On the Horizon Line Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Transitions Suck

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life, Traveling

Yesterday we sent our lack of responsibility up in flames. After almost a month back in Missoula, we awoke too early yet again with our brains swimming in a sea of “should haves” and “need tos”. We seem to be constantly spinning these days, whether its from trying to find a job, trying to move into a new house, trying to figure out how to have a kid, or trying to remember why we left the tropics and returned to a truckload of responsibility.

Transitions suck. They just do. There’s no getting around the fact that changing your life completely is going to be stressful. Or the fact that you’re bound to question the decisions that led you into that stressful situation. Sure, change is exciting, stimulating, and a critical component for personal growth. But it’s also a cause for anxiety, uncertainty and losing sleep.

We’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, starting blindly into the dark, too wired to sleep. Our minds are full to bursting, circling through the hundreds of details required to re-assimilate into the life we left. The days fly by in a rush of searching for used cars, researching how to install vents for the bathroom fan, building a business website, calling old contacts, looking for possessions buried in storage, and on and boringly on. It’s exhausting. It feels like we’re hamsters in a wheel.

The grass is always greener. That’s one of the takeaways from our transition. When we were in Tonga, we thought we wanted the cultural stimulation of Southeast Asia. When we were in Thailand, we craved quiet mountains and remote rivers. When we were constantly on the move, we longed for a place to unpack our bags. Now that we can unpack, we are overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we own. Now that we’re back in the mountains, we miss the sea. It’s confusing, since we’re usually pretty decisive about what we want and why.

It’s just human nature to feel confused after so much change, we tell ourselves. This transition stress was inevitable, we console each other. But it still sucks.

At 6:30am on a snowy Sunday morning (yes, snowing in May in Montana), Rob brought our tea to the couch – the only furniture in our seemingly-vast new living room – and said, “Let’s have a ceremony. We need to break this cycle.”

We talked for an hour about how to summarize and memorialize the last year of our lives. About how to officially let that year go. About how to find a center point after so much mental spinning. About the why behind our transition anxiety. Rob hit the nail on the head: this particular transition is a mourning period for our lack of responsibility.

We’ve been clinging to our glorious, selfish, unfettered, unbounded year of shirking all duty. We’ve been trying to cram that carefree model into “real life” here in Missoula, a place where “should haves” and “need tos” are central tenets of the life we used to live.

So, we burned that selfish and glorious lack of responsibility in the cold, wet Montana morning. And we began redefining the term responsibility as a frame for holding together all that we hold dear: each other, family, friends, creativity, autonomy, flexibility, adventure, a home.

As I started writing this post, it felt like deja vu. I remembered writing about similar transition-angst just before we left. I wrote about the “pinch point” where it feels like too much life is trying to rush through too small a space. That’s how we feel again, 18 months later. We’ll come through it, hopefully soon. This pinch point too shall pass. Thanks to all of the friends and family who have listened to our anxieties and soothed our stress during the transition. With your help – and a little fire ceremony – we will slowly start to center again.

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Rob takes in the sunset on a dinghy ride back to the 40 foot sloop, Wizard, owned by John and Sue out of California.

From Sailor to Stunned

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Reflections on Life

Two months ago I woke up every morning to the sound of large fish splashing against the hull of a sailboat, took morning swims in the nude and read books against the backdrop of coconut trees and sandy shores.  For some reason, I decided I didn’t like that any more.  It seemed too boring. Not challenging enough.

Ironically enough, I had similar reasons for leaving Missoula in the first place.  Although I had a well-paid job and worked for a cause I believed in… Although I had the comfortable existence that comes with a salary, health insurance, and a routine that included annual paid vacations to interesting places… And although I had good friends, fun toys, caring neighbors, and a trunkful of costumes for impromptu dance parties…  We left.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Two weeks into our return home and sometimes I want that all back. I don’t want to be looking for income, searching for a decent car, or a place to live. I want a child and am glad that we will have one, but it doesn’t make things any easier.  Any one of these life events, these tasks or milestones, can be stressful for some people.   We decided to twist them together and swallow the damn bundle whole.

