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.

The Pinch Point

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life

I don’t run, usually. Occasionally, though, tension builds up in my body and pushes toward my throat. Right about when it’s starting to choke me, I put on some shoes and start running.

It’s rare. Maybe 3-4 times a year. Today was one of those occasions.

About 2pm at the office, I ignored the multiple programs open on my computer and put on an ancient pair of tennis shoes. I started running downriver on the Kim Williams Trail near my office. The cold wrapped under my thin shirt, around my neck, snaking down my arms and chest. My feet started aching almost immediately, unused to the pounding.

My head didn’t clear, and it seemed to fill faster in rhythm to my stride. These days, it’s full of 70% work, 30% details surrounding leaving, and 30% social logistics geared to eeking out the most of my remaining time with friends and family.  Yes, I know this adds up to more than 100.  And that’s why I was running.  It’s also why I’m writing this blog post at 11:25pm after finishing one last work task this evening.  Writing and running provide a release.

heron on river

Most days, it feels like my brain is just a reflection of my computer screen or iPhone: toggling every few seconds from program to program, task to task, call to call.

This is not a healthy way to live.

This is not a healthy way to leave.

This is not something that is going to change in the next 6 weeks.

I reached the California Street footbridge over the icy Clark Fork River.  I looked down to see the whole river funneling into one very tight, narrow opening between the icy banks.  My brain stopped toggling, and came to rest on this one spot.  It reflected exactly how I felt this afternoon: a river of water moving toward me, pinching and dragging and towing me under … to what?

I walked to the other side of the bridge to see.  The whole river went under a shelf of ice after that pinch point.  It was a start contrast: fast, frenzied, loud as water funneled through the last ice-free section, then it went quietly under the ice.  Still.  Calm.  Peaceful.

I breathed in the peace for a moment.  But then I turned back to the chaotic pinch point, because that part of the river resonated more with me in this time of 130% brain-toggling tension.  I turned back because it was comforting to see the tension dissipate into stillness, and because it renewed my faith that — just like the river — I will soon be through the pinch point and have room to spread and flow, quietly and calmly.

Sweet House for Rent!

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** Note: Our house is currently leased through June 2015.  Thanks for your interest!

Our house is ready to lease!  We’ve made many improvements to our house, in preparation for sailing away for a year or two.  Click on the pictures below to see  close-ups of this charming home, located in the mid-Rattlesnake area. Here are the details:

  • 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with a bonus room and small garage.
  • Brand-new efficient washer/dryer and refrigerator. Dishwasher included.
  • Brand-new furnace, windows and hot water heater.
  • Large, fenced vegetable garden, chicken coop, and storage shed.
  • Front deck and fenced-in back patio with amazing views.
  • 2 miles from downtown Missoula and the University, and only a few blocks from elementary schools.
  • Trails out the back door allow you to access the North Hills, Rattlesnake Creek, and Mount Jumbo in minutes.
  • $1,350 per month + utilities.  $1,000 deposit.  One-year lease.  Dogs negotiable.
  • Available March/April 2013.  Email us here to come check it out!

A Man Spoke Tonight

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Reflections on Life

A man spoke tonight about darkness.  He spoke of ancient creatures that chew on trees.  He spoke of crystalline-fragile ecosystems, and the waters that move and change.

He spoke of people who damage these waters and change the crystalline ecosystems.  He spoke of being a rancher’s son, a transient’s best friend, and of being a janitor.  He spoke of the dark waters and deep black skies that calm a troubled mind and that soothe a frantic soul.

He spoke in a front of a crowded room, full of people who disagreed with him.  He spoke as the sole voice of dissent for a burgeoning civic project to light our city’s bridges.

I cried when he spoke.  And the tears took me by surprise.

It wasn’t the bridge lighting project that sparked my emotion.  Nor was it simply the man’s poetic words that catalyzed salty tears.

Rather, it was his brave act of speaking out that prompted my emotional response.  It was the fact that he launched a different and heartfelt perspective into a sea of sameness.  It was the fact that I am fortunate enough to live in a city, a state, a nation that lets him speak out…and even encouraged it. It was the fact that a roomful of dissenters respectfully allowed him to speak freely, and asked for his opinion even when they knew it was uncomfortably different.

Thank you, Americans, Montanans, Missoulians, friends, for listening to others.  Thank you for welcoming stories of darkness, even as you seek the light.

And thank you to the man who spoke tonight, for reminding us that some people crave the solace of dark or troubled waters, and we might never fully understand why.

Cuddly Chickens Up For Grabs (if you can catch them)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Reflections on Life

One of the best parts about living in Missoula is that you get the best of the “urban” and the “rural” worlds.  It’s Montana’s second largest city–and the biggest city for several hours driving in any direction–so we get our share of culture and music, as well as a hip downtown.  But since it’s surrounded on all sides by vast wilderness, mountains, rivers, and agricultural lands, you can easily escape the urban bustle and embrace the rural lifestyle.

Plus, you can be a chicken farmer.

Two years ago, we built a sweet chicken coop, complete with a window, insulation, a tin roof, and a fun-run for the girls.  We populated it with 4 young silver-laced wyandottes, and watched them do their chicken thang.  With a light on in the coop for a couple hours in the morning and evening, they even kept laying their pretty speckled eggs throughout Montana’s dark fall and winter.

