Escaping Hell to go fishing.

36637216390_0658459d36_c (1)

We woke to the acrid smell of smoke invading our noses and our home. It wasn’t even 8am, and we had been up late. I couldn’t sleep any longer, as the smell was overwhelming and prevented me from feeling as though I could do anything but move to avoid it. Looking up the air quality, it was confirmed that heavy winds had brought forth a proliferation of smoke from all the hundreds of thousands of acres that are on fire in Northwestern Montana.

My home is burning. My home is evacuated, desperate, bone dry, frustrated, and suffering. We all breathe the smokey air, feel the headaches, and many of us get spontaneous bleeding noses and can’t sleep. We feel lethargic and every morning look out the window to see if anything has changed. Some days I can see the closest mountains, but most they are a mere outline, more like a mirage or a memory than the sturdy landmarks that they are.

Logan and I spent the morning nestled in a coffee shop reading and having a good chat. We went home and couldn’t stand the oppressive smoke. If we were going to suffer, by God, we were going to do it outside our claustrophobic town. Logan packed his fishing rod, I packed my camera, and we drove Jarvis to the highway to escape the shit.

36862894302_34f11c5d54_c36226126783_6feeeca12b_c36637200070_ba5c852445_c

While Logan fished, I explored. We listened the the gurgle of the river, and didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say that nature wasn’t whispering to us. I could feel both of us grow more relaxed and atuned to things. The smoke wasn’t quite as bad out here, and hearing the wind rustle the grasses and the hum of bees and the gentle whoosh of the river moving over rocks as it has always done I felt like my mind could finally shut the fuck up.

36637202670_3f45aa71c5_c36637201710_55bb40687e_c

I eventually found myself looking for animals. We had seen lots of bear scat on the side of the road, full of berry seeds, and I was glad we brought the bear spray. Along the river beds I found lots of tracks, of dogs that fishermen brought, of deer, of raccoons, and of birds. Insects skated along the tops of little ponds near the river. The amount of shallow, still water and rocks made me sure that snakes and frogs were nearby. As a child, Jeff Corwin was my first crush, and I grew up watching him wrangle snakes, catch critters, and be outside. I wanted to be a snake venom researcher when I was little and much of my life I have loved all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. They are integral parts of our ecosystem, often environmental indicators, and really damn cool. So when I spotted a leopard frog sitting in one of the ponds, I quietly walked over and tried to catch it. It got away, aided by the thick amounts of algae, and I waited and tried to catch the poor creature again. I failed again and then left him alone to live out his days doing his thing, as stressing out wild animals is really not my gig.

We were getting ready to leave after our brief time in nature when Logan yelled that he found a snake! I put my camera down and went and grabbed this little healthy garter snake with bright yellow stripes! Of course the creature proceeded to pee on me- as many reptiles and amphibians do, because would you want to eat something that stank and tasted like urine? I let the little guy go quickly, but holding him and feeling his smooth skin was so neat. He darted into his rock home and I washed my hands and arms in the river. Logan fished a bit more, and I wandered into a grove of common tansy (an invasive species) and let the sound of bees wash over me. Having recently learned that there are 56 species of bumblebees in Montana, I wondered how many kinds were flitting among the flowers. 36226124953_55de839f2a_c36226128603_61333cc24e_c36226123263_eeecc33c84_c36637201010_41a0a62915_c

My favorite food & coffee places in Victoria.

Hey y’all. I’m in mourning already for Victoria’s food and drink options, so I’ve decided to compile a list of my favorite places to grab a bite or a coffee! I want to do another for my favorite bars/nightlife places, so stay tuned! If you’re in Victoria, check these places out. I mostly lived on a really tight budget so the places noted below are mostly for those who can’t afford a fancy meal. Enjoy the pictures too! I don’t have pictures of every place but almost.

32425765774_5d1630a130_c32425767084_1273fe8ef5_c24788419483_c496184208_c32249167513_6c5ecd268e_c

PHO VY on Fort

This pho place, nestled in between a bunch of small shops on Fort Street, serves up amazing pho, bun, and other Vietnamese goods in a no-frills manner that I love. It’s a cash only place that has great windows for people watching and TVs that regularly show weird game shows and maybe an old X-Men movie or two. Fancy? No. Cheap? Yes. Delicious? Oh my god. This is my favorite place to come when I feel off, need a pick-me-up, or want to take visitors. Everybody who has visited me has been taken here, without exception. My loyalty and love for Pho Vy will never die. As a Montanan who comes from a pho-free land, being able to have cheap pho whenever I wanted was my definition of being spoiled.

33812354731_6b979fc199_c23875282079_792cdedcdc_c25119518320_f2a83a7672_c22967687511_e9ed2fce78_c

CRUST BAKERY on Fort

Literally down the street from Pho Vy, this bakery is tiny, with almost no seating, but has some of the most delectable pastries and other gluten filled goods I’ve ever had. Their sour cherry pastries are incredible, the ham tomato basil croissant a fucking work of art, and even just their regular croissants are a messy, buttery, legit ode to what butter and flour do together. I love going here after an early morning walk and grabbing something on my final trek home, or getting a croissant to eat later when I’m too lazy to eat real meals.