“Decided,” right?  We sat on the deck of a boat, bathed in tropical heat, and sun made the conscious decision to leave. We were jaded by slow days, easy meals of fish and fruit, and the peacefulness that comes from living on water.  I know what you’re thinking.  I wouldn’t have pity for us either.  Because I will never forget how fortunate we were and how fortunate we are.  To have the opportunity to leave in the first place, to meet amazing people along the way, to swim with sharks more times than I can count, walk barren flats of white sand, form a band at a beachside bar, laugh, stretch, breathe.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

But to be honest I wasn’t prepared for this.  Bills, meetings, insurance, loans, jobs, schedules.  Just swimming through this muddled mass of minor tasks and major decisions.  Like a little minnow hiding underneath the hull of a sailboat.  A big ocean all around.  The tuna attack in formation, stunning their prey through the blunt force of tooth, body and splash.  Then they circle back around and pick through the spoils.

I tell myself that I’m not a little fish. I tell myself that this was a conscious decision, to challenge ourselves, reinvent, and open the way to new ideas and revelations. Sometimes it helps. But I’ve certainly found the challenge I was looking for.

desert ocean - fishing in the south pacific ocean - tropical reefs and fisheries

bri and cass at the wedding in Missoula - on the horizon line

I’m so excited!

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends

bri and cass at the wedding in Missoula - on the horizon line

Ko hoku tokoua tu ne ha’u heni ahoni.

In Tongan, that means: my sister is coming here tomorrow. After eight long months, I finally get to see my favorite person again. She’s my other half. (Luckily, Rob is totally cool with sharing those two descriptors with Cassidy.)

The Tongan word for a sibling of the same sex is “tokoua.” You use different words when referring to your borther if you’re a woman, or your sister if you’re a man. But for Cass and me, “tokoua” applies in more ways than one. It literally translates to “second person,” since “toko” is person and “ua” is two. We’ve always been two peas in a pod, mistaken for twins, and best friends. She is my second person. With her around, I feel more complete.

It feels like Rob and I have been planning for Cassidy’s visit for about 6 of the 8 months we’ve been traveling through the South Pacific. We would discuss the ideal location to be in December while sailing a multi-day passage in July. We would dive on a reef in Bora Bora and say, “Cass would love it here.” We scoped out beaches in Tonga to map out the best spots to bring her. We busted ass cleaning and repairing Waking Dream to make sure it was a lovely home for her stay (her bed’s been made for over a week, since I’m so excited).

And now she’s flying in. Today. To Tonga. It seems surreal, in many ways, to have our Montana life and our American family pop up in this new home with our new friends. But it also feels exactly right. I can’t wait to have Cassidy meet Vava’u, and for Vava’u to embrace Cassidy.

Ko hoku tokoua tu ne ha’u heni ahoni. Oku ou lahi aupito fiefia!

My sister is coming here tomorrow. I’m so very happy!

on the horizon line travel blog tonga island language beaches

Tong-span-lish and Other English-to-English Translations

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture

on the horizon line travel blog tonga island language beaches

“Aqui esta bien, Maria,” I say to the Spanish woman driving the disintegrating 1970-something Ford along the rutted road along the old harbor in Neiafu.

Magenta climbs through the window as we exit. “Let me get my togs out of the boot first,” she tells Maria in her Kiwi accent.

Viliami, our Tongan friend, gets out to help dismantle the bungee cords that keep the trunk closed. “Sai pe, Magenta?”

“Io. Malo aupito. See ya, Viliami,” Magenta says.

“Toke sio. Nos vemos, Maria.” I wave as they drive away.

