St. Peter’s Mission near Cascade, Montana. While she got along great with the nuns, Fields was apparently fired by the bishop because she swore, smoked, and had a strong temperament (this means she probably spoke her mind). Instead, she became the mail deliverer between the Mission and the town of Cascade. If you know anything about Montana winters (they tend to be at least six months long, vengeful, dark, and incredibly cold) the idea of delivering mail for a living in a horse-drawn cart every day sounds as fun as walking on prickly pear cactus without shoes, but she did it, and very successfully, for years. She was likely paid terrible wages and it was hard work. She was one of the few women in the nation given their own mail route, although I doubt that it felt like an honor some days.

This excellent article speaks up about the loneliness and lack of respect that Fields experienced, despite her hard work and kindness towards her fellow Cascadians. She wore men’s clothes frequently,  was tall and not slim, and lived outside of ideas of womanhood. She was the only black resident in Cascade, and as such very visible (while also being somewhat invisible, in that she was probably limited in how she could talk about her experiences or relate to her neighbors). While collective memory has turned her into a hardy folk hero, a determined gun-toting badass who got the mail delivered, loved baseball and a hard drink, she was also a black woman living alone. Fields made a living in a community that was small, insular, and took advantage of her labor and very much held onto stereotypes about her. (She was apparently a caretaker for lots of the children in town, but how much of that was because her white neighbors figured she could do it because she was black vs. because she wanted to is unclear.) We also don’t have any of her own words to reflect on, as if she left any letters . She died in Great Falls in 1914 after moving there in her old age.

P.S. Apparently she babysat a young Gary Cooper. He had such fond memories of her he wrote an article for Ebony magazine in 1959 about her! I can’t find the article online but it is mentioned in many of the sources I used. .

Samuel Lewis 

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Samuel Lewis’ home in Bozeman today. (Via Google Street View)

Samuel Lewis (1835-1896) is perhaps just slightly less famous than his internationally recognized sculptor sister, Edmonia Lewis . (Edmonia’s life story is incredible, and you should definitely read about her sculptures and her life, but alas! I must stay on theme!) Lewis, who was born in Haiti, came to Montana to be a barber after working in Idaho and California mining camps. Upon his arrival he was one of less than 10 black residents in Bozeman, and became incredibly successful in his own right. He passed through Helena for a bit but eventually settled on Bozeman as his home.

Lewis came to Bozeman in 1868, and was the right man in the right place at the right time. The town was about to experience a surge in growth, and his barbershop, located on Main Street, was well-known and respected. His reputation and business grew as a result, and he invested his money into building rental homes and funding his sister’s education (which paid off- she studied in Rome, worked in Paris, and lived in London for much of her life and became famous for her talent with marble). In 1884 Lewis married a local widow, Melissa Bruce. She had six children from her previous marraige and she and Lewis had one son, Samuel E. Lewis. With his successful business ventures, Samuel Lewis proceeded to built a beautiful Queen Anne Eastlake style home very close to downtown Bozeman today.

The Lewis house is still beautiful and standing (and Zillow estimates it’s worth over $1 million dollars!). It’s right near Bogert Park in Bozeman, and Lewis and his wife are buried in the local cemetery. The house fell into disrepair after Lewis’s wife’s death but a couple bought it in 1975 and fixed it up. One of the owners apparently has become an Edmonia Lewis researcher herself! (Check out this neat Bozeman Chronicle article, but don’t get too mad when you read that they bought the Queen Anne mansion for only $40,000…)

When Samuel Lewis died in Bozeman one of the pallbearers at his funeral was the mayor. He made Bozeman is home and was a beloved member of the community. I wanted to talk about Lewis a little because one of the things we as Montanans need to do is also value the stories and lives of people who weren’t larger-than-life or folk heroes. Samuel Lewis was important because he was one of many successful black business owners in Montana! While he was definitely far more successful than most (he died with a fortune of $25,000 to his name) he was not unique.

Note: I could not find any photographs of Lewis. This is frustrating because as a wealthy local business owner he in all likelihood had quite a few photos of himself, his family, his home, etc. and what probably happened is that his son inherited all the family photographs. Unfortunately, this son died without having any children of his own and it doesn’t look like any libraries or archives have any of Lewis’s letters, photos, or other materials ( I will keep looking!).