32906812553_2583d6e364_c

DISCOVERY COFFEE on Blanshard

There are multiple branches of Discovery Coffee, a Victoria BC staple, but I was lucky enough to live near the newest branch on Blanshard St. I went there 3-4 days of the week, usually around 7am, and sat in the same seat every day. The baristas got to know me, and they were super friendly. I love their cortado, and they have great cornbread and doughnuts brought in daily from local bakeries. The atmosphere is awesome- lots of locals stopping in every day, people reading, business meetings, etc. and the vibe was excellent. I can say I got about 65-75% of my best writing done at that little place early in the morning before most people are up and busy.

31520862803_7953e42d41_c32181436692_fe0fe4bdf2_c31954583560_bc5c45d390_c

HABIT COFFEE on Pandora

Habit Coffee has no Wifi, as they’ll sometimes tell you with a little more sass than necessary. That being said, they have good coffee and the downtown Pandora branch has great art, lighting, and atmosphere. I loved going in and perusing their awesome selection of magazines to read, and spent many a rainy gloomy morning tucked in there writing in my diary, writing postcards, or devouring books.

 

FERRIS OYSTER BAR on Yates

This place serves up amazing oysters in multiple varieties, makes a wicked sidecar and Negroni, and they know what they’re doing with seafood and pasta. I recommend making a reservation. The prices are steeper (think $20-30 per entree) but the food is always excellent. I’ve been there exactly three times and it has always been such a great place to take family or friends when we’re feeling fancy.

23616289573_33703af020_c

BEAVERTAIL STAND on Broughton

Is this a chain? Yes. Is it legitimately Canadian? Up for debate (my Calgarian friend noted that the first time she had a Beavertail it was at Epcot in Florida…) but damn, fried dough with delicious toppings and wicked gelato on the cheap will always be on my menu. The guy who runs the Beavertail stand in Victoria is also one of the nicest guys- he is always down for a joke or a small chat, and he will gladly cut a Beavertail in half for anybody who can’t handle a whole one (seriously though why would you not eat a whole one, they’re amazing!). My favorite is the Beavertail with Nutella or the Skor toppings.

SUSHI FIELD off Fairfield

Sushi Field is my little secret place in Victoria that is entirely underrated because it’s a bare bones sushi place in a strip mall near the ocean. But, dude, I can tell you that the best sushi I’ve had has consistently come from places like this- where it’s not fancy, dark, or sleek, but where the food speaks more than the setting. I love their sashimi (oh my god the salmon!) and the maki rolls are amazing. The food is all made in house, even the salad dressing, and you can tell that the quality is high as soon as you taste it. The sushi is also dirt cheap and it’s off the downtown/tourist track so it’s rarely full. Also, if you’re looking for a cheap date idea, get some sushi to go, walk through the graveyard (I find them romantic), and settle down by the nearby beach for a lovely picnic!

33140549531_73aa16f745_c32425788324_971be53cc5_c33140548811_376dff10a8_c33140547591_5da0dd1111_c

LITTLE JUMBO on Fort

This little tucked back restaurant on Fort offers super cozy dining with wicked food options. I ate there with Ella when she visited and I was so, so happy. Eating is my favorite hobby after taking naps, and Little Jumbo has amazing dishes (hello duck!) that hit the spot. At about the same price point as Ferris, this is a place you’d take a date or a family for a celebration, but super worth it.

LA TANA BAKERY at Fan Tan Alley

This tiny little bakery, tucked underground right near the entrance to Fan Tan Alley on Pandora, is run by a Milanese man, Claudio. Claudio can be found regularly speaking Italian in the kitchen while churning out delicious pastries and bread goods (one of his staff noted, “I don’t understand what he’s saying about 90% of the time”). The farinatas are amazing, the fagottini is delicious, and the bread stares at you from the walls with beautiful color and smells. After living in southern Switzerland, only an hour from where Claudio hails, I can tell you that this place is as Italian as they come- and it felt so good to find a little place that felt so familiar to where I was living in college. There’s also coffee! On top of this, I love La Tana because they compost and recycle and make sure that they have almost no carbon footprint. Woo!

33866280132_5a69983225_c (1)32425779514_7618b4b391_c32425777314_169552f994_c32425778424_95324b2d1a_c

CAFFE FANTASTICO on Humboldt (In the Parkside Hotel)

This little cafe serves local wine, beer, coffee, and little dishes. I love it for the location and the cozy corners- it was so close to my apartment, and a great place to settle in and peruse a book and sip a good latte. Located inside the posh Parkside Hotel, the bathrooms there are also A+ (yes I take this into consideration!) because they’re in the hotel lobby. They have good little breakfast bites, like egg sandwiches and bagels, and the prices are super fair. Caffe Fantastico has three branches around Victoria, each with their own vibe/specialty, and this one is the sort of cafe branch. The others are larger, with more lighting and food options, but this one had the exact sort of vibe for a rainy morning where I could escape my apartment and take a stroll and smell the outside world without having to trek.

