My siblings and I have been playing a game called “Count the Moose” which involves, well, counting them. We’re staying at a friends condo in Montana over the 4th of July weekend, and the place is decked out in the most rustic, woodsy, cabin-like decorations I have ever seen. There is an elk head above the tv, wooden ducks and trout statues on the side tables, and more paintings of cowboys herding cattle than a western history museum. There is also the moose paraphernalia which includes, but is not limited to, paintings, photos, coasters, brass statues, blankets, dish-ware, key hooks, pillows, stained glass hangings and lamps. In the kitchen alone, there are 6 moose items. It could be a drinking game!
We have all arrived here, me from the farm and the parents from Florida, to see my sisters new life and home in the mountains. I have also realized how stubborn and crazy the first settlers had to be to try and live here. Montana is wild – it is rocky and dusty and lacks oxygen. The chances of you hitting a deer, elk or even moose with your car are so high, that it becomes not a matter of if but when it will happen. Don’t even get me started on hunting laws and gun rules. I am also thankful we have arrived in the summer, back in 2001 we payed friends a visit over Christmas and it took us 2 hours to drive the 6 miles back to the airport because of a blizzard. Bozeman is like kindergarten in the Summer, and I am still struggling to keep up on the hiking and biking trips.
In the 3 days I have been here, we have hiked, biked, swam, seen a rodeo, and driven through Yellowstone National Park. I learned that the park was established before Montana and Wyoming were states, and that it is over 2 million acres in size. It houses not only moose, elk, deer, bison, horned sheep and caribou, but bears, wolves, coyotes, and every bird, squirrel and rabbit you can imagine. There are hot springs, mineral pools, creeks and rivers; it has mountains, valleys, canyons and waterfalls, even a petrified forest, which boasts more fossilized trees than I have ever seen or will see again. To say the park is majestic is like saying Einstein had a few good ideas, or like saying Beethoven played a few nice songs. To say the views are pretty would be like fitting the ocean in a bathtub, or my love for the farm into a casual hobby. Yellowstone was the most awe-inspiring, terrifying and beautiful place I have ever seen, and my vocabulary is sorely short of ways to describe it.
It has been so wonderful being with my family, coming together in such an incredible state puts the cherry on top. In the summers, Montana shows off. For just a few shore months, the sun melts the snow and grass springs up thick and tall from every surface that is not built upon. The wind ruffles across the fields, and rivers like the Gallatin flow across the valley. Everywhere you look there are flowers in purple and yellow, exploding from the ground in brilliant shades. I feel like we have stepped into a calendar, or a picture book, and keep pinching myself when we drive through the scenes. We visited a place where the Axtell Bridge crosses the Gallatin River, and I dove into water so cold and clear, I could see the smooth river rocks from 10 feet above. We rode the current on our backs, flowing under the bridge and between aspens.
I’m glad my sister lives here – it suites her. She is passionate and wild, as vibrant as the flowers that declare the summer months to come. She bikes around town, learning the streets and taking note of good places to hike. I can see her arriving in Montana 100 years ago and declaring the territory hers, sending roots out among the dust and rocks to make a place for herself. She is made of tougher stuff than I am, and it is wonderful to see her in her natural habitat. It is also fitting that we are here over America’s Independence Day – the passion and determination in her coming to Montana echoes the longing for exploration that brought early Americans to the West. It embodies our desires for freedom and equality, the promise of adventure and having a place to return home to. This is her home now. I am also looking forward to visits in the future, when she will show us her new favorite spots, when we can come to recognize these massive mountain ranges as familiar. For now, I still dream of the farm. I am content to hunt eggs and feed chickens, to weed the garden and wait for the vegetables to show up. I love my small, tame, 18 acres with its horses and donkeys, the orange clay and sloping ridge lines.
Yellowstone is too big to see in one day, it is too big to see in a picture album. But I recall those big canyons in my mind, and sitting here now, I can feel the wind rushing across those huge hills and valleys. There is the roar of the waterfall, and the feeling that you are so small, the land could swallow you up without even a thought. That is a good feeling to have. I will carry it with me back to Tennessee. I will pack it up and put it in my bedside drawer when I get home, to take out in the months to come so I can hear the river and see the wind rushing across tall summer grasses.