Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I love Montana

I can’t believe it has been a month since we were driving around the mountains of Montana. It seems like it was just yesterday, and then again, it seems like it was a lifetime ago!
As soon as we crossed the border from Idaho to Montana, a feeling of “being home” slowly trickled over me. I hadn’t been to Montana for 11 years. As I sat there calculating the time, I was in disbelief that I had allowed myself to stay away for so long. Along with my feeling of being home, a sense of love for a land and people profoundly hit my heart.

The time that had lapsed helped me to know myself better. I intensely realized the perfect match Montana and I are. I wondered if God had known me so well as a young lady that he had found the perfect place for me to serve my mission, or if that perfect place had transformed me into the person that I am today.

Breathtaking views begin soon after crossing the border. If you don’t know Montana well, it is BEAUTIFUL. All of it has its own kind of beauty, but west of the continental divide is where I spent all of my Montana time, and the beauty is exquisite. The mountains seem to just pile up one after another like the folds on an accordion. I loved how each mountain in succession became a deeper green until the last ones seemed blue and appeared to be encrusted with sapphires. Rivers course the land bringing life and movement to the scenery. 
We arrived late Thursday night in Missoula. We stayed at the KOA. Once you turn down the street, you would hardly know that you are right in the middle of a big shopping area in Missoula! Once we pulled into town, a flood of memories started coming back. I remembered when I first arrived in Missoula as a brand new missionary, we drove over the bridge that crosses the Clark Fork River and I thought it was raining, but in reality—it was just all of the bugs hitting the windshield. Yet in May when I returned with my little family, it was still pretty cold, and no bugs had to suffer. 

We popped up our trailer and spent a pretty cold night. Josh and I didn’t have sleeping bags—we thought we would be fine with a bunch a blankets. After the second night of being cold, we realized we were wrong and headed to Sportsman’s Warehouse (which is right behind the KOA) and picked us up a couple of bags that zipped together. The next two nights were much better sleep!

It was fun spending Friday doing very touristy things in Missoula. We found the most amazing park. Our kids still talk about it and want to go back. We had so much fun taking our kids to the carousel. It has to be the fastest carousel I have ever been on! Fun was had by all, except Copper who didn’t really like the speed. We spent some time walking along the Clark Fork River. We had pizza for lunch at my favorite place—MacKenzie River Pizza. If we hadn’t realized that we were not in Utah anymore, we really did there! They had a pizza buffet and it was like $9 per person. I asked what the price would be for the kids, and they said free. “We don’t get kids in here very often, how much damage can they really do at the buffet anyway?” They were currently looking at all four of my children. If ever a place in Utah offered a free buffet for kids, you better believe that they would have a restaurant full of moms and kids every day for lunch! They even made a pizza for me that they no longer have on the menu that I remembered that I had loved.

We spent the afternoon back at camp riding banana bikes and blowing bubbles. It was fun just to relax and spend time together. We went to Walmart later that afternoon and there were no other kids in the whole store—Walmart! It defiantly felt like the twilight zone. 

I was surprised that after driving around for a little while I could remember how to get to every apartment that I had had in Missoula (yes, every apartment—I lived in 3 there!) I thought that was pretty good since I never drove in Missoula (being a greenie and all.) Not only that, more memories returned. I remembered service projects, people I taught, funny clown statues, crazy bikers, beautiful neighborhoods, and the fantastic missionaries I got to serve with. 

On Sat. we went to the Missoula farmer’s market. It was amazing! We bought food, amazing fresh food, to eat the following night for Sunday dinner. It was so fun! There were many people there selling organic garden starts, fingerling potatoes, carrots, grass fed beef, etc... I wish our farmer’s market was open that early. 

After the farmer’s market, we went for an amazingly beautiful drive to Garnet Montana. Garnet is a ghost a little over 40 miles from Missoula. We drove the winding mountain roads and listened to the Wild West adventures of Louis L’amore’s Chick Bowdrie. The drive was beautiful (and a little lot dusty.) When there wasn’t a lot of dust we rolled down the windows, felt the cool air, but mostly drank in the scent of pine trees. I taught my kids the difference between lodge pole pines and tamarack trees. It was pretty easy since the tamarack’s were just starting to get their new spring leaves/needles. Fall would have been easy also with the colors changing. Yet in summer, tamaracks and the pines blend together creating a beautiful variance of light and dark green to the landscape. 

We pulled into the parking lot for Garnet, and hiked the little trail that brought us to a look out over the abandoned town. I was instantly transported to a time in history that these mountains had not yet forgotten. The trail that dropped us into town was lined with wild strawberry plants. As we entered the first thing I noticed was the spring that must have brought life to this mining town as little as 60 years ago. Garnet was off and on inhabited until the late 1940’s. 