Chocolate before dinner.

35647260063_3c8dca2d0f_c35647261083_3c0b80ace0_c36058092010_72fedc92a4_c35619866564_a423cbd267_c35647262313_65071b794b_c35619868364_b182531fdd_c35647264813_6fe60ba602_c

It’s been awhile, eh? I am nibbling on some honeycomb covered in chocolate before we make dinner…oops.

In three days I head to Victoria to defend my Master’s thesis (!!!) but this last week has been something from Hell. I got really, really sick, had two job interviews which didn’t pan out (always a bit of a bummer), and generally loafed, hacked, and worked my way through the week the best I could. The smoke here has been dreadful- we aren’t supposed to be outside for too long, it’s so dense! They’ve got almost 700 firefighters from all over the country here to battle the Lolo fire in Missoula.

Besides fire and a bit of immune system failure I did bake some amazing blackberry pastries using a recipe from The Little Epicurean!  (Click through for the recipe!) We ate them up before I thought to make some pictures. Next time!

I also finished The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. An exquisite, sensitive, multi-layered book about the meeting of two cultures through the lens of an epileptic Hmong girl. If it sounds strange, fall into the pages. It’s a sad, extraordinary, determined story. Now I am reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which is about London’s cholera epidemic. I love medical history and stories about cities and this intertwines both. Again, if you ever feel ungrateful for modern medicine, go read something like this! You’ll be so glad that you’ve got anesthesia that isn’t ether or chloroform or cocaine! (Or a cocktail of the three!)

Anyway, these photographs are from a few weeks ago. Lovely Chelsea visited, Logan and I went to a diner, and I’ve been admiring the beautiful green plums that are on our little trees in the yard. One determined squirrel has been pilfering them, but we’ve had a host of birds, including a northern flicker, in our yard lately, and it’s been so lovely to see them! I like sitting quietly on the porch watching them flit and fly around. Birds really are so neat.

 

Blackberry pie: The South meets Montana.

36056460730_02d753b9b9_c36316300151_69020dabea_c

Hey y’all! In the midst of it all, I made a blackberry pie! When we moved into our home I found a tangled bush/vine monster that was climbing up the back shed, and I suspected it would have blackberries. Sure enough, it did! Apparently, blackberry pie is a very Southern thing, which I did not know (my grandma is from Texas but hot damn is that the South? Or is Texas it’s own thing? I suspect the latter!) Anyway, I got to pick blackberries and take them into my kitchen literally just a few feet away! Some of them were small, other blackberries were as big as half my thumb and heavy as hell! Unfortunately there are lots of wasps hanging about (I loathe them), probably because I haven’t sprayed the three or four tiny new nests that have sprung up since we moved in. Ugh.

Now, here’s the truth: My pie didn’t turn out that aesthetically pleasing. I know that whoever reads this is probably more used to the gorgeous baking and cooking images that lace our everyday Instagram and Facebook feeds, but this pie is GENUINE! It was made with love and it tastes GREAT! Screw using all the props and the nice marble countertops if you don’t have them, because food is made for eating as well as visual enjoyment. So yes, my pie is ugly. My lattice work is hideous. But my taste buds and stomach are happy. 🙂

Having never made a blackberry pie, I searched the internet and used an excellent recipe from The Country Contessa My one change to her recipe would be that if your blackberries are juicy, your pie is going to be super juicy too- mine literally is standing in about 1/2 inch of delicious blackberry juices, which I plan to save. If you want a more firm pie, I’d increase the flour a tiny bit (something less than another 1/4 cup) and probably add a tiny pinch or two of corn starch. Rhubarb pie recipes have you lay down a sugar/flour mix at the bottom to soak up some of the juice, and you could give that a try if you wanted to. If you choose to use cornstarch, be really careful, as it can overwhelm the taste of your fruit (I did that to a raspberry pie about two years ago and still regret it). I know that baking is something close to an exact science but when you’re working with quality pie dough and good fruit I feel like there is more leeway.

36316299551_e1aec9b415_c36316299331_bdd4492574_c36453481065_6e7ee1cec6_c

Ingredients (from recipe by the Country Contessa)

  • Dough for a double crust pie
  • 6 cups of blackberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 of a lemon’s juice (I used a lime!) 
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 tablespoon beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water (I never do a wash on my pies, that’s just me!) 

Roll out your bottom crust and lay in the bottom of your pie tin. Punch small holes in the bottom with your fork. This helps lessen the chance of burning or overcooking the bottom of your pie.

Mix together blackberries, sugar, flour, salt, and lemon juice. Put the mixture in your pie tin with the bottom crust laid out. Then, roll out the top crust. You can fold it in half and place on top and unfold, or do a lattice pie, or do whatever you damn please! It’s going to taste great.

Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes. Remember to put tin foil or a pie plate protector on the edges so that the crust doesn’t cook faster than the rest of the pie dough!

Remove, let cool and set for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best! I like it with coffee in the morning.

36316298651_63b566e156_c36453480185_8c0824602e_c36453480005_a446d7e25a_c36453479685_fa997b5b6e_c

A collection of thoughts in a hot, hot summer.

36015321600_aa32d6b60c_c36015324680_826532cfdb_c36275413491_d40101828b_c36015323040_44770900c1_c36411906445_994a2db317_c36275409571_d55b39eaae_c36275410811_a0a33c313b_c36015329380_63496d032d_c

Everybody told us Missoula would be hotter than Helena. We laughed it off, sure that we would be fine with fans, ice packs, and spirit. Instead, this summer has been one of the hottest in the last sixty years. The heat starts early, seeping in through the open windows which I shut vigorously every morning. It lingers far longer than it should, an impolite guest that traps us in our homes, grumpy and disoriented. My appetite fades or I feel hungry at odd hours, and sleep escapes me frequently. I begin to loathe sunlight and the daytime and consider becoming nocturnal, except somewhere I read that being up at night and working at night fucks with your circadian rhythm and gives you higher likelihoods of getting certain cancers…but then again, at this point, doesn’t everything give you cancer?

At night we hear the train cars crash together as they move, a semi-apocalyptic sound that often shakes the house. We say it is like living on the edge of the world. When we had an earthquake a month back, I woke up because it felt like the trains but more intense. It felt like some primordial worm was crawling beneath the house on it’s way somewhere else..  Now, I often wake at an especially loud crash because differentiating between the rumble of train cars and the eerie sensation of an earthquake has blurred. An emergency kit is being made in my mind but no, we haven’t bought distilled water, flashlights, a medical kit, food, or any of the other recommend emergency things.

On Saturday night we went to see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult film El Topo. It was a mess of gore, dead animals, weird sexual themes, and beautiful, bleak desert. When we left the theatre, it was cold! The wind whipped and blew up my dress and I held it down, and we discussed how good it felt to actually be chilly. Goosebumps on my arms felt like a soft blanket, and I felt so much more alive than when the heat saps away my energy. We had a drink at Plonk outside, and the wind made the pages of the fancy menu flap and flutter. Nighttime is the only time I feel completely human again.

My state of unemployment weighs heavily all day, every day. The quiet, insistent pressure to be employed and working makes me feel like a worthless soul, even though in fact I am worthwhile, so goddamn worthwhile. Self care in these times is important. I treasure little things, like sharing lunch with Logan, listening to a good record while we make dinner, or having a moment outside early in the morning before the heat, smelling the outside smells, heavier with nighttime moisture that still lingers. Right now, there is a blackberry pie in the oven, it’s smell wafting throughout the house. WordPress keeps deleting my post, so here it is in messy, unedited form. I cannot wait to take out the pie and see the slightly browned crust, having wrestled with cold butter in flour and gathering blackberries while fending off wasps and other insects. It felt so satisfying to be able to make the pie with fruit from our backyard! I’ll be making a post about that soon. Until then, lovely readers!

 

 

 

 

Missoula moments

36248381366_30e7745610_c36248385556_00e79780da_c36289334365_db1f340364_c (1)

Last night Logan and I floated the Clark Fork River on some industrial rubber tire tubes. We had a river bag with two beers and our car keys tied to his shoelaces. The water was warm, and the smoke-clouded sun shone deep gold and warm orange on the water’s surface. We floated under a bridge with a loud train rumbling over and it felt surreal to look at thousands of pounds of goods moving over our heads. Fish jumped ahead of us and we heard the river get loud and quiet and loud again, and we bobbed in and out of waves and currents.

Then, we heard it. The the most pathetic sounding, wobbly, unimpressive sound a bird has ever emitted: the cry of a bald eagle! Yes, ladies and gentleman, our regal national symbol, with it’s glorious white head, sharp beak, and piercing eyes that grace the cheesy tee shirts that live in at least half of Montana’s older white male population’s closets. The bald eagle, in fact, shrieks in a most undramatic, uninspiring way. We saw two immature bald eagles and what we thought may be their mum perched in the tall trees alongside the river.

As we floated on, eagles close by and the sun going down, I looked all around us, I thought, This is bliss. This is what it’s about. Where else on earth do I get to do this?

36248384036_345caacd08_c35895831730_4abb3bea5b_c36248389366_cbf48db76b_c This last week has been full of reminders to be kind to myself. The job search has been brutal so far, with resumes given in hand and online, with only silence or rejection so far. Summer has been hot, brutally so, making me loathe everything. Sleep is hard to come by often. And yet, things are good. Chelsea visited us for a few days, making delicious palomas in the kitchen and telling stories of her around the world journey she’d been on with her Kate the last six months. We tried a new brewery, made pizzas, went to Bernice’s Bakery and ate amazing baked goods and had excellent coffee. We went to Kettlehouse and I had the most incredible slow pour nitro amber ale (which yes, is a dramatic title, and the beer was dramatic and delicious).

