My boss, Karen, likes to say that Missoula, Montana is the center of the universe. It’s certainly been the center of our universe this past decade, as we live and breathe the mountains, rivers and people that make this Rocky Mountain town so magical.
We’ve also lived with the not-so-magical Missoula moments: grey funky winter air settling over those iced-up rivers for days on end; wildfire smoke creeping along mountainsides (and inside lungs) during August; and familiar faces feeling a little too familiar when you’re craving anonymity and diversity.
We choose to live here for many reasons, but the main one is this: community. If Missoula is the center of the universe, then community is the center of Missoula. It’s the reason we make less money, endure long (really long) winters, and smoky summers. It’s the reason amazing, unexpected things unfold in the valley. It’s the reason we’re not selling our house when we leave for our adventures. It’s the reason we will always return.
Last night, I went to a fundraising dinner sponsored by the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program, fondly referred to as “EVST” by students and alum (the code used for class registration). Those of you who read my post after an EVST retreat in September know that graduate school profoundly shaped me. EVST is more than just school, it’s an experience: it provided me with a career, passion, friends, confidence, and even the courage to voyage into the unknown on this journey we’re about to embark upon.
And, most importantly, EVST and its people form the center of my Missoula community.
At the dinner, I looked around the room and listened to my friends talking about why they love the program, which is also why many of them love Missoula. It gives us fire in the belly, connection to place, values-based advocacy, a life support system, sharing circles, starships, drinking partners, visionaries, and ski buddies.
The people in that room just get me. They get why we’re leaving our beautiful home, good jobs, and comfortable community. They get why we want to write this blog, meet new people, bumble through foreign cultures, and take risks without knowing the exact outcomes. And they congratulate us on making the leap into that unknown.
Biking home after dinner, I felt all of the connections in my universe wrapping around me like the silky strands of a spider web. These strands are deeply and irrevocably interwoven with Missoula, my family who lives here, and my community who will still be here when we get back. Cheers to that.