I think my favorite place in Garnet was the hotel. Maybe it had been the Louis L’amore, or maybe it was all of the artifacts that were still there, but as I looked around the peeling patches of wall paper healed themselves, couches became whole, and the kitchen was filled with the smell of good wholesome food that had been cooking all day. I could imagine weary miners coming in for an evening meal and people coming in from town on coaches. Women with well-set curls and hoop skirts seemed to dance through the now deserted halls. In my mind the Garnet hotel came alive

As we entered the kitchen, I longed for the kind of space they had, and fell in love with the tin canisters. As we went upstairs, I could almost hear the treadle sewing machines whir, and rocking chairs creek. Stories came alive in my mind. I wished that the walls could talk. I loved the double outhouse behind the hotel. And wondered what that would have been like, and how many splinters had to be removed!

We spent time outside and my kids ran around on the roads I mean paths. We read the stories on the signs and I loved the simpleness of the homes. Josh studied the construction of the buildings. We talked about what life would have been like. We loved every minute of it! 

We went back to our KOA and enjoyed a simple meal cooked on the Camp Chef. While we were staying at the KOA, it was full due to a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention going on in town. We had a darling neighbor that we really enjoyed talking to. She brought us a magazine for teaching children bible stories. I wish that I had a pass along card with me. I will never leave the state again without bringing some. She had the cutest dog that my kids loved, and we enjoyed talking about the similarities between our religions. 

Sunday dawned, and it was the day I had been awaiting for the whole week. We woke early and quickly ate and got dressed. We then left for a two hour drive to go to church. Josh mentioned that it was the longest he had ever driven to go to church. We drove to Thompson Falls to attend their 10 am branch. I loved the first speaker. She looked familiar and by the time the meeting was over I remembered exactly who she was. I also recognized the branch president and one of the councilors. After the meeting they came up to me, and even acted like they remembered me! I knew that most of the people I knew and loved in that area had moved on—either to the other side or another state. The highlight was when I saw Jerry Johnson! It was Jerry Johnson Jr. but it was close!

Josh gave me hard time because I couldn’t remember how to get to the church. Driving the roads looking for the church made me remember how much I loved that little town. I don’t know if going back to my own hometown has brought back such warm feelings. I was envious of everyone that had the privilege of living in Thompson Falls. I enjoyed the meeting, yet was anxious to show my family my favorite spot in the entire world—Graves Creek Falls. 
We drove another beautiful scenic road. We took Blue Slide Road out to the turn off to Graves Creek Falls. As soon as we opened the door I realized though that this was the dumbest idea I had ever had! Graves Creek Falls is at the TOP of a HUGE water fall. Josh and I latched onto our children’s hands and carefully took them to the look out. We rushed back to the car and spent time changing into more casual clothes while Josh and I took turns going to the edge by ourselves. I had no idea what I was thinking taking four small children to a place where one tumble could lead instantly to their early deaths!

We decided to take them to a much safer place, the actual Thompson Falls. The original falls had been replaced by a dam that became a hydroelectric plant along the Clark Fork River. We crossed the bridge into Thompson Falls State Park. It was so funny because my kids were afraid to walk on the bridge. They thought they would fall through the one inch cracks!

Our family then took a different route back to Missoula. I cried a little as we left. There is just something about that town and I that I can’t describe. The connection I feel with that little town will be everlasting. It rained as we drove home, and I was in heaven. The rain, the pine trees, the towering mountains, and my napping children made for just a perfect moment. 

As we pulled into Missoula the rain stopped and cleared. We cooked our steaks, salad, potatoes and enjoyed a relaxing evening at our Campground.

Monday morning we packed up but our adventures were not over. We headed out of Montana absorbing the beauty of the landscape. We decided to take a scenic road home and went through the little towns of Phillipsburg and Anaconda Montana. Phillipsburg boasted the world’s greatest candy store. We couldn’t pass that up! The store was filled with such an assortment of all kinds of candy. Some made there on site and others that I hadn’t seen since my childhood. We picked up a pound of assorted caramels and favorites, and a little slice of huckleberry fudge. 

Like kids in a candy store!

As we went through Anaconda Josh and I both fell in love. I had never been there before. Josh loved the architecture. He loved the fact that they had a movie theater. We both loved the greenness and the rived that flowed nearby. The rest of the drive home was discussing how we could possible move to Anaconda. It isn’t very far outside of Butte, which could easily be commuted to. We kind of hoped that Butte had a branch of his current company.

We pulled into the driveway late that night with sleeping children, a dirty car, and our buckets filled. Now to fulfill my other dreams so we can someday have a little slice of the Montana dream.