Tag Archives: glacier national park

My Perfect June Day in Whitefish, Montana

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

As seen on Explore Whitefish!

June is heavenly here in Whitefish, Montana with all the birds nesting and singing their territorial symphony, the snow melting off the mountains, the rivers in full rush, the days warm, and the nights still cool.  I’ve lived here for 25 years, and I know this season for the embarrassment of riches that it is!  June also begins my summer Haven Writing Retreat season, so my idea of a perfect day is to ground myself in Montana’s splendor, as I prepare to welcome the 20 brave seekers who come from around the globe to be inspired, write, and find their voice through the written word, whether or not they consider themselves writers. Many of them stay and enjoy the area, including, of course, Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, using Whitefish as their home away from home.  I’ve seen Montana, and Haven, change their lives over and over again, and I love sharing the container for my muse with them!  But first…a personal retreat day in paradise.  Where to begin…

  • An early morning ride on my old Morgan with my horse guru, Bobbi Hall of Stillwater Horse Whispers Ranch (who leads the Equine Assisted Learning at my Haven Writing Retreats), to meet our dear friend, Ky, from Great Northern Powder Guides, in the woods. Ride to Murray Lake on The Whitefish Trail, catch up as busy kindred sisters must, and listen for nesting loons. Maybe a morning dip in the lake while the horses graze.
  • Go home, unsaddle, grab the kids, and forage for morels near riverbeds and in forest fire burns.  (Exact location…up over Never Tell ‘Em Ridge…  Same with huckleberries in August…)
  • Be captivated by the little magenta heads of the Calypso orchids (Fairy Slippers) popping up through the woodland forest bottom while we picnic.Image-1
  • Pick arnica blossoms to make into salve for aches and bruises from a hearty Montana lifestyle!  (Combine with local Montana beeswax from Third Street Market, and give as gifts all year!)
  • Drive home past the golden fields of canola in bloom.
  • Hop in a kayak on Whitefish Lake and paddle, or if I want wind in my hair, rent a ski boat or pontoon boat at the marina at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.  Celebrate the fact that The Whitefish Trail is now almost a full loop around the lake—a dream that came true!  Nice job, Whitefish Legacy Partners!  (Click here to help close the loop!)
  • Stop by the Farmer’s Market and see the spirit of the town in full bloom, with fabulous food trucks, like INDAH Sushi (restaurant opening in Whitefish soon!!!  One of the owners, Stacey, is a Haven Writing Retreat alum!)  Listen to live local musicians, and pick up veggies and herbs from local farms, like Purple Frog Gardens, and Terrapin Farms.  Pick up some Morning Buns from the Finn Biscuit!  Wander through all the great vending booths.  Remember why I love this town and its people so much.
  • Stop by Tupelo Grill for a craft cocktail (the Sazerac and Now or Never are my favs), and their sinful bacon-wrapped chevre dates.
  • Be overwhelmed by all of the amazing restaurant choices there are in Whitefish, realize I’m filthy from the day’s activities, and instead…
  • Go home to grill Montana steaks and (hopefully) sautéed morels for dinner on the patio with old friends and family.  Sip on Domaine Tempier rose, inspired by years of reading my favorite, and longtime Montanan, writer, Jim Harrison.  (I hope there’s DT wherever you are, Jim!)
  • Relax at dusk and listen to the birds singing their nighttime Taps, with members of the Flathead Audubon society on my screened porch, telling me who’s who in this magnificent symphony.IMG_3786
  • End the day journaling about this incredible place on earth in preparation to welcome the next group of brave seekers who are giving themselves the gift of a Haven Writing Retreat at the beautiful Walking Lightly Ranch!
  • Drift off to sleep, watching an endless sky of meteor showers from my bedroom window.
  • Dream of tomorrow:  a hike in Glacier National Park, ending at the Northern Lights Saloon up in Polebridge for dinner and chats with fellow wanderers, proud to call myself a Montanan!

