Montana: A Reflection

[vimeo 111793501 w=500 h=375] It was full dark on Flathead. I shut off my car, opened the door, and stepped in bear poo. What a start to my two weeks away – my time off from the modern wolf of this world.

Having spent the summer nestled in the social bosom of Bike & Build, having spent that time surrounded by all at meals, on the road, in the showers, sleeping on the floor, I was ready for a bit of the old me time. I wanted Flathead Lake, Montana to be my reset my button. I wanted to find myself once again amidst the swirls of a youth searching for the next step in the thick slick mud. I didn’t want to see anyone, speak to anyone, be with anyone for days. I wanted to turn inwards and have a chat with the seated self.

I wasn’t inviting anyone over for afternoon tea.

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If you want a look at the time of a recluse, I’ll sample up mine for examination. The days were simple. I was writing a book, and spent my time working towards that end. So the alarm would go off at 6. I’d rise, make coffee, and sit at a computer and tap tap type and watch the sunrise. At some point I’d eat. Upon reaching a reasonable stopping point I’d do yoga and listen to an audiobook. I’d write and drink more coffee until lunch … often about 1. I’d take a nap. I’d pack everything up – including a fresh liter of coffee – and hike down to the shores of Flathead Lake, where I would set up shop on the dock and write until my fingers grew numb in the wind. I might take breaks by skipping stones. Or lie on the dock watching the heavy clouds sag across the pregnant sky. I’d hike back up, wary of bear poop, and do yoga again. I’d shower, make a fire, and cook dinner. I’d then edit my work for the day, read Kurt Vonnegut, and fall asleep with a headache. I never knew if it was from the beer or the mental stress of writing.

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My diet was simple. In twelve days I ate the following: two dozen eggs, five pounds of sausage, four pounds of extra sharp cheddar cheese, thirty tortillas, two jars of peanut butter, eight cans of beans, seven pounds of rice, two pounds of oatmeal, a jar of peanuts, a bag of chocolate, ten bananas, a bag of bread, a box of graham crackers, a bag of marshmallows, a bunch of goldfish, a bunch of Cheetos, nice Montana beer, and a large bottle of Valentina hot sauce. I also drank twenty gallons of water.

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Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater body of water west of the Mississippi River. It is impressive – 35 miles long, upwards of 10 miles wide, the waters are bright blue when calm and mudded green when storms churn whitecaps. Set down between two mountain ranges, clouds form and move from West to East. Big sky country.

The cabin was on the Eastern Range, thus I enjoyed dramatic sunsets.

There’s not much out and around Flathead Lake. There’s a biological station operated by Montana University, an Indian Reservation, a whole pile of cherry stands for the warm summer months, and the towns of Polson and Big Fork. Polson, on the south side of the lake, has a Safeway and a Wal-Mart. Big Fork has a downtown filled with art shops that close down in the offseason. Somewhere between the two towns was my cabin, and somewhere between my cabin and Big Fork was Flathead Lake Brewing Company.

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For ten days I wrote, leaving the cabin only once to get water at the Safeway. In that time the only person I talked to was the cashier at the grocery, my parents on the phone, and my friend Cherry who was visiting at the end of the two weeks. It was bliss.

Have you ever been alone – wholly, satisfyingly? It’s an amazing experience. I could talk to myself, fart all over the place, do what I wanted when I wanted to do it. I let the control over my social emotions break apart and thus I’d start sobbing while writing. I’d laugh during yoga. I’d find myself sinking down to depths unexplored since childhood while watching the sun set quietly across the lake. I found the time to search for the simple personal truths that have defined my previously unexplained actions.

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Let the record state here, however, that after five days of this time in isolation I grew antsy. I missed speaking with and touching others, those tactile sensations which confirm reality. I was floating through a dreamscape on Flathead Lake. My grounding I found in yoga, in the smooth stones on the rocky lake shore, and in the memories of years past.

This can only get you so far.

So when I finished writing – when I was satisfied with my work on Flathead – I started exploring. Big Fork, the Brewing Company, the ample hiking trails of Jewel Basin and Beardance. I saw my first grizzly (its big furry butt racing down the mountainside away from me), ate the thickest homemade hollandaise sauce on the juiciest hunk of eggs benedict, and fell in full love with the happy people of Western Montana.

When Cherry came we saw the National Bison Range – hundreds of buffalo lazing along the rolling plains south of Polson – and played Scrabble on the dock at sunset. And then she left, and I was alone again, and thus I figured it too was time for my return home. I packed, I cleaned, I winterized the house, and then I headed East.

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So thank you once again Francis family for my time in Montana. And thank you gentle readers for your patience with my travels. What this trip West confirmed was my passion for shaping words – spinning sweet rhapsodic – and I am excited for the months to come before the next adventure. Excited to return to Chapel Hill and surround myself with the ones who carried me through those rollercoaster years of undergraduate, excited to find a routine amongst my peers, and write about those experiences, and share with you, and continue developing a lifestyle worth living.

And if you ever care to spend some time alone in the woods on a lake, I say go for it. No hesitation. The days are longer, nights warmer, and thoughts brighter. For a spell, at least.