And such is the crazy Tongspanlish mix that my brain is getting used to translating. Sometimes it’s Tongfrenlish, if a French yachtie is in the mix. No matter what, conversations here in Vava’u are a melting pot of words and phrases. It’s a great brain workout.

on the horizon line travel blog tonga island language beaches

To get a basic handle on the local language, I’ve taken a few Tongan lessons from a local woman named Ema. She set up a chalkboard and desk in her modest living room, and charges $10 TOP (~$6 USD) for a full hour of one-on-one instruction. I leave with my brain aching from the foreign words, and more so from the foreign sentence structure. I find that I replace words I don’t know in Tongan with Spanish ones, since the languages are similarly laden with flowing vowels. That’s where the similarities stop, though — Tongan has no verb conjugation, and about 150 pronouns. I’ve learned maybe 10.

Even the English words used here require translation, as they’re a mesh of New Zealand/Aussie/British/Canadian slang words. We’ve started adopting some of these words, partly because it makes it easier to communicate with our new friends, and partly because we’re surrounded by people who “reckon” and wear “togs” instead of bathing suits. I’ve started an English-to-English Dictionary below, which I’ll update as we compile more words.

Meanwhile, I’ll probably keep saying “io” to the Spanish couple who live here, and “si” to my Tongan tutor as I merge further into the Tongspanlish melting pot.

English to English Dictionary

aubergine = eggplant
biscuit = cookie
bogan = white trash

boff = put
bonnet = hood
bo’o = bottle
boot = trunk
bush = forest/backcountry
capsicum = pepper
chilly bin = cooler
coriander = cilantro
crumble = fruit cobbler
fanny = vagina
heaps = lots/tons
jandals = flip-flops
jumper = sweater
knickers = panties (ladies underwear)
lovely = cool/wonderful/beautiful/awesome/good/great/friend
pants = men’s underwear
petrol = gas
pie = meat-filled savory tart
plaits = braids
push bike = mountain bike
reckon = guess/think/suppose/believe/bet/and many other verbs that come after “I”
singlet = tank-top
spring onion = green onion
togs = bathing suit
torch = flashlight
track = trail
tyre = tire
zed = z

 

Adopted on Palmerston Island

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Fishing, Traveling

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

Palmerston is the kind of place where people shipwreck. And stay, because of its odd, friendly charm. Or hop the next ship passing by, because of its odd, too-friendly charm. This island holds first prize for being both the weirdest and the most beautiful place yet on our voyage. You can only visit by sailboat, or via the supply ship that stops 3 times a year. All visitors are “adopted” by a family who feeds you and welcomes you — no one is allowed on the island unless accompanied by a host. Whoever makes the first contact with a boat becomes the host — and its a race among the locals to adopt foreigners.

A bit of natural history: Palmerston atoll is part of the Cook Islands, a country that contains 15 tiny islands that are scattered between America and Australia in the smack-dab middle of the Pacific. The closest island is over 100 miles south. Palmerston, like all atolls, is a volcanic ring of land surrounding a beautiful shallow lagoon. Unlike other atolls we’ve been to, Palmerston atoll is mostly submerged, and only a handful of small islands are visible above the water. The only inhabitated island is a whopping two square miles — you can walk around the whole island in 20 minutes. Birds, fish, sharks, whales, and turtles are plentiful, since human impacts are minimal.

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

A bit of human history: it was settled in 1863 by William Marsters, a British dude who brought three different Maori wives to start his own colony. His progeny now number in the hundreds, scattered across the Pacific from the Cooks to Australia. The majority of the islanders still have the last name Marsters. The island is divided into the three sections originally bequeathed by William to his three wives. Each of the three families has a “leader,” and the island also has a mayor. The cemetery is full of headstones honoring dozens of beloved past Marsters, most of whom are remarkably long-lived. The Palmerston natives are also remarkably well-traveled, and most of them marry someone from another island (so inbreeding seems minimal).

south pacific travel

As of August 11th, when we arrived, 62 people lived in Palmerston, almost half of which were children. Only two residents were “outsiders” from the Marsters’ clan: the Fijian nurse, who was on a one-year travel stint, and the English school teacher, who wanted to see first-hand where her father shipwrecked in the 1950s — he spent a year on Palmerston rebuilding his ship before returning home. Speaking of which, the first thing we saw upon landing with our host on the island was a shipwreck from a sailboat that washed up on the reef in 2009, ironically from Rob’s hometown of Philadelphia. (After all the shipwreck stories, we triple checked our anchor chain during our four night stay.)