P.S. I did read in one article about Lewis that he was supposed to be a world class musician but can’t seem to find what instrument he played! 

Rose Gordon and Taylor Emmanuel Gordon

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Rose Gordon with brother Taylor Gordon in White Sulphur Springs. Image via http://montanawomenshistory.org/rose-gordon-daughter-of-a-slave-and-small-town-activist/

This brother and sister duo both wrote memoirs about their lives, which were intense and busy, though only one of them got their memoirs published. Taylor (1893-1971) made a name for himself during the Harlem Renaissance, had a long musical career, and even had airtime alongside Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. Rose (1883-1968) stayed in White Sulphur Springs, became a vocal local historian, physical therapist, outspoken political candidate, all while holding down at least four jobs at a time, all the time.

The Gordons were part of a large family of six siblings and two parents. They were part of a small black community in White Sulphur Springs, a small but busy mining town. Rose was the valedictorian of her high school class and gave a speech called “The Progress of the Negro Race”, which was inspired by the ethos of Booker T. Washington. Unfortunately, her and Taylor’s father, John Gordon, was killed in a train accident in the 1890s, and it fell on Rose to make money for her family. Rose tried repeatedly throughout her life to pursue medical training, but never became a doctor because her family needed her and she never got the time to go away to college. One wonders what her life would have been like if she had been able to carve a few years to herself, because it’s apparent that she had an incredible work ethic and drive.

For fifteen years or more, she tried to get her memoir, Gone are the Days, published. In between writing, pitching her memoir, taking care of her multiple family members, running a cafe, and working as a seamstress, she found the time to become a Swedish massage therapist and naturopath. Diet and exercise advice in Meagher County? Chat with Rose Gordon! Need some physical therapy after you did something to your back herding cattle? Call up Rose! Need a homeopathic tincture? Rose will make one! She seemed like White Sulphur Springs’ early life coach, physical therapist, and naturopath all in one!

On top of all this (aren’t you tired just reading how much she accomplished?!) she was Meagher County’s best local historian. She had not one but two columns in the Meagher County News paper. She also pissed off locals by running for mayor in 1951, and even though she lost, she refused to stop her campaign despite threats. She remained vocal about her experiences as a black woman up until the year of her death. Perhaps most notably, of all the columns and articles she wrote, the one titled “My Mother Was a Slave”, published 1955, is as Dr. Michael K. Johnson notes, “the only published first person narrative of nineteenth-century African-American migration to Montana”. This article evidently talks about the idea that going West was, for many former slaves, one way to re-invent themselves (a theme that presents itself in many other narratives). Rose’s life ended up being devoted to caring for others, and even though she wanted more for herself, she refused to be silent or complacent.

Her younger brother, Taylor, went East as a young man and sang in New York. His timing for arriving was in sync with the Harlem Renaissance and in the 1920s he was having a successful run working with J. Rosamund Johnson. In an article by Barbara Behan she notes that W.E.B. DuBois said “No one who has heard Johnson and Gordon sing ‘Stand Still Jordan’ can ever forget its spell” after they sang at Carnegie Hall in 1927. Two years later Gordon published Born to Be, his memoir of boyhood in White Sulphur Springs. His sister was back in Montana, her memoir never published. Gordon’s book was relatively successful, but his musical career mostly ended.

Taylor Gordon tried to get a second book published after his musical career waned, but was unsuccessful. He battled with Viking Publishers for a long time, and experienced a mental breakdown in 1947 after spending World War II working in a factory, and spent at least the next twelve years largely hospitalized in New York. He returned later in life to White Sulphur Springs. He played a few live shows there, made occasional appearances on local television, and in one source I read made a living by having an antique store. He outlived his sister by three years, and his papers are today held by the Montana Historical Society (although they are not digitized which is a shame!).

White Sulphur Springs today has less than 1,000 residents. It’s not a destination for most people (although the brewery there is awesome) and while if you drove through today you might wonder why a black family would choose to setttle down there, you have to remember that when the Gordons moved to White Sulphur Springs in the late 1800s it was a small but busy mining town. Small towns get to make their own rules and communities more than large cities, so in pop-up mining towns like Virginia City (hint at a future post!) and WSS, you get a community that may have been more flexible and welcoming to it’s black residents.

….

This is the end of Part One. I only mentioned five notable people! This article took 12 hours of research over two days. Again, this is a learning experience for me too, so let me know what you’d like to see, what I can do better, etc.! Thanks so much.