Life moves so fast in the summer. Last summer was a blur like this one, too, with hectic trips to Yellowstone, barbecues outside, delicious meals and cold beer, but also looking at the date and shaking my head, wondering if it was really already August. Last year, though, there was the inevitable departure back to British Columbia, the goodbyes and the sadness, and this August there is none of that looming. It feels so good to not worry about a date in which I’ll cross the border to the North and leave behind loved ones.

So life continues here in the northwestern part of Montana, where fires rage in the mountains and eagles screech from the river shores, and I continue to apply for jobs and keep my chin up the best I can. A dopo, readers!

36248383276_5342597f77_c36248388686_296a31d9b4_c36248383976_35a391aecc_c36248388216_46b2ce17d6_c

Hike to Hidden Lake

35964873586_855a03e704_c35964872496_f265bba2df_c35195516913_c0ddae99fc_c35195513933_0bc71ddbd7_cI brought two canisters of bear spray with us and put them in an easily-reachable outside pocket on my pack. A few weeks back we had met up with some friends and one of them recalled being charged by a grizzly bear on their first day backpacking in Glacier, and how they hadn’t grabbed the bear spray fast enough. Luckily, the grizzly had merely done a bluff charge and veered off into the woods, away from them.

Not my idea of a good time, I thought, so I brought more than one canister. We also packed water, sunscreen, and snacks. As we got to the Logan Pass Visitor Center I checked that we had everything and got out. The parking lot was full, and the Center was swarmed with tourists, many in flip-flops, learning about this incredible part of the world.

As we walked on a trail behind the Center, somebody noted a mother grizzly bear with two cubs in the distance. I pulled out my binoculars and peered out, seeing her calmly making her away across a grassy knoll with her two cubs in tow. It was beautiful to see them from a safe distance, where we weren’t bothering her and she wasn’t making us nervous. What I do like about bears and most other wild creatures is that they, honestly, don’t want to hang out with us either. They want to mind their own business and go about surviving, something that in many parts of the world is harder due to human encroachment and climate change.

35195511573_45995d0d44_c35617394400_0903ebe22f_c35617393370_f26f97c04f_c35195506263_94e0e62f29_c

We began hiking to Hidden Lake, but part of the trail was closed due to bear activity. There were enough people on the trail that my fears of encountering bears were mostly gone. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and the number of warm human bodies out and about would waft to any living animal like a red flag, because I bet you humans stink. 

As we hiked further, we encountered snow. Slushy, wet, slick snow! Logan marveled at the snow in July, and we trekked through it, trying not to slip or slide. As we hiked about a mile in, we saw our first mountain goat! We saw several more as we kept hiking. There were several on one of the boardwalks, determined to get to somewhere else, and so I moved off the boardwalk into the brush. While mountain goats aren’t massive, they’re still wild animals, and several of them had their kids with them, and I didn’t want to get in the way and cause them stress or make them nervous. It was incredible to see them so close, though, while they’re shedding their thick winter coats and looking shaggy. Their expressive faces and slow pace made it easy to stare. We get to share the world with so many natural things and as a human that makes me feel all the feels. We’re so destructive and polluting and unnatural in some ways and it’s amazing to be around things that are very different and humbling.

35835657372_9074e8a935_c35835657132_5846e65905_c35195505743_7f2a53ff08_c

The views at the end of the trail were amazing. Lush green valleys dotted with snow laid before us, while healthy looking, proud trees stood in thick groves. The bare rock of the mountains reached towards the sky and we all looked, silently, absorbing the beauty of everything. The air was cool and fresh and it felt good to inhale and smell the natural smells. Small, delicate flowers laid by the trail, showing off purple and yellow hues. Red slate rocks added blush to the landscape.

As we headed back, my mind buzzed with questions and my heart felt full. I bounded down through the snow quickly and as we got back to the car I felt absolutely exhausted and invigorated simultaneously.

35835658992_1d018ccce1_c35835657682_5d822c6fc3_c35835658052_70419eec65_c35964846036_bc094b90c6_c

Beargrass & Coffee

35964875806_4d4e2d6801_c35166745934_0206cfe008_c35964876366_d7d01d3eef_c35873445981_f2d053a97a_c35964878056_8f8b30e045_c35166745634_3e93c67783_c35964876156_ba9900145b_c35873445741_17fc9b0cdf_c35964875666_55fdbbcf07_c

Beargrass and coffee might seem an odd combination but the two go hand in hand as part of a great day.

Beargrass is a funny looking flower that often thrives in burn areas here in northern Montana and it’s one of the signature sights in Glacier. We found a thriving patch and I went right ahead and stuck my nose in the blooms (they smell heavy, musky, and wonderful). Beargrass is one of those things that in my mind define Montana in the summer. It rewards hikers deep in many of our National Forests and it always looks a bit odd in a Tim Burton-esque way. Nature really is the world’s greatest designer, and if you don’t agree we need to have a good chat.

