The leaves were just starting to turn gold and the first snow appeared on the tops of the tallest mountains during my first Montana visit. It is the color of nature and the warmth of friendship that I carried back home with me.
My sweetie and I visited friends who have retired to this Big Sky country that is so different from my lush green and swampy Louisiana. We arrived to a crackling bonfire by the log home built on the mountainside beside the Big Hole River. You could hear the river rushing over the rocks of this fly fisherman’s paradise as our wine glasses clinked together and welcoming hugs were exchanged. As the sun set, steaks sizzled on the grill and we were warmed with renewed friendships as night blanketed the mountainside. Montana and friendship welcomed us.
We took off to visit a ghost town on our first full day there. Coolidge was once a thriving mining town, high on a mountaintop. Winter must have been hard there when the town was thriving 100 years ago. The voices that filled this town are long gone. Nature is slowly reclaiming this mountain. On this Autumn day, against a forest of green you see a spot of gold leaves. You can hear the hoot of an unseen owl and the chatter of squirrels calling to each other as they prepared for the upcoming winter. Nature’s timeless sounds echod through the empty streets.
The day ends with late afternoon-porch-sitting back at the log home. The rocking chairs creak and bump on the wooden floorboards that stretch and wrap around the home. We catch a glimpse of an eagle soaring high above us, riding the wind currents with outstretched wings. Down the mountain, across the river, I first hear and then see a herd of horses thunder across the pasture as they prepare for nightfall. As the chill gets too cold for this southern girl, I go inside to quietly sit in front of a roaring fire in the stone fireplace that dominates the heart of the beautiful, rustic, western home. I can hear the muffled voices and laughter of old friends telling favorite stories from their lives together.
A new day dawns grey, cold and misty. We go to the Big Hole National Battlefield. It’s the site of a horrific massacre of Native Americans on land they had freely wandered for eons. The American Calvary slaughtered men, women and children sleeping in their teepees. The valley is beautiful and peaceful the morning we’re there, but I could feel the pain that was still palpable in the air. It is said, if you listen, you can still hear the cries of the women. Chief Joseph’s quote upon surrender came from this massacre, “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever”.
The second half of our trip was spent in Bozeman. This vibrant town, full of art and a strong sense of community was not only a change of scenery; it was a change in energy. Our hosts Bozeman home were built to maximize the stunning vistas of the mountains on the horizon. The home’s interior is as stunning as it’s exterior views. It is filled with personal, eclectic art that our friends have collected through their years together. I asked for the backstory of each work of art and it was as heartfelt and powerful as the artwork itself. Their collection tells the story of a couple who have grown up together to have a full, rich, travel-filled life. Stories to retell and remember together on those long, cold, Montana winter nights.
One of my last nights there was spent at the vintage, classic theater, The Ellen, to hear a talk series called PechaKucha, which is a TED-like program, only more local. It was a night of storytelling that was uniquely Montana. Different people from the area stood before their community and spoke of raising chickens, growing up in Yellowstone, the water/eco system, overcoming grief by going into nature, racism, and partnering with musicians in Cuba. The speakers made us laugh, cry and think. Afterwards we joined the speakers for a gathering and celebrated their Montana tales.
Montana filled my senses. It’s called Big Sky for a reason. The vistas are epic. The landscape is on a grand scale. The valleys are big. The mountains are big. The sky is big. The people are welcoming. This trip is now part of my own storytelling. It is a story that will always fill my senses.
A special thanks to Sandy and Ray. Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. Your friendship is a gift I will always treasure.
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