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.

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.

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.

 

Upstate but feeling low

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Lately I’ve been realizing how in statis I’ve been. Like an animal keeping its metabolism slow so that it can conserve calories. It’s tiring in it’s own way.

I wrote a bit about this on Instagram and here’s part of it.

“I feel untethered, but it’s hard to tether yourself to anything when you’re in a state of preparing, however slowly, to leave. I want to be making big loud friendships with complicated amazing people, and I want to be social and look outside my box, but it’s hard not to feel duplicitous building relationships that likely won’t last or gain the beautiful layers of depth that many do only after lots of time. I guess moving every two years like clockwork is catching up to me a bit.”

Tonight after expressing these feelings, I came home and made a risotto with chanterelle mushrooms, had a glass of wine, and currently have a face mask on. Laundry is in the dryer, dishes are done, work is over, and life is moving along in the clunky but regular way it is right now. I get to look back on beautiful photos like the ones above that show quiet, sunny days in Upstate New York of spiderwebs, marble topped dressers a hundred years old, and oil-based skincare that I talked about in my previous post.