A couple of months ago, another life-changing event occurred in my life. I would like to say that it was the end of a series of really trying and difficult events that had wrapped up the last several years. It wasn’t. It was just one more. And in all likelihood it won’t be the last. But this one seems a little different.
If you’ve have followed my blog, or have taken the time to read some from my other site, Of Rain Falling From The Sky, you would be aware that a singular event occurred which has become the defining moment of my life currently–that is the end of a marriage of almost twenty years. For the last couple of years after, I have been retooling my life. Make no mistake it has been very hard. You get stripped bare. You lose almost everything–friends, identity, income, relationships. In my case I made debt and could put all of my belongings into an SUV.
For the longest time–in fact as far back as I can remember–I’ve wanted to live in Montana. My family lived there when I was but a wee lad of 6. It was Western Montana. Flathead Lake. Woods Bay, to be precise. I could drive you there today and show you the exact house that my father built and we lived in. In therapy (during my separation) I realized that that was the last truly and deeply happy memory I remember. Please don’t get me wrong on this, because I can see some eyes rolling and saying, “c’mon, the last happy memory?”
A little clarification. Happy in a way I as a child could feel secure and safe. I was with all of my family; all of my dad’s brothers lived in Wood’s Bay as well as his father, and I had cousins as far as the eye could see. We fished. He hunted and fished. He had work. He felt alive–I know this through conversations my mother and I had after the divorce (there was also a twinge of regret in her for ever leaving that place). And as any adult will later realize, happy parents create the framework for a child to feel safe, and loved, and secure (and again, I know that it is far more nuanced than that. I’m not so naive as to believe that is all there is to a happy childhood. Good grief I know there is so much more! But that’s not the point of this anyway–I’m not interested in developmental theory. Rather how I got to where I am at right now and why I am writing about it and subsequently sharing it with you, dear reader.) Montana was that place for me. And ever since we left, with me clutching an 8-track tape player my aunt Imogene gave to us, deep down in my toes I wanted to be back in the mountains.
I have often wondered why. I have often tried to get back. But the doors just seemed locked no matter how hard I knocked and tried to jimmy them open–figuratively speaking. I remember visiting one summer several years ago and sending out resumes. Nothing. No bites. It just wasn’t the right moment I guess. No matter. Fast forward forty years and I’m here now.
I landed in the Bitterroot Valley. It is far more beautiful than I ever realized. I had lived in the shadows of the Missions before. But this Valley. Something feels different this time. It feels like I have at long last come home. What I need hasn’t changed. It always seems like it is about money. But maybe that comes with some time. Remember reading a statistic somewhere that it takes, on average, about 5 years for a soul to become integrated in a locale and put down roots.
I have always been restless, looking for a place, I think. I have many who would say to me that’s just a desire for heaven. I am not so sure. When I look out across this Valley, or hike a local trail, or take a drive, I find myself smiling uncontrollably, or even laughing out loud. It’s like I am giddy somewhere. Maybe down into the depths of my soul or something. I can’t really put my finger on it. I just know it happens spontaneously. It feels like my restlessness has stopped. Or maybe it’s just my age catching up with my drive. It isn’t so ambiguous, really. It feels more like a terminus. This is it. This is the Place. I will die here and have my ashes spread out over these mountains. At least that is what I have told myself and a few others.
The men who helped to found this country were looking for something like that, the absolute liberty to be themselves, to create their own destiny, to keep some aloof potentate out of their pocket books. And Montana, as it has been written elsewhere, is the last best place. Taxes are pretty low. No sales tax. Property taxes are comparable to where I am from. Maybe a couple of tenths higher, not much though. Housing is expensive because, well, these wise Montanans realized when all the wingnuts from the West Coast and all the Beautiful People could make this into their back yard, it was a golden opportunity–not unlike the gold rush of the late 19th century. I know there are many Montana natives who ruefully look at these implants with a deep skepticism but more often than not, these wealthy individuals kinda help maintain a pretty poor economy. My brother mentioned to me in passing that the median income for the Valley was around $95K/year. So if that is opportunity, the Montanans seized upon it. Realtors are legion.
The gun laws here are very relaxed. And it isn’t because of a militia mentality. Rather, it’s because so few people live here and they would all rather be left alone to live their lives and there are still bears and mountain lions roaming around here. So respect that and I think you’ll do nicely. And for that reason alone, especially after the last several years of my life—hoo-ee, I am ready for that!
I am looking outside my window right now, drinking a lovely cup of locally roasted coffee. In the background I can see Kootenai Creek canyon. It is about 5 minutes away at the most. I have been planning a day trip up there for weeks. I’ll have my Tenkara rod and overnight pack along with my buddy River, the Golden Retriever. We’ll make a killing. And this is what I do in these long winter months. I dream.
I have been on the other side. I have been on the side of death when my rest wasn’t welcome, when I knew that in the morning Depression would be right beside my bed with it’s gangly fingers probing me, looking for the breaking point. Oh, how many days there were when I said death would be welcome! But the thing about this disease is that there is so much fear within it. Even though I wanted to die, the courage was not within me to pull the trigger and finish this. And I thank God for that. It has now given me perspective. I still have moments that are triggers for me. But I have learned to manage this far better than I can ever remember. And I have brought that perspective with me to this place. And This Is A Big Place. Those mountains out there are far, far older than my brief span of eighty years (if I am lucky–most Coleman men haven’t been past their sixtieth birthday). And they are beautiful and that beauty fills me, does something to mend the bones of my soul, and helps me to realized that God knew I needed this far more than I could’ve realized. I never want to lose sight of that. I never want to wake up and not smile when I see the sheer canyon walls of Blodgett and Mill Creek. Those peaks are rugged and wild and free and sentinels, their silent gaze stretching out over this valley floor with a strength and solidity that I need. Death will come for me someday but I am at peace with it finally. And coming to terms with that means I can live now. And that is certainly what I plan on doing no matter how difficult it may become.
It is still a transitional period for me, obviously. Some things aren’t exactly clear. You know housing and such things like that. It hasn’t gotten easier. My children are still 1500 miles away but there is joy here for me now and I welcome it. I often pray, “Lord, please. I would like to win just one today.” I can’t say that the tide has turned, as such. I haven’t won the lottery. My debt is still there, but I am chipping away at it. I still sleep fitfully, sometimes with a lot of anxiety about tomorrow, but I am beginning to believe that it will be okay, that the struggle will be worth it–and whatever other tripe I can conjure up at the moment.
I love this place. And if I listen softly and calm the noise of my own head for a moment, I can hear the rush and wild tumult of Kootenai calling to me. And I know that in a couple of months my line will be wet and I’ll be holding something truly wild in my hands caught on a fly of my own making in a state that is as rugged as I want to be.
[And here is the shameless plug]
Come follow what I am doing. I am going to write way more. I am going to think and share. And I want you with me. I want you to share, even though it may be vicarious at the moment, what I see and feel. Some of it will be like this. Some of it will be fishing stuff. Most of it just my musings. That’s my agenda.
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