Montana= Heaven’s Haven on Earth.  Enjoy!

For more information about my writing and Haven Writing Retreats, or to sign up for my blog and newsletter, click here!  

Now booking our September and October Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana:

June 7-11 (FULL)

June 21-25 (1 spot left)

September 6-10

September 20-24

October 18-22

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Ten+ reasons why I live in Whitefish, Montana

Haven Retreats:  find your stories…find your voice…

Haven Writing Retreats: 2015 (full with wait list)

2016 Haven Retreat Calendar:

February 24-29

June 8-12
June 22-25
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23
Booking now.

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(*note:  You’d think it has to do with skiing and golfing…but it doesn’t.)

Because I can go outside to get something out of my car naked.

Because if the UPS guy drove up while I was getting something out of my car naked, he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

Because I can go into town in the same outfit I slept in and no one would even notice and if they did notice they’d say, “Good for you.”

Because we have old fashioned streetlights with hanging flower baskets on them, an ice cream parlor, a toy store, a hardware store, and a brewery (and a whole lot of other cool locally owned stores and restaurants).

Because when you go to the Post Office, people ask you about your kids by name.

Because the health food store owners know more about my digestive tract than I do.  And they hold my babies when we load the car.  (I love you Rick and Dawn.)

Because we have a Winter Carnival where grown-ups dress up like Vikings and Yetis and Queens and Kings and ride floats and jump into a frozen lake.  And lots of people come to watch and think it’s fun.

Because it doesn’t matter how much money you have.  And nobody really cares, if they do know.

Because we’re all the same in a snow storm.

Because we’re all the same in a forest fire.247505_10151347732866266_244248466_n

Because we’re all the same when there’s a grizzly bear or a mountain lion on the trail.

Because the Great Northern Railroad comes right through town and I can feel connected to my hometown Chicago, and another favorite old haunt, Seattle.

Because Glacier National Park is on a lot of people’s bucket list and for us, it’s an easy answer to the question, “So what do you want to do today?”

Because we believe in our wandering rights and have 26 miles of non-motorized trail meandering through our greenbelt, with more to come. (The Whitefish Trail)

Because we have lakes and rivers all around us.

Because it serves up things to write about daily.

Because we have a Farmer’s Market that everybody goes to, even if it’s hailing.

Because people care about the Arts here, (not just about skiing and golfing).

Because on school field trips, my kids go snow-shoeing, ice-fishing, and skiing.

Because they broadcast the local high school football game at the grocery store.

Because people read the local paper.  That’s all we’ve got, anyway.

Because at Christmas-time, we string the same vintage bells across the street as they used in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Is that ten reasons?  I need to drive my kid to school in my pajamas now.  Oh, and I need eggs.  But maybe I’ll just get those from the neighbor’s chickens.

See more about Whitefish, Montana  

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Particulate Matter– a Lesson in Surrender

Now booking our Fall Haven Writing Retreats:

September 21-25 (one spot left)
October 5-9 (a few spots left)
October 19-23 (a few spots left)

You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker, hungry for your unique voice and stories! 

images…This essay is dedicated to anyone who lost their home or business to forest fire this summer.  Or whose property is still in peril.  It was originally published in the Mars Hill Review.

I forgot about this essay until the smoke from the fires burning around the West put me on a kind of house arrest this week.  All the windows were closed, every fan was on, and I longed for the fresh Montana air that I so love.  It reminded me of a perilous fire season in the early 2000′s and I searched through my files until I found this essay.  The baby in it is now a junior in high school, the five year old, a junior in college.  It was in the early days of my motherhood and I felt raw and scared and protective.  There were forest fires raging close to our beloved Montana home, and I was beside myself with the feeling of helplessness.  I was still mostly a city transplant.  I wasn’t completely resigned to what I now accept as the natural order of things in the wilderness.  Thankfully, the man-made structures in our valley escaped destruction that summer.  And thankfully, back here in 2016, the smoke cleared out with last night’s rain, the windows are open, and the air is fresh.  We can all breathe deeply again.  Reading this essay brings me back to a time when anything was possible, good or bad, and I was new in the field of surrender.  Fifteen years later, I am glad I know that to be in the “flow” is simply to know that there is a “flow” in the first place.  Enjoy!  