Last summer, one got strangely and incurably ill (i.e. she was trying to walk around on her head and was miserable).  We lost her.  But the other 3 soldiered on.

One of the most hilarious parts of being a chicken farmer is chicken herding.  We let the girls free-range for worms and other goodies a few times a week.  They roam the yard, and even occasionally take a walk down Highland Drive to visit the neighbors (half of whom are urban chicken farmers, too).  But then you gotta put the girls back in the coop, which is easier said than done.

Herding is a fine art, and takes years of practice.  It’s a mix of patience and pressure: if you make them walk too fast or get too close, they scatter in 3 directions.  But if you go too slow, they slip right through your legs to find another tasty treat in the dirt.

It’s time to say goodbye to our girls, though.

We’re getting ready to leave in early April, and it’d be nice to see them settled in a new coop-dominium before the weather gets frozen and harder on them.  They should have another year of laying in front of them, as long as they get enough light, food, and water.

So, our question for you: who wants to be a chicken farmer?  We’ll throw in 10 pounds of free food, and a free herding demonstration, to boot.

 

 

From Dancing to Dodging Deer – Just a Typical Tuesday

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Dance, Yoga and Fitness, Reflections on Life
These photos were from a huge African drum and dance festival in Seattle a couple years ago. It’s in April each year, and well worth the trip!

As you might notice, Rob and I don’t really like routines.  We avoid them, actually.  But there’s one thing we don’t mind scheduling: our favorite athletic hobbies.  For Bob-ito, that means volleyball, basketball, and martial arts.  For me, that means dance classes of any kind, usually at the Downtown Dance Collective: Oula, Brazilian, ballet, hiphop, salsa.

Tonight I got the best of both worlds: an unscheduled dance class.  Thanks to my mom, I found out at 4pm there was a 7pm West African class taught by visiting master drummers and dancers from Guinea.  Sold.

I take a West African dance class about once a year, usually when someone from the African continent comes to Missoula to teach (thanks, Unity Dance and Drum!).  Even though I dance almost daily, my body is always wrecked after a West African class.  Somehow, nothing else physically compares to the exertion I put forth flailing, jumping, squatting, and spinning to loud, live drums.

And nothing else can make me feel so completely humble and humiliated one moment, and then exhilarated and affirmed the next.  It’s awesome.

Sidenote: I highly recommend everyone try something that makes them feel this schizophrenically bipolar at some point.  It brings us out of our comfort bubbles and makes us realize we can do interesting–even astounding–things.

Again, this was the big festival in Seattle in April. Everything is free. Thanks to my friend, Saleche (Celeste), for finding it and going with me in 2010.

In preparation for the body-wrecking class, I rode my bike downtown to try and loosen the muscles.  It’s now pitch black by 8:30pm, so the ride home through dark, forested Greenough Park along bear-infested Rattlesnake Creek was its own adventure.  Good thing I have lights on my bike.

Yelling “Hey, Bear.  HEEEYYY, BEARS,” into the dark woods, I turned a corner and literally braked about 4 inches from a huge buck.  Whew.  Better than a bear, but it still got my heart rate up higher than the dance class did.

Just another Tuesday night in Missoula…spontaneous African dance and a near-miss on T-boning a deer on a bike.   I wonder if tomorrow’s more-regularly- scheduled Oula dance class will have anything spontaneous in store!

The Breath and the Burn

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Outdoor Adventures

 

I clip in on my red Kona, and fly down our steep driveway, pedaling toward the fading sunlight blanketing Mount Jumbo across the creek.  The days are getting shorter.  I can’t leave for a mountain bike ride at 7pm anymore, unless it’s a short loop or I don’t mind riding in the cold, dark air.  But I do mind in the fall—it’s too easy to T-bone a black bear or big buck.  The fall in Montana is ripe with wild animals that mill around in lower elevation areas, foraging for food to store up winter fat.

I opt for a short loop on Jumbo, and climb up the steep road to the trailhead at its saddle.  Even though I’ve ridden this road hundreds of times, I’m still awed by the view of the valley floor surrounded on all sides by blue-green mountains.  The trail snakes north up the 4,700-foot “hill” to the forested ridgeline where it meets the Rattlesnake Mountains.

I see a huge hawk sitting on a small pine.  I see my long shadow rolling through the dry golden grass.  I look south to see if I can spot my husband’s white wing flying off Jumbo’s southern summit.  I feel at home.  I feel free.

What I love best about mountain biking is the climb.  I like feeling the breath rushing in and out, and feeling the burn in my thighs.  I like pushing past that breath and burn to see how high I can get.

I’m not as big a fan of the downhill.  Especially the steep shots.  I’ve never been a speed-demon, and this time of year the rutted-out dusty gravel feels precarious, making my belly drop as the rear tire skids out.  But I do love the feeling of leaning, turning, carving my bike around single track on the downhill, and those moments when you forget your body isn’t actually half wheels.

Those are the moments that keep me coming back for more, even on trails I’ve ridden a hundred times.

 

sunset at caras park in downtown missoula

My North Star = Missoula, Montana

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

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.

 

 

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