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

The two main “streets” are dirt, but they have street lights. There is no store, but there is an empty “Palmerston Yacht Club,” built by Bill Marsters and some yachties a decade ago. No one has a car, but most families have a big aluminum motorboat. About half of the island plays volleyball at 4pm every single day. We played with them for a few nights. The kids are welcoming, curious, and love to play “hit, bat, run,” which I tried to convince them was the same as baseball. They were enamored of my strangely colored hair and eyes.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob

No one uses money on the island, as there’s nothing to buy. But they do need money to purchase food, gas, diesel and other stuff when the supply ship comes every few months. The rest of the money goes toward traveling. People make money two ways: 1) selling parrotfish to Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands; or 2) working for the government. Government jobs include: running the diesel generator that powers the ~15-20 buildings on the island (and the streetlights); teaching the 25 students at the “Palmerston Lucky School,” who range from age 5 to 17; working in the Customs and Quarantine Administration to check in the 40-50 sailboats per year and the occasional cargo ship that stops at the island; selling telecommunications services from the tiny booth set up next to the satellite (internet arrived on the island two years ago, along with cell phones).

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

Since we arrived on Sunday, we had to anchor outside the atoll and wait until the next day before checking in. Nothing except church is allowed to happen on Sunday in Palmerston. Our host was Simon, along with his incomprehensible and confusing array of nephews, brothers and cousins, most of whom were named “John.” I spent quite a lot of time listening to stories told by Simon’s 85-year-old toothless mother (but can’t remember her long Maori name, embarrassingly). She has 14 children, and long ago lost count of the number of grandchildren. Only 3 of her children live on the island currently, and the rest are mainly in New Zealand and Australia.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

Imagine living with all of your extended family within two city blocks. Now imagine that those two blocks are in the middle of a huge ocean, with no one else to talk to for hundreds of miles. Suffice it to say that Palmerston is the most communal place I’ve ever been, where everyone is literally and figuratively one big family — a family like all others, marked by love, quarrels, support, grievances, understanding and sloppiness.

south pacific fishing travel islands

As for the ecology of Palmerston, it rivaled the social dynamics in its intensity. Here are a few highlights:
– We were welcomed to the atoll by three humpback whales that breached only 15 meters from our boat. Each sunset was punctuated by a whale spout or a whale tail.
– I saw two turtles mating (yes, having sex!), and was greeted during each morning swim by the same big turtle that swam up to say hi.
– Rob shot a beautiful parrotfish beneath the boat (which was delicious). Mark tried shooting a few squirrelfish that night, and abandoned the mission as several of the resident sharks swam over to investigate.
– The biggest groupers I’ve ever seen hung out on the reef outside the lagoon — easily 40 pounders. Rob saw one eat a two-foot parrotfish in a single bite.
– We took the dinghy to visit a few of the outer deserted islands, which sported the whitest sand and lushest coconut trees you can possibly imagine.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

And the water? Too many colors to describe. I’ll poach from a book I just finished instead, “The Wave” by Susan Casey, which sums up the ocean around Palmerston perfectly:

If heaven were a color, it would be tinted like this. You could fall into this water and happily never come out, and you could see it forever and never get tired of looking. There could be no confusion about who called the shots out here, at this gorgeous, haunted, lush, heavily primordial place, with all its unnameable blues and its ability to nourish you and kill you at the same time.

rob flyfishing palmerston

 

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

Our Mission for Mangoes

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Food and Drink

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

On one of our very first dates, Rob told me, “My dream is to have a house with a mango tree in the yard.” I replied that mangoes are my favorite fruit. There are no mangoes in Montana. So, we got married, quit our jobs, sold our stuff, packed a couple of bags and set off in search of these oval pods of gooey goodness. Thus began our mission for mangoes.

