Under Montana’s Big Sky

missouri at fort peck

The Missouri River at Fort Peck under smoky skies.

One week ago, we entered Montana from its eastern boundary, following the path blazed by Lewis and Clark in 1804 – up the Missouri River, leaving North Dakota in our rear-view mirror.  In the high eastern plains, the pilgrimage to here included camping along the largest earthen works dam in the country (Fort Peck) on the Missouri River. We went to re-stock in the nearby town of Glasgow with a thriving downtown that the woman at the Ace Hardware store believes is directly related to the town’s ability to shut out Walmart – twice.

BikingalongMissouri

Adding the Missouri River to our bike rides across the US in Great Falls.

We experienced eery yellow sunsets and burning eyes that came with the waves of grey smoke from the forest fires that are continuing to rage across the tinder-dry land surrounding Glacier National Park and over the border in Saskatchewan, Canada.

We have travelled over 900 miles and have seen not more than a fraction of the variety of Montana that is here. It’s huge country – the 4th largest state in the US – and it’s not hard to see why Lewis and Clark spent more time in Montana than any other state during their explorations.

farmersmarketgreatfalls

Always time for the summer’s closing crop of butter and sugar corn at the farmer’s market.

In Great Falls, we found a farmer’s market (new tie-dye t-shirt for Peter) and spent hours at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (yes, thanks to the reminders of friends, we are now both re-reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage), and watched a new Ken Burns movie (script by Dayton Duncan) and felt connected again to our roots back in New Hampshire.

sleepingbuffalo

The hot springs at Sleeping Buffalo.

Montana is rich in many things and among them are hot springs. Years ago we found Chico Hot Springs, south of Livingston, located along a country road that doubled as a runaway for landing private planes. This time around, we discovered Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs about 50 miles from the Canadian border and in the midst of vast plains. The story is that in the early 1900s, someone was drilling for oil and found hot water – too bad for them, lucky for us. We were the only guests in a newly renovated bathhouse tiled and sunlit and complete with sauna that pleased Peter immensely.

IMG_2685The hot springs in Norris, south of Three Forks, was a completely different experience. For $5, you get to soak in a funky rectangular pool made of wide plank Ponderosa pine. The outdoor setting was spectacular, with the pool sitting at the base of gently rolling hills covered in grass the color of unbleached muslin. The towels cost $1 and the easy conversations with folks equally soothed by the nearly 100-degree baths, was free.

The greatest gift that Montana offered us was time with friends who live near Bozeman. We pulled up in their driveway and camped there for three days, enjoying a spectacular and unencumbered view of the Bridger Mountains. But it was the laughter over an evening glass of wine, the quiet moments of conversation in the morning, the lively conversations over dinner at a local restaurant, that nourished the heart.

viewinbozeman

The Bridger Mountains from our breakfast table in T2.

Did we really live all those years taking these moments for granted, not realizing that, as Thomas Merton so eloquently stated, “this moment will never come again?” There will never be the same light on the quaking aspen in their backyard, the same cool evening breeze, the way we each sat around the table, the way the light was bent across the sky, the peace that we experienced – it will never come again in this same way. Life will continue to unfold and to change – that is inevitable. And this moment will never come again.

We cherished the time together, and then let it go. I know a man who is doing a blog as he is hiking the Pacific Coast Trail and the other day he wrote this brilliant piece. “If you are still reading my … blog I have some advice for you. Go outside. Go. Explore. More. Often. As soon as possible. As long as possible.” And I would add to that, “Laugh with friends. Again. Repeat. Take yourself far less seriously. Tell someone you love them. Today. Again.”

Peace and all good things.

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