BTW, while you’re here consider donating to the Montana Racial Equity Project! They’re an amazing racial justice non-profit in Bozeman that do state-wide work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Behan, Barbara. “Taylor Emmanuel Gordon, 1893-1971” BlackPast, 18 August 2016. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gordon-taylor-1893-1971/

Ferguson, Mike, “Historian: Though few, African American’s mark on Montana is ‘indelible’ ” 19 August 2016, Billings Gazette. https://billingsgazette.com/news/local/historian-though-few-african-americans-mark-on-montana-is-indelible/article_3c7c9028-243d-5d5b-afc1-dc5ee0005651.html

Hanshew, Annie. “The Life and Legend of Mary Fields”. Women’s History Matters, 8 April 2014. http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/

“James Pierson Beckwourth” http://beckwourth.org/Biography/index.html 

Johnson, Michael K. Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West. Univeristy of Mississippi Press, 2014.

“James Pierson Beckwourth: African American Mountain Man, Fur Trader, Explorer” https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/digital-colorado/coloradohistories/beginnings/james-pierson-beckwourth-african-american-mountain-man-fur-trader-explorer/

Pickett, Mary “Samuel Lewis: Orphan Leaves Mark on Bozeman” originally from Billings Gazette http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/haiti-archive/msg11004.html

Ravage, J.  “James Pierson Beckwourth (c. 1805 – 1866)”. BlackPast,  https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/beckwourth-james-pierson-c-1805-1866/

Walter, Marcella Sherfy, “Rose Gordon: Daughter of a Slave and Small Town Activist”. Women’s History Matters, 18 February 2014. http://montanawomenshistory.org/rose-gordon-daughter-of-a-slave-and-small-town-activist/

Other Resources:

Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature by Michael K. Johnson

Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experience on the North American Frontier by John W. Ravage

Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West by Michael K. Johnson

“Montana’s African-American Heritage Resources” https://mhs.mt.gov/Shpo/AfricanAmericans/ResourcesResearch

Eruteya, Glenda Rose, “Racial legislation in Montana 1864-1955” (1981). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers, University of Montana.  https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=9660&context=etd

Michael K. Johnson has a now-defunct WordPress blog where he posted research into the Gordon family! https://taylorandrosegordonproject.wordpress.com/ 

Goodbye, Montana (Again)

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I’ve left and come back countless times. It was only two suitcases when I moved to Switzerland, brand new Samsonite luggage from a Macy’s sale that made me feel adult, even at 18 with baby fat still on my face. The whole back of a large Chevy truck was reserved for British Columbia, with a chartreuse velvet chair, mattress, bed frame, an old trunk from the 1970s, and way too many books. Once again, I left Montana for British Columbia, this time sharing the back of a smaller truck with Logan, divvying up space for all the things we felt we needed.

Every time I leave Montana, I don’t look back- at first. This time, moving in the winter, I felt relieved to leave the treacherous roads, isolation of the cold, and the far away promise of green for a proverbial and actual land of plenty, where the sea gave us warm weather, flowers in January, and other bountiful benefits. Getting on the plane for Victoria, I thought “Montana will always be there”. Thus far, this has been true. I’m sure I’ll be back someday.

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Already though, I miss working at my brewery. I miss the bustle, the Friday night line to the door, seeing regulars like Larry and making sure they had a beer ahead of the line. I miss tasting the new beers, seeing how a new keg pours, gathering old glasses and getting them into the dishwasher, giving my coworkers-turned-friends shit and ending the night tired in a way that made me sure I would sleep well. My arms grew strong working there, and I loved being on my feet. I took pride in keeping that brewery clean, in talking about the beer we poured, asking Jeremy, the resident beer savant, questions like this:

Q: What is the difference between a porter and a stout?

A: Not a whole lot. (They’re both medium to heavy bodied dark beers with roasted malts and a lot of potential flavor profiles, i.e. you can have coffee stouts and coffee porters, chocolate porters, chocolate stouts, etc., although there are particular beers to each style that are special, i.e. an oatmeal stout which is historically considered a “vital stout” that was supposed to buck people up when they were sick.)