We started off the morning having coffee and breakfast at the Swiftcreek Cafe in Whitefish. Chelsea helped me make the coffee images by pouring the cream while I photographed and we devoured our food to prepare for a full day in the park. Logan didn’t like Whitefish, as it felt too “utopic” to him, and as I looked at the sleek, new, buildings built in “rustic” styles to attract out of state wealth, I agreed. We would later fully cement that idea as we stumbled into a nightclub with strobe lights sure to trigger seizures, nestled in this ski resort town. Montana, you’re full of the strangest surprises.

Alpine adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park

35062150713_f109a36845_c35483675290_67015aeb6b_c35871611735_01edbcf9e5_c35062159973_bb316aa331_c

As we drove up higher and higher I looked out and tried to not let my fear of heights wash over me. The trees were so regal and the cool air felt so good, and I tried to steel myself. My mother looked over nervously at me.

We were in Rocky Mountain National Park, up thousands of feet higher than the nearest town of Estes Park. We were driving the Trail Ridge Road and watching the landscape change as we climbed higher and higher. This was the park where my parents met and fell in love when they were in college and it felt very neat to be in their territory, where my mother and father used to rise at 4 am to get to the park to photograph bugling elk in the rising sunlight of autumn. Having parents who fell in love with each other because of their mutual love of the outdoors has its perks- you get to hear about cool stories like that one.

Up at the top of the road, we got out and hiked. At 11,000 feet, the air felt thinner, and we both had small headaches that would later bloom into larger ones due to the lesser amount of oxygen available up high. We were in the alpine region, where no trees grow, surrounded by delicate alpine flora and fat marmots who lazed on rocks posing like some weird animal Richard Burton. No doubt they were being fed by hapless idiots.

35702416812_9b4c78d7df_c35871627475_8f52a5a296_c35702457262_b57da3d3e9_c35062152643_f5969d6e78_c

On our way up some folks from Oklahoma stopped in the middle of the road, which is narrow and has little-to-no room for maneuvering, and proceeded to feet one of these fat marmots from the car and take pictures. My mother and I rolled our eyes and I wanted to get out, walk up to them, throw crumbs at them, and ask, “How do you like it?!”

Ahem…

Anyway. Being up so high was eerie in that you could see for what felt like miles. Miles of peaks, clouds, and valleys were all for the visually consuming, and I soaked it in. We saw a gorgeous bull elk in full, handsome velvet napping in a meadow, his red-gold head tucked into the flora. One man asked us if he was dead but we told him no, that elk nap and conserve energy and move about more in the evening and morning.

Eventually it was getting chilly, though thankfully without the strong winds that such areas are known for, and hopped into the car to go to a visitor’s center. We got to drink in even more spectacular views and then realized we were going to be late for dinner at my grandma’s house and left the park.

A too-brief glimpse into the incredible, fast-changing landscapes in that beautiful place.

35032325514_c6afeb2fe1_c35032324754_b4c2dbb865_c35871657745_c493f4e828_c35032363044_efebe52beb_c35740026851_38aa2afff2_c

“How did you get my espresso machine?” (The Montana Folk Festival)

35747704721_6a32fa6d2b_c35069844923_0b3221d599_c35747702471_413e0f4fa9_c35039841494_fe5062da9c_c35879063565_a85b8446c2_c35747721041_64003f2a67_c35747726851_cd323d26b1_c35747695991_0c229dab02_c35838468206_eeae3ea34f_c35879028995_f20a98e8fe_c35838465226_a274251205_c

If you haven’t watched “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” I highly recommend you make it a priority. Even though it got not-so-great ratings at the time, I find the film to be poignant, ridiculous, hilarious, and visually compelling in so many ways.

There is a building in Butte called the Hennessy Building. It is large, regal, grand, and recently restored. As we walked to it I told Logan we must go inside and steal an espresso machine, a nod to the film mentioned above. The annual Montana Folk Festival was in full swing around us, and we saw the streets full of warm bodies on a ridiculously hot day.

Usually Butte is a fairly cool place temperature (and other) wise. However, the town was so toasty that the asphalt on the streets was literally melting, so wheelbarrows full of sand were being carted around dutifully to keep people’s feet from sticking to the pavement. Nonetheless, thousands of people like ourselves reveled in the live music, delicious food stands, and people watching that Butte always affords. I saw old bikers, young hipsters, way too many infants without sound protection, and a general sampling of humanity.

The Montana Folk Festival this year brought us a marvelous Afro-Venezuelan group, Betsayda Machado y la Parranda del Clavo, to one of the stages. Venezuela is, pardon my language, a shit place to be right now, with triple-digit inflation, lack of basic medicines, and general upheaval, and as we listened to the amazing sounds of the group, I wondered what it was like back home, and how these musicians were doing, if they would return home to the awfulness, and what it must be like to be in an old mining town in Montana introducing us to their sounds. As we watched Logan told me the music reminded him of the music in Bahia, a northern state in Brazil, and he said that it felt “like home” with the heat, the sounds, and the colors.

