No true cowgirl or ski-bunny, but good enough nonetheless ~ Hamilton MT
Main street in Hamilton Montana is clean and wide, there is little traffic at 9am. The shops are brick-face, two floor, and remind me of pioneer towns like Nevada City or old Sacramento. Across the street is the Chapter One Book Store, and I write this morning from Big Creek Coffee. This is big sky country. I have been looking forward to my time in Montana because it is the opposite of what I’ve had for the past, well, long time. It’s spread out, but not like the sprawl of valley cities along the I-5. Breweries in Hamilton close at 8pm. Yards have paddocks, fields, horses, hay. Restaurants don’t have wait times longer than the meal you’d like to eat. People are largely white, and largely conservative. It’s a place where mountains clamp in the low valleys with mythical presence. I am reminded of the Rock Man in The Neverending Story who claims in sadness that he has “such big hands” but he couldn’t hold back the “Nothing” that destroys imagination. Maybe these mountains can.
The thing that called me here was nature, space, quiet. The work I’m doing to better myself involves a lot of that. Meditation, hiking, writing, reading, laughing, and to an extent, driving.
But I forget how easy it is to get off course. This town isn’t just a landscape, but a hamlet, populated by individual people. This is a common problem traveling, generalizing ad-hoc. My cousin, who’s yard I’ve pitched my tent in, told me a funny story about this. He said during the cold war, Russia sent a spy to Hamilton Montana. The spy stayed for a few years, and finally went home with a report that no one should ever engage Americans in combat. Each house, he reported, boasts upwards of six guns or crossbows. The thought of this terrifies me. I have never, and will never own a gun. And that’s not something I want to get into right now. But it shows how faulty our ideas can be when we have limited access.
In imagining the beauty of Montana, I didn’t have clear predictions about the people. And because I lean discernment, and sometimes criticism, yesterday I just began measuring myself against the residents of Hamilton. Troy moved here six years ago to be a Sous Chef in a big hotel. He’s insanely talented with food, but working kitchens is a hard job, and it just wore him down. He told me another great story about working in Martha’s Vineyard, and swimming across the channel to get to work in the mornings. He is brave and crazy in ways I sometimes aspire to. In the past couple years he’s quit working in kitchens, lived in his car for a while, and generally redirected his life. It’s what I’m trying to do. He’s now eating a near paleo diet, he’s quit drinking, lost a ton of weight, mountain bikes and skis regularly. He said life doesn’t make sense to him if he can’t shovel snow in winter. Now he spends his days as a fly fishing river guide, and lives in a fifth wheel, off the grid. He has inhabited a life I never even knew to exist. What I mean is he’s happy, and in unpredictable ways.
It made me wonder. How do we create the lives we never knew existed? How do we take the risks to make a home in the world that’s right for us? I am no mountain biker, no fly fisherwoman, no true cowgirl or ski-bunny. I love to dance, to perform, to read and write. Could I live in Montana? Could I be happy in a small town? I am full of imagination, and sometimes inspiration strikes me like dusk headlights in my rearview.
And it hit yesterday. Troy told me where he’d take me if he wasn’t working, and I followed his suggestion to a double-lake day. The morning took me to Painted Rock State Park, the most deserted lake I’ve visited after the putrid smelling Salton Sea. I expected all rock, and had no idea there was a lake. Forested mountains fell sharply towards the lake, and the rockface at the lake’s edge sang a flambouyant range of warm hues. Hoopla and I paraded down to the one walkable area, a muddy grass covered beach with picnic tables behind. There wasn’t much to do besides a tiny walk, so we took off up the 93. The second lake, which I drove past twice before I found it, was Lake Como. Apparently, it was named after Lake Cuomo in Italy by the first Ravelli family members in town. This was the kind of lake I could go back to time and again. Because of the smoke, and the inlets on the shore, I couldn’t see all sides of the lake. But the mountains against it rose up like icebergs, so steep and majestic. In the afternoon sun, they rimmed the lake in purples, indigos and greys. It’s possible to walk all the way around the lake, and better yet, swim in it. Hoopla and I clambered over pebbles and rocks into marshes and soft wooded areas. She got wet and dirty, which healthy dogs (and people) should do from time to time. There’s a campsite there, and I ran into a few other people, but that was far less relevant than the fact that I could have sat there for hours. Not since I visited the eastern shore of Lake Michigan did I feel so awestruck by a body of water.
I love it here. But I’m working on loving myself better. I think these things go together. I don’t know how to stop putting myself in a lineup and asking who’s guilty, who’s innocent. I don’t know if I belong, if this could be a home for me. I do know that making choices in life is about values, about evaluating. Right now, at this exact time, I’m glad I’m here, I’m happy to be who I am.