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Anyway….you can tell I loved the brewery. I miss Leann, Becca, and Cody a lot, even when Cody yelled “GOOD LUCK” across the bar when you’d say you were running to the washroom. The money was good, the pace was quick, and even when people were drunk or rude and yelling at you, you’ve got coworkers who are there for you. There’s a collective sense of purpose: Get. People. Beer. Nice beer, mind you.

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My last month in Montana was full of diner visits, specifically to The No Sweat. The corner booth, where wise old plants that have been growing there for years almost lean over you, was the best. Having way too much coffee and subsequently talking a mile a minute over amazing hashbrowns with people you love while watching snow slowly fall over your beautiful little mining hometown: That’s a good morning. Thrifting, packing, seeing Australian friends you haven’t in a while, absorbing the moments because you know you’ll miss all these people terribly, filled all of my time when I wasn’t working.

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The biggest part of the last month in Montana, though: picking Logan up, finally. He’d been gone so long I showed up at the Bozeman airport sure it was a fluke that he was actually going to land, and when he did it was surreal. I didn’t know what to do with myself, seeing him be surprised by the cold, putting his luggage in the old Subaru, back in the land where we met and had our first home and made so many memories, a place we’d be leaving in a few short weeks, but it was all layered over with adrenaline and relief. We hiked Mount Helena the next day, had a beer at Blackfoot River Brewing Co., and enjoyed the weirdly warm November.

When it was finally time to drive to the airport, I cried the most about leaving my cat behind. Coe is my girl. She napped with me and told me ALL about all the things she did during the day (ate plants! puked up said plants in the living room! saw birds out the window! slept!) and I miss her blue eyes and picking her up. When we had to leave I cried all day holding her and she got mad about all the attention and hid. We knew it would be hard to find an apartment we could afford that would allow cats so my mom is keeping her and is being regularly annoyed by the nighttime screaming (I imagine Coe is having existential issues regarding being an indoor cat) and the plant destruction (also existential in nature, I assume).

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Now, we’re here. In Victoria, trying to make it all happen. Wish us luck, because our hearts tend to turn back to Montana without being able to control it, and moving is, as I have previously mentioned, The Worst and I’m trying to stay in ONE PLACE for more than a year or two.

A Sabbatical of Sorts

Six months. I didn’t meant to let this blog die, but it did. I built a photography website, had a few shows, started working at a brewery, camped alone and with friends a few times this summer, and spent a lot of time reading and brooding.

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Brenna and I went to PonyFest in Pony, Montana and watched live music and camped out in a local park. It was peak Montana hip summer.

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I camped alone for the first time ever and had a blast making the fire, pitching the tent, and while I didn’t sleep a wink it was liberating to sleep alone and wake up in the pitch dark, pack up camp, and have Yellowstone to myself for a few hours.

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My mom and I kayaked on the Lolo National Forest and had a blast watching herons, camping on Seeley Lake, and roasting potatoes in tin foil in the campfire with butter and onions. (It takes a while but if they sit for a while in the embers the skins will get perfectly crisp and the inside will be buttery and hot.)

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Ella and I escaped from the world at Boulder Hot Springs, a century-old resort with beautiful rooms, and chatted, ate nice cheese, and heard the rain fall through the window at night.

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In spring I hiked alone quite a bit, watching the flowers that are slow to bloom in Montana reveal themselves, week by week. Things are slow to come alive here but when they do you must revel in their presence.

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A few trips to Missoula, which will always be tinged with a bit of painful nostalgia for me. I miss the life Logan and I built here, even if it was for such a short time. It’s hard to go back and go to places that were special to us and know that such a beautiful, exciting chapter of our lives is over (although we have more adventures up our sleeves!)

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My favorite creative wonder has been making semi-regular trips up to Montana from Colorado and we always make time to catch up at The No Sweat, a 1970s no frills breakfast and lunch joint that goes overboard with coffee and charm.

I know nobody really blogs anymore but I am somewhat firmly attached to this old beast. I’ve written as The Photographist since I was an undergraduate and my life has gone in such different directions than the young, naive Swiss-living Montana girl I was back then that abandoning this blog permanently just doesn’t feel right. Does anybody else have nostalgia and loyalty to mediums like this, even though they aren’t so popular anymore?

“My beer hand is cold!”

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With daylight savings going, it’s finally dark out past 5 pm. Katie and I took advantage of this, stashing a few beers in our packs, extra clothes, and sturdy winter hiking boots. Katie brought Yak-Traks, which are really an essential Montana tool, but I just trusted that my heavy, large hardy boots (they’re good to -20F with the right liners, and are 15 years old) would do the job (they did).