Sure, we also had designs on sailing, diving, exploring new horizons and absorbing new cultures. But let’s be clear — eating mangoes is at the top of our priority list. A perfect mango is one of life’s greatest pleasures. A combination of tart and sweet, firm but juicy, yellow-orange slippery joy wrapped in a smooth skin. It’s enough to fuel any expedition toward paradise.

So far, so good. After a mere 33-day sailing passage across the Pacific, we were rewarded with paradise in the Marquesas. Fruit literally dropped into our lap on these lush green isles: we tripped over coconuts, limes, papaya, grapefruit, passion fruit, bananas, oranges. And the mangoes. Oh, lordy, the mangoes. Bursting at the seams, dripping off branches, loaded tree limbs proffering dozens of species. Let the mission begin!

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

We walked through the community of Taiohae on Nuku Hiva, asking locals standing near the bursting trees if we could buy fruit. They laughed at us. Instead, the Marquesans filled our arms with free ripe orbs of all shapes. Grapefruit the size of small children. Buckets of limes. Bags and bags of mangoes. Our mission was so fruitful that Rob and I provisioned two boats and 10 people for a week. Plus, these encounters with the locals led to fascinating conversations, new friends, and a glimpse into a different way of life.

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

We sailed to Anaho Bay, Kayanos’ stern buried behind stalks of green bananas and swaying hammocks of fruit. After a week at anchor, we set off again on the mission, hiking from the beach into the mountains. Rob climbed trees and we shook and plucked to our hearts’ content, filling buckets and bags for the 500-mile four-day passage to the Tuamotus. Orange juicy pulp. Yellow tart circles of flesh. Smoothies and syrups and snacks and sauces.

We glut on mangoes, and all of their tropical fruity cousins. We feast on the sun-rich sugar. We savor the abundance of nature, and appreciate the immense generosity of the people who share its gifts. We will continue our mission for mangoes as we sail west, searching for the perfect bite, the perfect story, the perfect community, the perfect tree in the perfect spot that we can call home — even if only for a brief, sweet moment.

tropical fruit in the marquesas islands  on the horizon line sailing and travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

sailing polynesia blog travel on the horizon line brianna randall and rob roberts

Heading West on Compass Rose(y)

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Sailing

sailing polynesia blog travel on the horizon line brianna randall and rob roberts

And…we’re on another new boat! Are you dizzy yet, keeping up with our moves? We are.

That’s why we plan to stay put for a bit, right here on Compass Rose(y). Why the parenthesis, you wonder? Because in many countries, especially British-related ones, no two boats can be registered with the same name. When the previous owner bought Compass Rose, a 43-foot Polaris, he registered her in England where a Compass Rose was already plying the world’s oceans…so he just added a “y” and called it good. Our sail cover still says Compass Rose, but the name painted on the side has a faded “y” hanging out as an afterthought. It gives her character. (To be clear, I’m the only one that adds the parenthesis.)

We first laid eyes on Rose(y) in Taiohae Bay in the Marquesas. The owners have since decided to head home by air, and hired our friend, Mark, to sail the boat to Australia. In the small world of Pacific sailing, we met Mark in Taiohae, as well, when he was still crewing on Wizard, the sailboat we spent a few weeks on in the Tuamotus and Tahiti. When Mark learned he had a few thousand more miles to sail aboard Rose(y), he emailed us from Raiatea to ask for some help.

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

Back in Papeete, we promptly said “hell, yes” and bid fond adieu to Wizard. Two hours later, we’d packed up and hitched a ride with our friend Paul aboard Thankful for the 100 mile, 24-hour sail from Tahiti to Huahine to meet up with Rose(y). Paul was conveniently anchored 50 feet from Wizard. He was also the first person we met in Shelter Bay, and we crossed the Panama Canal with him aboard Maunie. Told you it was a small world.

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

Fast forward to the present: Mark, Rob and I are sailing Compass Rose(y) into the rose-colored sunset without any owners aboard. It kinda feels like when your parents left you alone for the weekend in high school (minus the beer kegs). We plan to hit up a few more of the Society Islands in the next couple of weeks, and then slowly hop our way the 1,300 miles to Tonga. The goal is to stop in at Palmerston in the Cook Islands, and Niue, an island all alone in the middle of nowhere.

