I love to clean out my closets, garages, sheds.
At least twice a year, I swing the doors wide open and tear through my little caves, tossing random effects over my shoulder like heaps of dirt flying from the backside of my busy terrier as he unearths a bone.
These jeans make my butt look big.
Who sent me this Christmas sweater?
Pogo sticks are dangerous.
Did I really buy a Spam cookbook?
Stuck With The Wind
No matter where in the state you reside or recreate, it’s easy – and sometimes not far off base – to assume, “This spot is definitely the windiest place in Montana.”
“It has to be,” you think to yourself, as you and the tempest play tug of war with your car door. All you want to do is get the blasted thing open far enough to squeeze the widest part of your body in or out.
And it never fails, in the process a squall guts your vehicle, tearing every to-do list, important receipt, and fast food sack from the interior and sending it across the parking lot so everyone in sight can glare at you and think awful thoughts about how you eat fatty foods and litter and don’t care about the environment. And if you’re really lucky, you might somehow avoid face-planting the side window when that wicked nor’easter or sou’wester or whatever the heck it is has had enough of you dilly-dallying around and decides to slam the door shut on your head.
Last Sunday, my big brother, David, and I went out to get a Christmas tree.
It wasn’t the classic holiday experience; our entire family didn’t drive up into the mountains near his Colorado home and trudge through the powdery snow with a saw and a sled looking for the perfect pine.
Actually, my brother and I were the only ones willing to leave the cozy nest. This year, my immediate family rendezvoused for Thanksgiving in Wheat Ridge. There, all weekend long, young and old were quite content snuggled inside the toasty house with football on the television or a book in hand and a fridge full of serious leftovers just a room away.
My brother, whose job as a landscape architect keeps him neurotically busy, needs to fit everything personal into his rare days off of work. As much as he and I wanted to head to the snowy hills for the ideal White Christmas moment, there just wasn’t time. So we pointed his Subaru towards the next, best option – the local nursery selling freshly cut trees.
Red Ants Pants
Last week, some friends and I were walking the streets of White Sulphur Springs during the annual Christmas stroll when I came across my dream rig – a vintage Airstream trailer – parked along a side street. The shiny silver trailer was hooked up to a red truck - a festive Christmas wreath hung just below the Montana license plate. “These people are going somewhere,” I thought to myself, excited for them. There’s nothing I love more than a good road trip.
Upon closer examination, I discovered a line of giant red ants dotted the smooth body of the Airstream. The ant decals led to signs on each side of the trailer – “Red Ants Pants,” they read. “Workwear for Women.”
I first saw the Red Ants Pants storefront several years back as I drove through White Sulphur Springs on my way to train sled dogs up in the Little Belt Mountains. I’ve been wondering what goes on there for awhile now; finally, this was my chance to stop in for a visit.
The Golden Rake
When most Montanans think of autumn, hunting season immediately comes to mind. But where I grew up in the suburban Midwest, fall meant one thing and one thing only – leaves, leaves, and more leaves.
As a child, I loved leaf-raking season. On Saturdays and Sundays throughout the fall, the entire city of Indianapolis sat in a cloud of earthy smoke. The neighborhoods across town came alive with everyone – adults and kids and pets – outside in their yards at the same time, raking leaves, playing in the leaves, burning leaves.
The idea of having a fire in our own yard was completely thrilling for a city girl like me. I’d stand there and stare at the smoldering mountain of colorful leaves for hours, watching the dry foliage burst into tall, orange flames and the smoke rise and twist away. My brother and I would poke at the fire with sticks; sometimes, we’d roast marshmallows. All day long, we’d add heaps and armfuls of leaves to the pile. The massive maple and walnut trees that shaded our yard provided an abundant, seemingly endless source of golden fuel.
A House On The Hill
I can still see the structure’s shape in my mind.
From the road, the massive log configuration perched among the glowing red rock mountains reminded me of a mining head frame, or maybe some sort of church, or a castle, even. “What is that?” my friend, Brenda, and I asked in unison. We both leaned forward towards the windshield and cranked our heads up and back to get a better look. We’d been driving all day through Yellowstone National Park and were headed to Cody, Wyoming when we came across the bizarre edifice overlooking the tiny community of Wapiti.
The log construction appeared to be abandoned. It didn’t look “done,” yet it’s dark, aged wood gave off the impression that this building would be evolving into nothing more than what it is now. Just looking at the structure reminded me of the feeling you get when you sit alone inside of a church, or on top of a mountain, or on the edge of the ocean. There was a peaceful presence to the dwelling.
Short On Legs, Long On Heart
Chloe, my corgi/bird dog mutt, tries to do it all - that’s what you get when you combine pointing, herding, and flushing breeds into one squatty package.
Each of Chloe’s four legs is just about five inches long. I know because I finally pulled out the tape and measured them. Her corgi stature makes it a challenge to observe her when she’s in “bird dog mode,” compulsively working the fields and forests searching for anything with feathers.
Chloe’s obsession with birds is her driving force. I discovered her love for everything that flies - including moths, kites, helicopters, and jet liners – not long after I adopted her from the Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter in Bozeman.
Right now as the days become noticeably shorter and winter looms large, I’m warming up my forehand, hitting a couple hundred serves, and practicing my volleys at the net – it’s almost tennis time, you know?
Montana’s spring, summer, and fall seasons never seem to last long enough, leaving many tennis buffs conflicted on those rare, still and sunny days; should I go hiking, biking, floating, flying, fishing, hunting, or play a few sets today?
I find it’s difficult to confine myself to a court when the weather is warm and wild places are calling.
The World Is Your Oyster
Leonard Llewellyn always wanted to fly - since he was just 5 years old and living with his parents and brother in the Musselshell valley.
“The tops of the mountains all around in the Crazies and Little Belts had those red rotating beacons - I’d see those old DC-3’s flying,” he explained. “At all of the little fairs, like Harlow or Livingston, they’d give rides on crop dusters. I cornered a guy into giving me a ride for $2 – I don’t even remember if I paid for it or someone else felt sorry for me. My parents didn’t know or they never would’ve let me go up. I just wanted to fly.”
Leonard, who jokes that he’s 133 years old, was actually born in Martinsdale, Montana in 1933.
I don’t think any of my family or friends have ever used the word “domestic” and “Karen” in the same sentence. I feel way more comfortable mushing a team of dogs across Alaska than I do making the main entrée or dessert for a party. So when a friend of mine invited me to join a group of women who prepare dishes from the popular “Cooking Light” magazine and then gather for dinner one evening each month, my entire body shuddered with anxiety.
I was guarded, and with good reason.
Several years back, I met a very outgoing woman from Great Falls who invited me to a “big party” at her house. I was new to the area and spent all my days training sled dogs, so I decided it might be good for me to meet some new folks.