We got to the top of Mount Helena on the 1906 trail within an hour! In some places, the snow had drifted, and with the warming temperatures it had become heavy, slippery, and easy to sink deep into. We kept on trekking and even saw a nutter trial running in shorts! (This is actually not that abnormal but I’ve become more and more cold-sensitive and now that just seems insane to me.)

The top of Mount Helena is always windy, but it was amazing to be out and active. Katie and I kept marveling at the feeling of fresh air, of moving, of hearing the wind blow through the trees and seeing the sun glint off the snow. Sometimes winters here can feel never-ending, and cabin fever sets in, even if your car starts and you can get around town fairly easily.

I can’t wait to hike some more- it really does feel like the earliest of early signs of spring, just the fact that it’s finally above freezing some days brings me hope!

Strange Women Go Hot Springing

I took the day off work, crossing my fingers that snow wouldn’t ruin the day. Chelsea was insistent, saying that regardless, we’d be going. The night before, we were marveling at just how good Blackfoot Single Malt IPA beer is (while drinking it) and getting excited. The weather looked clear, shockingly, and I was excited.

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We piled into Chelsea’s car and headed West. I told Logan about our plans, and from deep in South America came the reply, “you strange women have a blast”. We really were a rather strange, rag-tag group, the three of us, thrown together through proximity but choosing to also care about one another, in that strange way that fate and chance have.

The drive was spectacular. Passing burned out woods, tall evergreens, beautiful cottonwoods guarding little meandering creeks, and isolated homes and winding roads that went off to unknown places, Chelsea told us about the place. We got there, with only one truck with a camper on it in the parking lot. Success! Hot springs get notoriously overcrowded and we were thrilled to have some decent odds of having a good time.

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Upon reaching the hot spring after a half mile or so of hiking, we encountered four souls who had been sleeping in the camper. One was unfortunately very naked, and another had brought a waterproof speaker and was playing dubstep. Luckily, they shut the speaker off within about five minutes, because I was going to either punt it like a football or ask them to turn it off, whichever would have offered a quicker solution.

(Pro tip: do NOT be the person who brings a fucking speaker to the hot spring, you are a rude jerk if you do so. Enjoy the fucking tranquility of nature goddammit!)  

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Anyway…

It was beautiful. It was tranquil. Our current hot spring partners seemed a bit…not sober, not stoned, but off. A bit meth-y, perhaps, which is actually not unlikely in rural Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, or lots of other places. Luckily, they left fairly quickly, and we had the hot springs to ourselves for a good while before a dozen or so people came in a big group, complete with a tiny dog.

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That time in the hot spring was amazing. We quietly chatted, took pictures, breathed in the steam, and reveled in the marvelousness of the misty, quiet woods. I felt quietly settled, content in a way I hadn’t in some time. After dropping Colette off Chelsea and I went to Kettlehouse and chatted more, sipping a delicious New England style IPA. It was a damn fine day, with damn fine souls. I couldn’t ask for a better one.

Up the Rattlesnake (Montana is ugly).

Here’s the thing:

Montana is really, really, ridiculously good looking. Example A:

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It’s hard to take bad photographs here. It’s hard to not feel the urge to have a camera on you 24/7 (I usually have more than one to be honest). The sunsets, the trees, the mountains in the Western part of the state- it’s all very ‘Gram worthy (and in fact, I have noticed a lot more “influencers” who are based out of Montana- but that’s a story for another day).

It had snowed pretty consistently Sunday morning so Brenna and I postponed a longer hike and chose to head up the Rattlesnake. This is an area of Missoula that is busy with recreationists year-round, and we were passed by bikers (in the snow, mind you) and soon, I am sure ski tracks will be rife up there as well. Most Montanans (me excluded) have adapted to the reality of winters that last a minimum of six months, and have outdoor hobbies. Again, not me.

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Anyway, we went on a short-ish jaunt in the snow, and it was beautiful. We chatted, looked for animals, admired the quiet of the landscape, and soaked in this manageable amount of snow and cold.

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Here’s Montana in all her ugly, #nofilter. You’re welcome.