Particulate Matter    by Laura Munson  (written in 2000, published in the Mars Hill Review, Issue 22)

Montana is burning, again.  Outside is a slur of orange and floating ash that looks like we are living on the set of a Sci-fi B-movie from the Sixties.  The green grocer says it looks like a Jehovah’s Witness church marquee come true:  the world is ending.  The world is ending and all the Hippies are walking around wearing gas masks as if they will be the chosen race.  The farmers are harvesting their alfalfa crops, lungs and all.  I guess they figure they will meet their maker first.  To me it looks like life inside an old sepia-toned photograph with no one smiling except the baby.

My baby doesn’t know not to smile either.  He is ten weeks old—as old as the fires that burn in Lolo, Werner Peak, Moose Mountain, Big Creek near Glacier National Park and on and on.  One fire burns one thousand acres and counting, just eleven miles away from our house.  Another burns 14,166 acres, northwest of a town called Wisdom.  I close the newspaper and hold my baby tight.  Please God, don’t let our valley burn.download

AM radio has political pundits spouting off against environmentalists—mad that forests have not been thinned in the name of owls and small rodents, their threatened extinction a small price to have paid in exchange for the dozens of houses that burned in last summer’s fires, and the 900 houses state-wide that wait, evacuated, their denizens on cots in high school gymnasiums.  Others think it’s Conspiracy Theory—that the feds are not fighting the fire with the man-power they could in the interest of turning a profit on salvage logging in land otherwise protected as endangered habitat.  Some say the firefighters are heroes.  Some say they are “money-grubbing opportunists” in an impossible war.  Some say that they should let the fires burn—that the only thing that will stop blazes of this magnitude is snow or days and days of heavy rain, and that the millions of dollars being spent on fire lines and air attack is not only a waste of money, but a serious threat to watersheds, and renders the forest less resilient to fire in the end.  Old timers I know who have seen fires rip through this valley before just lift their eyes unto the hills and nod the way you might if Ghandi was your commencement speaker—Ghandi, the same man who said, “Suffering is the badge of the human race.”  My baby sucks and rests and searches for his thumb and actually says “Goo.”

I find myself walking around the kitchen with a fly swatter, taking care of tiny black fates– things I can control.  And I find refuge there.  I can’t see the flames, but I see on the news that in one day the local fire– the Moose fire– has expanded from 4,700 acres to 14,000 acres, with one flame front running four miles in four hours, another cruising three-quarters of a mile in less than twelve minutes.  Even if I could see the flames, my garden hose is short.  I go out to my smoky garden and spend an hour watering a thirty-foot long by six-foot wide perennial bed, and two pots of tomatoes.  I put my faith in my still-green tomatoes.  I have to.  I cannot afford to sap my faith in tomatoes with my fear of fire.  They say they could rage until the October cool-down and it is only August.  They say that fires this big have minds of their own.images (5)

There is skittish solace in the mundane things that need to happen whether our twenty acres of Big Sky are consumed in flames or not.  The baby needs to be fed.  The toilet paper roll replaced.  The dishes washed.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembled for the five year old who will play hopscotch at summer camp today, unimpressed with the ratio of particulate matter to breathable air.  I try to ignore the hot wind that bends the cat tails in the marsh behind our house that in two months has gone from canoe-able pond with mating frogs and foraging Sandhill cranes and resting loons, to a dry, cracked vestige of grasshoppers and confused snails.  I try to ignore the fire bombers that drone overhead back and forth all day, driven by what I must deem as “heroes” in a war that we can only imagine.