Earlier that week as we listened to Montana Public Radio we got to hear the most amazing cover of “House of the Rising Sun” croon us as we made dinner. The musician in question who made this masterpiece was Doreen Ketchens, hailing from New Orleans, and we got to see her at the Folk Festival as well! She played the clarinet, her daughter played drums, and the music that rang around the old part of Butte from her stage gave me goosebumps, I swear! Something about the clarinet can make sounds that are eerie and tingling, and I loved hearing her play songs like “Minnie the Moocher” and other classics I had only heard from recordings decades old.

The heat ultimately defeated us, though. We took shelter in a few breweries and bars to escape the omnipresent film of sweat that covered us all. Butte’s bar scene is eclectic, and at one establishment the bartender sassed me aggressively for not ordering a double gin and tonic. “What is the point of being at the Folk Festival if you’re not getting folked up?!” he hissed at me, and I begged him to just give me a single, as I was not looking to be a plastered creature at 5pm. He finally gave in but I’m sure he thought I was pathetic- and definitely not from Butte, where drinking is a hyper-common hobby. The open-container law also allows residents to get drinks “to go” to enjoy as they go about their merry ways.

Overall, this year was a blast. Despite the heat and the sun and the swaths of people (and overpriced beer tickets- $5 for a tall boy of PBR is just a bit too much) I cannot say I regretted it one bit. We passed out later that evening thoroughly exhausted, and I was still humming Ms. Ketchen’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” at the end of it all.

Montana in the summer: A brief glimpse.

34945500124_8480262327_c34975651563_493476d42e_c34975650163_7fb06d0a46_c35744950606_6f11a16d26_c34945498644_dd2912c0ce_c34975663003_bac9155541_c

Fishing, drinking local beer, hiking, noticing the little things: That’s what Montana summers are made of. (And scanning lots of film!)

I’ve been applying to jobs, finishing my thesis, and traveling a bit to see family in Colorado. We have been waging a battle against the heat with fans and windows thrown wide open at night, only to discover that the house still barely gets below 75 most days. Watering the grass seems silly when it’s almost 100F out and almost nothing will save the lawn, and our grass shrivels and roasts and looks less nice than the neighbors, but paying the water bill is a real thing.

The last few days have been spent outside in the sun and on the water and it has been marvelous. We spent two days in the northwestern part of the state and managed to get a full day of hiking and exploring in Glacier National Park. Logan and I got our second National Parks pass and I hope that we make it to Yellowstone this fall when the tourists leave and the leaves are quietly changing.

Plans, plans, plans. How is life so full of plans and yet almost none of them pan out? If you had told me six months ago that I would still be in Montana, I would have laughed. Yet, here we are, and to be honest I couldn’t be happier. Montana beckons and lures and cajoles my heart and soul and eyes (and camera lens!) unlike anywhere else.

 

Rhubarb pie

35310328880_af936a7668_c

My mother has a beautiful healthy rhubarb plant in her backyard. It’s grown from cuttings of a rhubarb plant that she had at our childhood home. The rhubarb that she grows is descended from a rhubarb plant that our family grew over one hundred years ago after my ancestors emigrated from Scotland to New Brunswick, and I love that it’s still growing in Montana and has been a part of our family.

Rhubarb is one of my favorite things to bake with and eat in general. It’s great in jams, in chutneys, in pies, crisps, tarts, and lots of other things. I even like eating thin slices raw- but that’s perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea.

This recipe is from one at AllRecipes, but I used less sugar:

4 cups chopped rhubarb

1 and 1/3 cups sugar (I used about 3/4 of a cup- I like my pies tart)

6 tablespoons white flour

1 tablespoon butter

1 recipe for two 9 inch crusts

35566925611_45011faf53_c

Roll out your first pie crust over flour and put in pie plate. Preheat oven at 450F. Mix together the flour and sugar until mixed well, then sprinkle about 1/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the crust. Then, heap your chopped rhubarb on top (isn’t it beautiful?!). Sprinkle the rest of the flour/sugar mixture over the rhubarb and dot with little pats of butter.

(If you’re feeling adventurous you can also mix a tiny bit of lemon juice in with your rhubarb! I meant to do this but forgot…)

Lay your other pie crust over the top and pinch the edges of the two crusts together. Poke holes with a fork in the top crust so that air can escape. Cover the edges of the crust with tin foil so that the crust doesn’t get over-cooked.

Put in oven at 450F for 15 minutes, then cook at 350 for another 40-45 minutes. Take out, let cool for a few hours, and enjoy!

35528613862_763d136f51_c

I like serving mine with ice cream or having it in the morning for breakfast with black coffee. A sweet and sour pie with a buttery crust is the best combination, in my opinion! What’s great about this pie is it’s amazing cold, which is perfect for summer when cold and tart things are ideal.