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Coisas que eu gosto

 

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Logan’s been gone and my Portuguese has become wretched, choppy, and even sadder than it was before he left (it was never really *that* good) . I’ve been trying to use short, small sentences and find words that I know are in my brain either in Spanish or Italian.

Coisas is close to cosi (It) and cosas (Sp) and so my mind has a bridge. Gosto is close to gustar (Sp), etc. and so forth. I can’t wait to actually hear and re-learn everything I’ve lost soon.

Recently a friend joked that in lieu of a relationship right now I’ve invested in skincare and I can’t say that it’s entirely untrue. Logan is gone but I’ve got little bottles and serums! I’ve shelved my The Ordinary bottles- they were giving me skin problems that made me unhappy, even though I loved the price, the way they felt, and the fact that they did brighten my skin. Instead, I switched to a BHA to help take care of some of the problems caused by the shelved solutions, and bought a new snail repair cream- I had the Mizon ampoule and used it to the last drop but it was sold out on Amazon at the time so I bought it’s sister product! I love the ampoule a bit more- it feels luxurious and less contaminating, whereas with this cream you dip a finger in and then apply. Both are hydrating and make my skin feel very cared for. I love the Mizon repair cream and this Cosrx BHA, they do what they’re supposed to and have been lasting me a while, and they were both right around $17-18. I haven’t yet purchased anything over $20, even though in  my dreams I’d be splurging on something from Drunk Elephant (that’ll be a bit down the road for sure!).

I am nervous for switching up my skincare routine in a few months, as I’ll go from the extremely cold, dry Montana winter to the humidity, sun, and heat in south/central Brazil. It’ll be an adventure in every sense of the word there!

 

Preparing to leave, part two (visual).

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My time here summed up in visual form.

Photography is a tool, and even the most casual of photographers use this tool in decisive ways. I have used mine to capture the fleeting moments that will last, longer than my anxious thoughts or potentially sad feelings about this place, because if you put me in a corner and asked me, truly, if I was happy here, I would have to tell you that there were moments that were fucking blissful.

Seeing the sunset on our street. The first night we spent in our home. Meeting Logan’s friends from Brazil, bridges between our two worlds that I hadn’t known before. Late nights at the VFW watching a good live show with Nick, Logan, and Ev, feeling like the universe sent good people to be around. Chelsea’s all-too-brief visits that were filled with photos and chats that my soul needed. Quiet mornings at Bernice’s and Butterfly Herbs, nestled at tables and booths with a library book and a note pad. Kettlehouse afternoons, with delicious beer and salty peanuts. Drives out to the Lolo National Forest for fishing, exploring, and renewal. Walking to work in the snow, having the early morning feel like it was all for me as I made the first human footprints on my walk . Watching spring be tenacious and persistent and then take over Missoula with a ferocity I reveled in, photographing blooms and green, chlorophyll-devouring things as eagerly as they emerged from their deep winter slumber.

 

Preparing to leave, part one (text).

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I will be moving out of Missoula in a matter of months, leaving this cozy mountain town with streets I’ve walked hundreds of times, for work, for brews, for the warmth of people I care about. I feel torn between elation at escaping so soon and mourning because I feel like I have half-assed living here. Leaving places half-lived, things partially seen, people not fully explored, makes me feel like a sloppy person. I am not. I am usually meticulous as Hell.

I moved here in May 2017 because Logan got a good job and that’s what you do when one of you gets something promising. We were excited to spend a year together, finally. Montana in the summer is like nowhere else, and we couldn’t wait to find a home, move in, buy some tubes, float the river, and just exist in the ways you get to when you are around your person for more than a few months at a time.

I quickly realized that while I vaguely knew people here, it was hard to pin them down and also terrifying to do so. Mostly non-profit acquaintances, people who had done lobbying at the Legislature, or people I knew from college. I felt ashamed to reach out and make friends because I was unemployed, broke, and still finishing my thesis. I was a messy trifecta of half-done, in-progress things that really mattered to me. I was not sure what was going to happen, if we were always going to be this broke, if I was always going to get interviews and still never land a job, if my thesis edits would ever really, truly be done.

