Monday, May 21, 2007

State update: Montana

"Big Sky Country" is such a simple phrase that it can be hard to grasp the grand, literal truth of the statement. As soon as you arrive in Montana you are confronted with the vast dome of sky above you, clear, uninterrupted, blurry on the edges with rolling hills or snowy peaks or the lurching tips of pine trees. There are no tall buidings here; there are none of the smudgy east coast afternoons to which you are accustomed.

We spent most of our time in Missoula, a college town with a modest downtown area and the rebellious streak that comes from a constantly moving student population. The Clark Fork river meanders through town; once we took a break from a bike ride to watch a beaver work on his dam and meander through the snowmelt river. Cycling is the preferred mode of transportation here; we would ride our bikes along the dirt path alongside the river, park our bikes next to the college bookstore or the brewery or the pizza place, and eventually coast back home. Once we hit the paved streets of the neighborhood we would ride bikes with the freedom of kids on a summer evening, loping along in wide turns punctuated by the occasional sprinted race. Missoula was an oasis, an extremely peaceable valley.

In Glacier National Park we ogled at the remarkably clear reflections of the mountains in McDonald Lake. Since we arrived before the beginning of the season, the park was ours: empty roads, quiet trails. The mountains seemed almost protective of their tranquil lakes, each one ice-cold and fed by countless tributaries tumbling down the slopes. We could follow the progression of each waterfall with our eyes, watching the streams gain power as pale mountain goats hobbled along the rocky cliffs above.

On our last day in Glacier we went on a ten-mile hike, aiming to get up to a glacier. We didn't make it, though; we passed the snow line, and were tromping along the banks in shorts and t-shirts and sneakers, but the sun had already peaked and we had a long way to go. We made it back to McDonald with wet feet and sunburnt faces, with a distinct sense of satisfaction and acute exhaustion. On the drive back to Missoula we honored our accomplishments with sandwiches and tall glasses of Pepsi, and another feast awaited us in town.

Montana was a dream, an alternative to the life we've chosen in New York. The whole trip was such a ridiculously clear Country Mouse/City Mouse comparison; we replaced our city walks and media consumption and cosmopolitan poses with early evenings and bike rides and an utter lack of awareness of the world beyond the mountain range on any side of us. It was a great sojourn, but I was happy to come home. One more photo: the latest in my genre of awesome, one-handed self-portraiture.

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