I'm in love with Montana
This article was was originally written for the May edition of the Montana Woods and Waters magazine! You can check out their online edition here!
"I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it." John Steinbeck
I can't remember when I first fell in love in with Montana but I think it was around my 12th birthday. I had visions of huge mountains and wide open prairies that I would ride my horse across for miles and miles.
It wasn't until after college that I actually got to visit Montana and much to my family's surprise I never left. I spent 6 months in the Kalispell and Missoula areas. I loved the beauty of the mountains and it reminded me of home. When I took my first job in Great Falls, I found that the mountains could feel very far away.
A few years later I met my future farmer husband, who was from the far northeastern side of the state, I began hearing about this different world. Once while I was expressing my love and yearning to see mountains again, he said something like "I hate the mountains. You can't see anything!" My response was "What do you mean? There is so much to see." As we made our first visit together, to northeastern Montana, it finally made sense to me. He was talking about the distance one could see and I was talking about the detail of one's view. In fact, I told him that the eastern side of the state with its flat prairies would be a "hard sell" for this mountain-loving girl. But love triumphs and not only did I fall in love with my farmer, but I fell in love with the vast prairie, stark winters, and enormous storms that come rolling across the vast "big sky" of the eastern side of the state.
Now if you visit during the "wrong time" of the year you'll probably never come again, and most folks around here would say that's OK. But there is so much beauty in this landscape. There are wild crocus that grow and bloom on the South facing side of coolies in the spring, moose that are moving in, acres filled with sky blue flax, hundreds upon hundreds of acres of "golden waves of grain", thousands of black cows with their romping calves dotting the pastures, and the most intriguing landscape where you suddenly come upon a coolie and it's detail and depth, leaves you wondering what's over the next small rise.
The area is dotted with small homey towns, where people are family oriented, the closest "neighbors" are miles away, the best news is spread over coffee at the elevator, family heritage is respected, traditional values and hard work are valued, and where kids take on more responsibilities than most, and learn drive and navigate gravel roads much earlier than other kids.
Living here redefines rural living. Need to be rushed to the ER? You're likely to get there more quickly if you drive yourself, rather than wait for an ambulance. Walmart? Closest one is hours away and that's in a neighboring state. Home Depot, Billings, or Great Falls? At least 5 hours away. Cell phone service? That's greatly improved, but there are still "holes" in coverage.
Farming and ranching are the main occupations here and they are not for the weak of heart. Many times only the largest of family operations survive. It takes thousands of farm acres and 15-20 acres per head of cattle to make ends meet. Success is dependent upon the uncontrollable task masters of weather and the commodity market. The equipment is large and so is the bank note, but the heart of the farmer and his or her family is the biggest.