I hold my baby and smell his head and think of all of us, living in the mundane despite the magnitude of mortality and belief and fear and faith.  I think of the tiny things that weave us together that we don’t think to talk about, but that engage the moral majority of our minutes here on earth.  Buttons, cups of coffee, socks and shoes.  And I want to cling to these things.  I want to dwell in the community of controllable things.  And instead of feeling their burden, I want to find the blessing there.  Not just because I am scared of fire.  Not just because I look into my baby’s eyes and wonder if our future will be long together, come fire or disease or what may.  But because the flames I cannot see remind me to love what I can love.  Or at the very least, to take the funnel clouds they leave in their skyward wake—sometimes climbing 40,000 feet– as part of the mystery that implores me to be content with my little place on earth.  My humanity.  My chores.  My grocery list.  But the smoke…the unseen flames…must I love them too?  Jim Harrison writes in his Cabin Poem:  I’ve decided to make up my mind/ about nothing, to assume the water mask,/ to finish my life disguised as a creek,/ an eddy, joining at night the full,/ sweet flow, to absorb the sky,/ to swallow the heat and cold, the moon/ and the stars, to swallow myself/ in ceaseless flow.

I struggle with this flow.  I struggle with my community of seens and unseens.
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Outside the wind picks up; it feels gratuitous.  Sinister.  I drop my garden hose, short as it is, and return to the cool, stale-aired house, windows shut tight for weeks now.  I pace like a caged cat, peering out the windows at the pitching and heaving lodge pole pines.  Lodge poles need the high heat of forest fire in order for their cones to drop their seeds.  If the lodge poles could pray, they would be praying for this exact wind.  Am I to accept our destruction for the sake of lodge poles?  Am I any kind of environmentalist—any kind of faithful servant of the Creator, or steward of Creation, if this is my prayer:  Please God, make the wind stop?  Am I to be bound only to the mundane by my faith?  And accept the rest as Higher Order?  The Natural Order of Things?  My own fate therein?  I am a twentieth century woman:  isn’t there something They can do about this?  Some button to push…some button to un-push?

You see, somewhere in this “flow,” I am a mother; it is my instinct to protect.  I know that for me to attempt to fight the fire is fruitless.  What is my fight, then?  My meditation?  My prayer?  Can I be like Arjuna the warrior and fight, as the Hindu God Vishnu instructs, without thoughts of “fruits,” “with spirit unattached?”  Can I find Vishnu’s “meditation centered inwardly and seeking no profit…fight?”  Is my fight to be simply in the preservation of the tiny things that have been proven win-able in the ten digits of my human hands?  Sure Job had to give it all up, but must we all?  Must we at least be willing?  I scrub, I brush, I boil and bake—little strokes of faith—little battles won.  But I am not serene.  I am not surrendered.

I struggle with surrender.

The writer Annie Dillard in her Teaching a Stone to Talk finds God in a rock.  Is my Creator one who puts a rock, a lodge pole, before me?  Before my children?  Before this bounteous 20 acres of Montana in which we play and work and garden and grieve and pray and find home?  What kind of dirty trick is this that we are to love our place on earth—nurture it with all our might, but be willing to give it all up at the same time?  Wendell Berry in his Mad Farmer’s Manifesto says, “take all that you have and be poor.”  I don’t want to be poor spiritually or otherwise, if it means my land—the place where my children fly kites and catch frogs, where my husband and I have conceived our children, seen our first Northern Lights, built a Mountain Bluebird nesting house that the same bluebird returns to every year and whom my daughter has named, Hello Friend—if all this is to be reduced to char.images (2)

The apostle Paul says, “…we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  I am groaning.  But I have words.  I want rain.  I want windlessness.  I want.  I want.  I want.  Perhaps it is this wanting that the Spirit translates to the Divine.  The Buddhist tradition says that we will not experience release from our suffering as long as we have desires.  So am I a complete spiritual flunky if I admit that I feel deep desire to preserve my place here on earth– that I feel an entitlement to my place?  Just how much should we grin and bear?  Or groan and bear?  What can we pray for and remain faithful?

