Tonight, I went to my 10th annual Farm Party. It’s only one block from my house, and said to be the best party of the summer here in Missoula, Montana. The sunflowers are reaching toward the creek, the acres of corn shelter giggling children, and the rows of shiny veggies gleam next to the wooden stage on the back of a red pickup. Over 500 people show up, eating dinner, drinking local beer, and dancing to local bands under the late-night Rocky Mountain sunset.
I’ve been to just about every Farm Party since they started in 2002, the year I moved here. The college kids look younger every year, and my friends seem to procreate exponentially (if the giggles from the corn rows are any indication). But some things remain constant at the Farm Party: the number of bikes always dwarfs the cars; the beets are always plentiful; and you always see plenty of old and new friends. As I walked up, with my beer-in-a-jar in one hand and my baseball hat in the other, I laughed at a dad riding a skateboard while pushing one kid in a stroller and yelling at his bike-bound toddler ahead of him.
It’s my last party for a while.
We’re leaving this spring, setting sail for adventures west of my mountains, and for unknown horizons. I don’t know if we’ll be gone for one year, or two…or ten. There’s joy in that unknown, and in the freedom of bursting from routine into an unplanned and unscheduled world. But there’s also joy—and comfort—in knowing we’ll be back.
As I walked home in the mild summer air, the north horizon still reflecting the last rays of sunset at 10pm, I looked up. Cassiopeia loomed above me, while tipsy bikers careened past my shoulder. I found the Big Dipper, and gazed at the North Star. She sits directly above the mountains I know intimately, the trails I’ve biked and the creek I’ve fished and swam in this past decade.
It was such a good decade.
It’s interesting to feel the pull of contradictory needs these last six months before we leave. I want to cuddle with our dog, or stretch out on our wide, cozy couch before crunching my life into one backpack and one small sailboat. But I also want to talk to everyone in this community, memorize the children’s faces and let them memorize mine–don’t forget me!–and revel in the sweet, short Montana summer. I want my hair to grow long and blanket me during the cold Montana winter, but I can’t want to crop it short, to keep me cool when I cross the Equator.
My friend Joellen pulled me into a hug the last time I left Missoula for a spell. I still remember what she whispered in my ear, because I tell it to my friends who leave, too: “We love you. We’ll miss you. And we’ll be right here when you get back.”
When I look up at that North Star while I’m in Thailand or Alaska or Hawaii, I’ll picture my friends dancing at a flower-studded farm under an August sunset. And though I will travel far and wide, in the end I know that the same star will guide me back home.