Despite the struggles, Missoula felt so full of promise, and people here seemed happy, settled, or had at least found something that made them feel content enough to stay, and I eagerly looked for those feelings or motivations. I looked in bars, on the shores of rivers, in bakeries with black coffee, in art galleries, at live music shows, on long walks as dusk tinged everything in blues and purples. I caught glimpses of them as I listlessly meandered around town, jobless and ashamed, lonely but too proud to reach out to people I kind-of-knew, wanting needing somebody to tell me, as they looked me in the eye, You are going to be just fine. Missoula is a shit-show for the unemployed. Most of us are working two jobs. The wages are notoriously terrible. You are going through something we all have.

The problem is that if you don’t reach out to those kind-of-knew people, you don’t ever give the opportunity for anything to arise. In my introverted-ness, compounded by personal challenges, I hid. Everybody I sort-of-knew here seemed content enough that it felt horrible to ask them to leave that space and come, however temporarily, to my little plot of guilt and fear.

After that, once fall and winter came on, I felt okay, and my awkwardness and lack of friends were quieted because in the span of three months I had defended a thesis I was proud of, said goodbye to British Columbia and grieved a bit, and landed a job that seemed like it would fill in a lot of holes that had been present mentally. That proved to be wrong, but the point is that I felt okay with having this other gaping hole of relationships persist, because you can’t have it all, and I had more than I had in a long, long time. A wonderful partner, a job, a house, a Master’s degree. Why get greedy?

I still felt like I needed to seek that feeling, though. That seeking, to this day, has given me lots of beginnings, almost no middles, and one ending that will occur soon.

I have pondered and turned these ideas of place, of settling, of bonds that make you want to stay, until they went from a rock with bits of dirt and detritus clinging, to a smooth stone that I can put in my pocket, rubbed down and worried to no end. There was never enough time here. By the time spring rolled around, I was mentally preparing for Logan to depart as his visa was expiring soon. A big change that would have us both not having much figured out, just a fierce hope, sheer determination and one Canadian work visa between the two of us, because neither of our countries could house us both. I mourned after he left- it was a shock to have our house emptied of him, our happy yellow house with apple trees, where we valiantly battled wasp nests, drank wine on the porch, read books in bed, were broke and happy and curious together. So, once again, I folded inward, adjusting to this awful newness.

Anyway, I guess this is an admission in some ways. I am bad at putting down roots. I have moved every two years since I was eighteen, just in time to find the people I imagine could be worthwhile and leaving just before the layers of friendship set like so many layers of stain on bare wood, protecting and illuminating the right qualities. I feel so torn departing, relief flowing through me because this challenging period of my life will be ending, but also feeling like a jerk because I feel like I didn’t make enough happen. Missoula is a beautiful place, with soul and meaning. I will reflect on more of that in further posts, but I feel strongly that what I discuss here contains some of my biggest regrets, so I need to abandon them here.

6300 miles/10,100 kilometers

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Taking Logan to the airport to say goodbye for six months was surreal. The drive from Missoula to Spokane is unbelievably beautiful, with cloud-covered mountain passes and little mining towns nestled by the highway, and we both discussed everything but his impending flight to go thousands and thousands of miles away. After we said goodbye at the gate, I drove home in a daze. I knew I couldn’t be emotional because a 3 hour drive on the highway is not the place to be a compromised person, and I compartmentalized everything and drove home without really remembering it. I came home and slept like a corpse, absolutely exhausted and horribly sad and hollow feeling. Our house echoed and felt devoid of the soul it had when we moved in.

It’s been a month now and life hasn’t become “normal” again. I want to sleep a lot still. I keep my space neat, much neater than it was when we lived together, and joined a gym. Cooking hasn’t happened- lots of raw veggies, sandwiches, yogurt and cold dishes. It’s hilarious how sad my diet has become since his departure. I would always know Logan was cooking when I’d smell garlic, basil, cilantro, olive oil in the pan, and other familiar smells. The sounds of the house have changed and so have the smells. No more of his cologne or our clothes hung together in the closet, even if only for a little while. Much of my grad school habits have returned: long walks alone, people watching,  having a quiet drink alone, writing in my diary, devouring books, finding quiet spaces, and letting my mind unravel and go all sorts of places. It is peaceful, familiar, and a tiny bit sad, but not entirely empty of happiness.

These were from one of our last walks in the park here in town, taken with my ancient SLR camera, which we didn’t position correctly, to my odd delight.