I realize that there are no finite answers to these questions.  But it helps to know that I am not alone in them.  Tell me then, Humanity, that I can pray for the wind to stop, and then after that…in my utter befuddlement, pray to the sweet and ruthless flow of Creation not only for tomatoes to grow in my pots, but for excellent tomatoes to grow in my pots!  Tell me that the Creator is both Lord of wind and tiny things.  And that we are not to be limited in the extent of our wants—our fears, our passion plays.  Please, I beseech you, Humanity, do not tell me that I am entitled only to my sense of faith and my sense of love but not to a loved thing on earth—destined to accept the burning of my house, or say, disease in my child, as if the wind is more necessary than a child.  The wind is created.  The trees are created.  A child is created.  My house is created.  Tomatoes are created.  My daily schedule of car pools and play dates and meals and laundry are created.  Is there a hierarchy to the importance of created things?  Am I at least as dear to the Creator as a lodge pole pine?  Tell me that there is a prayer for all of us.  Because all of us, on some level, matter.

My five-year old daughter comes in to show me that her first tooth has come out.  If I am to surrender to forest fire, tell me, oh Creator, oh Humanity, that this tooth matters.  I hold the tooth in my palm and smile at her and she obliterates me with three fell swoops:  “I wonder if God likes the fire.  I wonder if the fire likes itself.  I’m going to go outside to play now.”  Maybe surrender is not a letting go, but an acceptance.

A going in, even.

images (3)Tell me then, oh time-travelers in this wondrous and heartbreaking “flow,” that not only does the mundane matter, but that it is holy.  Tell me that we are in this holy pickle together—that in your ultimate helplessness on this planet, you cling to what you can help.  That you too contemplate the advantages of brushing your teeth before or after coffee, almost daily.  Before or after orange juice.  Before or after sex.  Tell me that you too keep the buttons that come in a tiny envelope, safety-pinned to your fine garments but with absolutely no intention of ever using them.  Tell me that sometimes you notice that you incorporate the use of your forehead when you are folding towels.  And that in that instant, you laugh out loud.  Tell me that you laugh out loud.  I want to know that we are both laughing.  From Peoria, Illinois, to burning Montana, to Massachusetts two hundred years ago.  It is the echo of that laughter which will save me at three in the morning, breast-feeding my boy, watching lighting striking, slicing through the smoky night.  And prayer, I suppose.  But after prayer, it is the echo of humanity, not God, I am waiting for.  I want to know that I am not the only one pacing alone in my “smoky house.”

Tell me all this, and then tell me that the Creator, to whom time must certainly not be a linear stretch as it is to we mere mortal peons, must on some level restrict himself/herself/itself enough to the created hill-of-beans of my mind, and find mercy.  Tell me that the execution of these tiny things are our greatest acts of faith.  Because they are our fight.  Our meditations.  Our prayers.  Prayers to the moment.  Prayers to our futures.  Prayers without ceasing.

Most of all, tell me that our Creator loves us for the fears we have that lead us to the clingy worship of tiny things in the first place.  Tell me that you believe the Creator gives us the minutia to help us deal with the Everything Else—to find our connection to the rest of Creation.  That the Creator designed us to need the community of tiny things.  Tell me that the Creator invites all of it, like a parent does a child’s wants for bubble gum in one breath, and the cure for cancer in the next.  And that we can both pray for the wind to stop and for the rains to come.  And the fires to end.  And our children’s lives to be long.  And then in the next breath…the next groan…pray for plump, juicy, hose-fed, sun-kissed tomatoes every summer, smoky or not.images (1)

—2000, Laura Munson, Montana

Note:  If you are travelling to Montana this summer or fall, please enjoy our beautiful wilderness which is full of smoke-free and wide open roads and trails, valleys, rivers, and lakes!   