35566924871_f74bc50bd3_c

 

San Francisco on film

34773537094_1763852863_c35575036226_dab2987c23_c (1)35446384832_c5c0de9cfc_c

The colors were everywhere. Bits of coral, the blue of the sky, the warm hue of sand, the cool grey of the dense fog that engulfed Adrienne’s neighborhood each night. The smells were different- hot asphalt, whiffs of delicious foods not found in Montana, the sterile yet slight omnipresent stink of public transit, of thousands of bodies inhabiting the same small train cars day in and day out. San Francisco felt like a city that was in the midst of a lot of change. Money and youth everywhere, and yet none of it to be found for many.

35446386132_3a1d673b32_c35575038196_15da0a4ce0_c35446387822_4a5dd6612c_c35575042506_1a191eab64_c

We walked through the park, surrounded by massive eucalyptus trees, before breakfast. Logan took a picture of poop in the park with my film camera because he said I was being stingy with my film. We smelled the rich earth and the flora and saw red wing blackbirds and ravens before making our way to the beach.

The beach was engulfed in fog that was slowly retreating, and we walked to meet the waves, letting the edges of the Pacific ocean lap at our feet. The sand felt good in between my toes and I watched as one man in a dark coat walked up and over one of the dunes. The beach felt melancholy and full of gloom, but I loved it. Such spaces are great for letting thoughts wander and unravel and then pulling them back to have new, strange, and better ideas and thoughts.

35446391172_66f412070d_c35575045266_7ce2db39ff_c35575047426_1051152eb7_c

We went to the Mission District, which Adrienne had warned us was quickly becoming gentrified. Historically Latinx and Hispanic families have lived there, but as we got off BART we saw the inevitable results of gentrification. We walked a lot around that area and still heard plenty of Spanish, saw groups of school children and church groups outside churches with signs that read, “Jesus te ama”, and I hoped that the people who had been there would hold onto their apartments and stores and churches and habits, but I quietly knew that money and white people were probably sinking their teeth into the area and biting away at what hadn’t been theirs before.

In in the midst of our Mission ventures we found a beautiful, cramped Italian market. One wall was entirely devoted to hanging sausages and I felt myself growing hungry even though we had eaten quite recently. A beautiful wheel of Parmesan cheese sat staring at me and Logan pointed out some meats he had been searching for. We looked at the olive oils and the cans of tomatoes and all the pasta and left because if we didn’t leave soon we would buy meats and cheese that we had no room in our luggage for. We found a Brazilian mercado, and once inside I was the only one who wasn’t speaking Portuguese. People sipped coffee and around us were baskets full of Brazilian cooking ingredients, juices, and random odds and ends like deodorant or romance novels. Logan chatted with the barista and we left to go find a cool place to linger. We ended up at a dive bar with the right amount of sticky counters, grimy interiors, and dark corners and sat down. Adrienne joined us shortly after, and we talked and people watched.

35575048426_8ce2086312_c35484211501_c57cef8f4d_c35575033486_d133c3e944_c

The rest of our trip was like that- full of lovely places but being quietly reminded that this was a city being inundated with money from tech firms and start ups and that things were shifting and maybe had been for a while. Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see and do the things only cities can give you- art, diversity, busy crowds and the kaleidoscope of humanity that buzzes and bustles as each one of us carves out our own space in the world in whatever way we can.

The stuff dreams are made of

35418969091_5e0a16755e_c34740463063_7edc76d5ea_c35549258925_d4a230a49e_c

San Francisco was busy, busy, busy. We got there over Pride Weekend and got to see the city in full celebration. We walked miles every day, ate amazing food, took MUNI and BART everywhere, and drank green tea smoothies in Chinatown while we tried to escape the heat. 35549259335_4fa04125fb_c35549260115_b21817f384_c34740464803_4894c8ed61_c35549260405_19c15f03ba_c35549260725_3d315156bb_c

We went to SFMOMA and saw Munch, Brancusi, Matisse, Calder, and many other modern art makers. It was marvelous to walk the halls and see Diego Riviera paintings and little Matisse landscapes close together.

34740465223_cde867126c_c34740467273_4464d8d9de_c34740466973_b2703c8fcc_c

We stayed with Adrienne, whose penchant for art, travel, and food all made our visit even more wonderful! Going over old memories in the back of a Lyft or quietly chatting in front of a Munch painting about the past, about our futures, about nothing at all. It really is a beautiful thing to spend time with people from your past and see the both of you change and grow and become marvelous souls in your own rights.

Saturday night Logan and I perched on the cement seats at the Greek Theater in Berkeley and watched Nick Cave, that master of all things dark and deep, play, and I cried multiple times and reveled in that man’s ability to pluck sudden, intense emotions and reactions seemingly out of thin air. His voice was incredible, deep and sinuous and full of things I can’t verbalize or type effectively. I had salt on my face from my tears when we left and as the fog consumed everything around us in the amphitheater I felt so alive.