I grew up in the forests of Michigan.
Trees as far as the eye can see. A carpet of bright green growing things.
Vegetation finding life in every crack in the concrete. Ridiculous humidity. Lakes and bonfires and crickets and cardinals and fireflies. Overcrowded beaches. Tourist towns on the Great Lakes.
Cabins Up North. Mighty oaks. Acorns, squirrels, Canada geese, loons, and wolves. Vivid fiery red autumns, apple orchards, and freshly pressed cider.
In the winter: snow. Lake effect snow. Snow piled to the roofs of houses. And in the summer, thunderstorms that last for days.
I loved the trees, the rolling ravines filled with color and life and mystery. I loved them so much it hurt.
And yet, something was missing.
Michigan, to me, was a cage. Amid the deep beauty of life on a bustling, northern peninsula surrounded by a close-knit family, I had also experienced years of loneliness, rejection, depression, fear and recurring waking nightmares.
I couldn’t see the stars at night. I felt suffocated by endless miles of city, by traffic jams and angry people and litter. I wanted to breath fresh air. I wanted something wild and magnificent and real. I wanted to be free.
Then I spent one week in Montana when I was 22.
And instead of trees, I saw wide open plains and big sky. Instead of green and red, I saw yellow and blue: Yellow ground, yellow trees, blue mountains, blue sky.
Instead of lush farmland, I found rocky ground and rushing rivers. Instead of wolves and loons, there were buffalo, rattlesnakes and bears. Instead of thunderstorms, wildfires. In place of interconnected cities, there were small cities and tiny towns separated by miles and miles of emptiness.
I saw all of this and in a week I knew. The small city laid out like a grid, impossible to get lost in, would become my home. The city in a bowl surrounded and sheltered by mountains would become my home.
And the mountains – oh, the mountains. I still can’t quite explain what it is about the mountains. I felt a freedom there, a deep and wise presence that spoke of promise and possibility.
I moved to Montana two months later. I moved with my husband and his family. And from the very beginning we have shared this experience. This experience of moving from Michigan to Montana, of discovering this magnificent landscape together, has seared it deep into my heart.
We share all the same hiking spots. We share all the same adventures. We share all the same memories. We experienced the same contrast, the same change, the same love for this wild and empty and majestic place. And we created a home, a community, a family here. I have experienced growth and healing beyond my wildest dreams here. And I discovered them – my new family – and I discovered myself, and I married my husband, and bore my children, and awakened spiritually, and came to know the love of my creator, and found deep and lasting joy here. And the mountains, to me, are a symbol of all of it.
Montana has been my first and only experience with the mountains. And people are quick to tell me that other states also have mountains and are more beautiful than Montana.
Other states like Vermont and Colorado and Northern Idaho and Oregon have mountains AND forests AND lakes or oceans AND more to do (I.E. city life).
But what these people don’t understand is that I don’t need more to do. I don’t want lakes and forests and oceans and cities. What I want is the rugged, free, and open west. I want this wild country that I discovered with my family, that has become home to all of us, that is intricately connected with my freedom and healing, that symbolizes the awakening I have experienced and the magnificence of the love that fills me now. I want big sky country. I want mountain range after mountain range opening up before me like a great purple maze in the wide open emptiness. I want simplicity, happiness, and peace.
I am in love with Montana.
I am in love with the dryness and the rockiness and the rivers and the dams and the emptiness and the fresh air and the space and the starry skies and the small cities separated by miles of nothing, because it is all part of Montana, and I am in love with Montana. I am in love with the gently rolling forested slopes of the Belt Mountains and the rocky snow-capped peaks of Glacier National Park and the misty-blue cloud-covered ranges of the Helena National Forest, because these are the mountains that have been home to me for the past 10 years. These mountains have stood, stoic and protective, while I have grown and changed.
Every place in the world contains its own unique beauty, and different people have eyes to see the beauty of various places. And I have found the place where my heart is at peace, the place that makes my soul sing.
Here, I can drive 20 minutes in any direction and be out in the middle of nowhere. Here, there is no litter in state parks. Here, lakes have no sand and few people. Here, river bottoms are covered with brightly colored rocks that can be waded across in the fall. Here, the clouds form over the mountains, and I can see rain from miles away and watch it as it passes us by. Here, there are no guardrails on winding mountain freeways, no seat-belts required in the back seats of cars. Here, the spray from the dams in the spring falls on my face as I soak up the energy and sheer power. Here, I go hiking barefoot and walk behind waterfalls, wade into ice cold mountain creeks. Here, I can see a million stars in the sky from my front yard. Here, I can breath mountain air in the city. Here, I can drive a half hour and be deep in the mountains.
Here, in Montana, is all the magic and all the freedom and all the love that I will ever need.
“I am in love with Montana.
For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection.
But with Montana it is love.” ~ John Steinbeck