Now booking Montana Haven Retreats for 2016:

September 21-25 (one spot left)
October 5-9
October 19-23

You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker, hungry for your unique voice and stories! 

 

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Amtrak Ode– The Train to Haven

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Haven Writing Retreats 2016

June 22-26 (full)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Now Booking 2017

February 22-26
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

Every-so-often, there is a perfect confluence in life—even in the life of a writer. When childhood romanticism meets adult sentimentalism, when whimsy and bravery stand side-by-side, when the world of possibility opens and you can see clearly through a widened “peephole,” as Vonnegut calls our limited perception of the world. That happened this weekend when I learned that Amtrak is offering free “residencies” aboard their trains for writers. Woah. Instant tears flowed fast.

You see, I come from Chicago train people. And I live in a small mountain train town where the train is the one solid thing that connects my life here to whence I came. I’ve been here for twenty years, have built my home and raised children and written and basked in the beauty of all that northwest Montana gifts us season after season…but Chicago will always be my starting point.

When I told my father I was moving to Whitefish, Montana, he got tears in his eyes (it runs in the family). “What a beautiful part of the world. I used to take the Empire Builder there when I was a young man in the 1940s, calling on railroad customers. I loved watching the city turn to farmland, and the Great Plains, and then the Badlands, and then the Rockies. I used to look out the window and just dream.”
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Whenever I’m having a hard day, I go to the Whitefish Depot, like a Chicagoan goes to Lake Michigan, and watch the freight trains change tracks with names I grew up knowing thanks to my father: GATX, Santa Fe, Burlington Northern. From my childhood bedroom in suburban Chicago, I used to listen to the gentle chugging of the Milwaukee Railroad, comforted that there was someone else awake in the middle of the night. Sometimes when I see the gleaming silver Amtrak waiting at the station, I think: “I could hop on and go home.” It brings me that same comfort to know that I am still connected to “home” in this small town in the shadow of the great peaks of Glacier National Park.images

The last time I took my kids back to Chicago, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. “I want to show you something,” I told them, ushering them to one of my childhood treasures. “It’s the train room! It’s a model of the route of the Empire Builder from here all the way to the west coast. My dad used to take me here. It’s the coolest model train ever built!” I said, remembering how I’d hold his hand as he traced the lights of Chicago across the country all the way to the ports of Seattle, marveling at all his days riding those rails as a businessman and journeyer.

“Mom, why are you crying?” they both said.

“It’s all just so beautiful. Taking your time. Going slow. Watching our wonderful world go by from the safety and comfort of a train car. Meeting people in the dining car, chatting about life, comparing notes about places to see. I love trains. This used to be the way everybody travelled. They would dress up for meals. They would socialize and revel in the landscape. I trust trains much more than I do airplanes. I always feel so grounded and happy when I pull into a train station after a long ride. When I land at airports, I feel disoriented. Sometimes speed and convenience are way over-rated!”

“Look, Mom,” my twelve year old squealed. “It’s our train station!”amtrak

And sure enough, there was a little model of the Whitefish depot. I’d spent hours in this room, gazing at the Empire Builder line with my father, but I didn’t remember that building. Surely I’d watched my father point his way through the Rocky Mountains to this tiny depot, built in the design of the great lodges of Glacier National Park by the visionary train baron, Louis W. Hill who brought the east to the Rockies in comfort and style. Surely I’d looked at that little depot and wondered what the wilds of a place like Montana would be like. Talk about full circle, watching my son stand there with his eyes blazing, feeling so proud of his home. Like a game of tag from my original home to his…all connected by the Empire Builder.
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A few years ago, I started leading retreats in our stunning part of the world. I realized that after leading the writing life with all my heart for almost three decades, my muse basking in the mountains of Montana, that it made good sense to share it with other kindred seekers. So I founded Haven Retreats. Hundreds of people have come to Montana to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page, in search of greater self-awareness, whether or not they call themselves “writers.” Some do. Some don’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that opened “peephole,” and Montana knows how to inspire that in spades.