Rob and I are pretty excited to settle into our berths for a couple of months, and stow the giant bags rather than live out of them. Rose(y) is super comfy, meeting all our requirements for a stellar sailboat: she has wide, flat teak decks that are perfect for yoga, lots of cockpit cushions for our bony butts, and enough headroom in the cockpit to keep Rob’s scalp scar-free. Oh, and she can sail, too!

sailing polynesia blog travel on the horizon line brianna randall and rob roberts

brianna randall eating a mango - on the horizon line sailing

My Birthday Present From You

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends

brianna randall eating a mango - on the horizon line sailing

Today’s my birthday.  33 years old, just after our 33-day Pacific passage.  I’m in paradise for my birthday, sailing to a tropical island to snorkel with sharks and gorging on mangoes (my favorite fruit) to celebrate.  I feel blessed.

I have only one wish for my birthday from readers: check out Mamalode.com today to read my published story about why Rob and I choose to find friends under age 12.  Other than that, the other items that top my birthday list are a bit more existential.

  1. Cuddling at night. It’s too hot to touch anyone.
  2. IPA, especially Blackfoot IPA. No alcohol onboard during our month-long passage.
  3. Dancing and headstands.
  4. Our sofa.
  5. Girlfriends.  And boyfriends.  And our family community.

Even though all I really need are mangoes, Rob, and a daily rainbow, here are the material things I miss most in the middle of the ocean:

  1. More cotton clothes. Polyester feels icky when it’s salty.
  2. Pictures of family and friends.
  3. Lightweight folding camp chair.
  4. A huge stash of dark chocolate.
  5. Strong tea and espresso.

While I’m at it, I’d like to give thanks for this list of my favorite things I brought with me:

  1. Pillow
  2. Yoga mat
  3. Guitar
  4. Face wipes (thanks, Mom!)
  5. Music

And for the things I left behind and won’t have to deal with in the upcoming year:

  1. To-do lists
  2. Socks and shoes
  3. Jeans
  4. Working
  5. Cold

 

 

 

off the rack brianna randall dancing

Last Montana Dance Performance

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Dance, Yoga and Fitness

off the rack afro brazilian dance bri randallTwo weeks ago, I shook my booty in a last hoorah onstage for Missoula’s signature (and super awesome) Off the Rack fundraiser event.  The purpose: raise money for our local Blue Mountain Clinic and raise awareness about sexual choice and diversity.  The unifying theme: costumes made of condoms.  My friend Gillian calls it: “Our community’s best talent show.”  It features everything from artistic body painting (yup, that’s me in green body paint at last year’s show…and Cass in a bra made of condoms…and Rob riding a bike in socks) to costume design, comedy routines and hula-hooping.

off the rack brianna randall dancingrob and bri and cass in off the rack dancingThis was my fourth consecutive performance at Off the Rack, dancing alongside Gillian and other talented teachers from the Downtown Dance Collective.  It combines all of my favorite things: I love dancing.  I love Missoula.  I love costumes.  And I love a good cause.

Check out these videos that Rob filmed to watch a few of the dances from the 2013 Off the Rack Show.  And then go check it out in person next February.

[framed_video column=”full-width”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Riq-DkOrJas&feature=youtu.be[/framed_video]

[framed_video column=”full-width”]http://youtu.be/wBWxqjHKvQg [/framed_video]

[framed_video column=”full-width”]http://youtube.com/watch?v=t7Zd0uUhjHA[/framed_video]

friends dressed up in costume at our wedding in caras park in missoula

Finding Our Center in Missoula

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends

Missoula Montana downtown over Clark Fork RiverMy 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.

fall colors downtown missoula with abe on north hillsWe 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.

sunset at caras park in downtown missoulaAnd, 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.

friends dressed up in costume at our wedding in caras park in missoulaBiking 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.

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