Phone diary from July

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Logan’s been gone a month. I’m on my own here in Montana. I’ve adopted new skincare methods, moved into a new room, have four bags of clothes to donate, and have been trying to enjoy summer. That means reading- a lot. In distilleries, coffee shops, bed, on work breaks, in the park, anywhere and everywhere. After the books come walks- long, meandering, in the evening. Summer is always remembered as the best but it’s so hot during the day that I duck in and out of shaded spaces and cool buildings. I can’t concentrate when it’s so hot that the buildings themselves radiate heat after sundown. The fan goes, and my mind wanders in circles, and I loathe summer as it happens, but remember it as so much better when it’s over.

Black and white reflections

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Odds and ends of a strange month. I got my Canadian work visa from the kindest border agent and then had the most awful experience coming back to my home country. I stayed out late and saw people I rarely see, found a dead bird behind the auto repair shop on my way to work, ate at a diner outside Spokane in eastern Washington, spent some time by the sea with my mom in Bellingham the night before getting my visa, and photographed flowers sprouting everywhere here in Missoula. It’s 90 degrees outside and I miss those weird spring days where you still might see snow on the mountains and have frost on some bits of the yard.

Stony Creek Cabin

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Late spring at a Forest Service cabin nestled in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. A moose had been bedding in the front lawn of the hundred year old cabin, a creek rushed loudly and busily across the road, farmers drove by in trucks kicking up dust clouds, and we made a fire that we sat by, quietly chatting, for hours.

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3 am and we could see stars and planets and satellites. I felt alive and happy, connected to new friends and old ones by the fire and the woods and the sounds of outside. The cabin was one hundred years old, and as I slept a little resident mouse ran back and forth along a beam near my head.

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In the morning I found moose tracks, wild strawberry plants, shooting star wildflowers, and lots of other evidence of living fauna. We had to drive over a water-logged road because Rock Creek was overflowing with runoff, muddy and fast. We were tired and happy together, breathing clean air.

 

Ruby’s Cafe

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I love hole-in-the-wall diners. The coffee is generally weak, the food semi-average, but the decor, the patrons, the chats, and the traditions that diners invite beckon me.

Logan and I tried to go to Paul’s Pancake Parlor, which apparently is amazing, but it was packed beyond belief. We drove a block and found Ruby’s Cafe, which hasn’t altered its interior decor since the 1970s, or so it seemed.

I love places that don’t budge. The Uptown Diner in downtown Missoula recently closed, and that was a big blow to the budget diner scene here. I love going places where a good chunk of the patrons are regulars, where the goal  isn’t to be hip or new. Diners are a part of Americana that don’t respond quickly to changes, and there is comfort in that. You walk in, sit in a booth, and know that the menu will have the usual options (pancakes, sausages, hashbrowns), and that the coffee, as mediocre as it may be, will be hot and full of caffeine.

It’s been over three months… so here are some updates in film.

Hello likely non-existent readers! I am not dead, nor in cryogenic suspension, nor in a coma, nor anything un-conscious.

In the last three months, I cut my hair off, which turned my wavy long hair into a short, bouncy, loose bob with full curls, and I couldn’t be happier!

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In March I turned twenty-seven, and this year I want to give fewer fucks about things I cannot control. I want to control who I give my energy to more, and where I put it. My anxiety and fears often threaten to spill over to contaminate parts of my life I don’t want them to.

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I’ve been trying to shoot medium format film that my aunt gave me for Christmas, and so far it’s been more failures than anything else but it’s been so fun giving it a try!

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Sharing space with all the critters around here, and finding that several walk the same paths that I do.

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This spring I’ve been feeling a lot of things and have been trying to go to rallies, marches, talks, and forums to help cope with and change what is happening around me. Spending time with my family and loved ones helps as well.

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It’s April and winter is not giving up quite yet. I put away my snow boots, and as I type a snow storm is raging outside our kitchen windows. The back door blew open from the gusts! It’s been miserable being teased by the seasons like this. However, we do have some beautiful buds on our trees and the beginnings of our iris flowers are poking up through the beds of leaves that covered them all winter. I cannot wait to hear more birds (we already hear northern flickers, robins, chickadees, and meadowlarks!) and see more flowers bloom. Crocuses are popping up everywhere too!

Sorry for my absence. Time never seems to make enough space to let you do everything you want to. I’ve been writing, researching, working, trying to go on runs, eat healthier, and do the self-care things I need to. That being said, I’ve got lots of thoughts and blog ideas swirling around, so I hope you’ll see more of me!