Yes, people come to Haven by plane, car, bus. But they also come by Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Louis W. Hill would be proud of these stalwart travelers who have been known to ride thirty hours here and thirty hours back post-retreat. And every time, those who ride the train rave about how the rhythm of the tracks and the views from the window put them in the perfect mind-frame to engage fully in our intensive four days together, tucked into the woods of Montana, and process their experience as they make their way back into their lives, re-fueled, inspired, empowered.

I can think of no better way to come to a Haven Retreat than through that little Whitefish train depot. With this new amazing offer from Amtrak for writers to ride for FREE, it truly is the perfect confluence: experience a personal writing “residency” on the train, enjoy a Haven Retreat in our beautiful part of the world just a matter of miles from the train station, and write your way back home!
I hope that if you are considering a Montana Haven Retreat, that you will also consider this golden offer from Amtrak!

A special thanks to Alexander Chee for stating his love for writing on trains and inspiring this incredible offer! And to Jessica Gross for making a “trial run!”
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From my father’s obit in the Chicago Tribune: 260060_10150205192746266_3265283_n

John C. Munson made a run at retiring when he turned 65. It lasted three days.

“He hated retirement,” said his wife of 48 years, Virginia. “His great passion was work, and ever since he was a little boy playing with his trains he has loved the railroad industry.”

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Writing Retreat Permission

Tuck into the snowy world of Montana…and WRITE!

What would it be to take a stand for yourself?  And what would that look like on the page?  You know.  Here is something that might help you feel embraced:

Whether you have decided to join me for one of my upcoming writing retreats in Montana, are on the fence, or have decided that this is not the right year or season for you…I wanted to share this letter I wrote to a young writer this morning who is considering attending my retreat.  But she is scared.  Perhaps it’s about being vulnerable in a group of people, scared of the remoteness of Montana, scared to face herself on the page, even though writing is something that is dear to her and has been since she was a little girl.  In an effort to catapult her past her fears, I told her that it was when I started doing writing retreats that my entire writing life changed.  She asked me why.  Here is part of my answer.  I hope it speaks to you. 

First a word from a former retreater:

“My time in Montana was the most empowering and uplifting experience of my life and has helped my writing in ways awesome and profound.  Laura is a master at bringing out your voice, and the sisterhood that is created in the process is incomparable. GO! GO! If you have any inkling that this might be what you need, you are correct– it is JUST what you need…”

Here’s the letter:

So…why did retreats change my life as a writer…  Well, I was in my twenties, living a life that was so different from the one in which I’d been raised.  I was out of my comfort zone, on purpose.  I’d left the east coast where most of my friends were climbing the corporate ladder.  I’d turned down a job opportunity at a major advertising agency in Chicago.  I’d even deferred from a creative writing program in SF where I had been planning to get my MFA.  I was living in Seattle where I knew no one.  I was waitressing.  I was a nanny.  I was living in a tiny house on an alley.  My parents were concerned.  My friends were confused.  I didn’t have a car—rode my bike everywhere.  And I wrote.  Writing had always been my lifeline.  But it had always been quite private—lonely even.  Those early novels I wrote were not just exercises in learning—they were how I processed who I was becoming.  The problem was, I wanted to be a published author more than anything in the world and it wasn’t happening.

Flathead Valley from Whitefish Mountain Resort

I had read Natalie Goldberg’s book “Writing Down the Bones” when I lived in Boston, and happened to see that she was speaking in Seattle.  That book had been so helpful to me, and I longed to have writer kindreds and to share in her methods which involved group work.  So I went to see her and that night joined a writing group of total strangers that still exists to this day.  They are my writer sisters, even though we live very different lives in very different parts of the US.  We so loved the power of a group of writers that we started doing weekend retreats together which still occur annually.  The writing life, plainly put, is deeply solitary.  It doesn’t have to be.  It can be shared, and that’s what retreats do.  It is so important to be witnessed in what you do on the page, in a safe and nurturing environment.  That is what I provide on my retreats.

I have designed a three day workshop which helps people go places they might not go on their own in their writing, and find out where their blocks are, hopefully causing breakthroughs.  These exercises work no matter where you are in your writing journey.  Some women who come on my retreats have finished books.  Some have only written their Christmas letter.  Some have never written anything since school days.  It doesn’t matter.  You can engage in these writing exercises within the context of a work-in-progress, or simply as inspiring ways for self-expression.  And I promise to keep things safe and nurturing, while still offering opportunities for helpful feedback.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

One of the things I care most about is helping to shift the tortured artist paradigm, to the empowered artist.  To that end, I’ve shaped the retreat days so that we have an intensive morning class, then free time for a few hours after lunch to be in our bodies in beautiful Montana (yoga, guided outdoor snow-shoeing hikes, and equine therapy).  People can choose to sign up for these activities, which are meant to mirror the writing work we did that morning, or spend that time writing or relaxing.  Our evenings begin with a social hour that I host, move into dinner, and then to the fireplace in the lodge where we share readings.  Some people bring work that they’ve written previously.  Other people read from something they’ve written that day.  And others might share writing that they love from other authors.  This is your chance to get feedback on your terms, while the morning classes are structured for expression without as much feedback (part of what frees the muse and keeps you feeling safe to just go where you need to go on the page).

It is such an honor to guide these retreats and to watch people bloom, get unstuck, move through blocks, have breakthroughs, and mostly to see what happens when a group of women take a stand for their self-expression in the woods of Montana.  The experience is profound.  I would love to see you here in February.

Here is a blog post I wrote about it with photos:

http://lauramunson.com/retreats.php

If you are interested, email me at Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com.  There is still space available but it’s filling up fast…

Whitefish Mountain Resort

FYI:  Whitefish Mountain Resort is a world class mountain, and Glacier National Park is just 20 miles away so consider taking a  vacation afterward…

yrs.

Laura

 

 

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Montana Haven

Montana has been my home, my muse, my inspiration, my teacher, my challenger, my haven for over twenty years this month.  Here is my tribute to this Last Best Place under the Big Sky.

Come with me on an adventure of a lifetime!

Haven Retreats in Montana: email me:  laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

August 7th-11th (full)

September 4th-8th (full with a wait list)

September 18th-22nd (full with wait list) 

 

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Breaking Point: #20

I am going to end this Breaking Point series with two stories of grief:  beginning in resistance, denial, anger and a final facing of the truth…and ending in Glacier National Park, a place I hold dear.  And a reminder that nature (or God if that is your belief) can hold us when we can’t hold ourselves.  “Let go and weep.  I will not leave.”  Thank you to all who have bravely contributed and to all who have bravely read and commented and shared with others.  It is Springtime now. 

yrs. Laura

 

Submitted:  by Laurie Wajda who blogs here.  You can get her ebook here.

Tribute to a Friend

It was 4pm. In all reality it was 5, but the recent time change had stolen an hour so the shadows were reaching their peak. I rolled down the sleeves of my jacket as a chill hit the air, and stood in my own eternity looking at the stone. It was 4:02.

The mist that had started to rise as I passed through the gate was growing denser with the twilight hours. It swirled up slowly, engulfing my ankles, and lulled across the grass, around and over and between each epitaph. Surely my imagination, but as the earth’s pores let out its steam, the pungent odor of decaying flesh filled the air. I stood fixated, pulling tight the coat around me as if to ward off some unseen evil.

I patted the two Michelob Lights I’d shoved into my pockets and settled myself directly in front of…it.

It was my best friend’s birthday, and I was bringing her a beer. The sad part?   I brought two, opened them both, and placed one at the foot of her headstone.  It had been two years since I’d been to this place.  I had to laugh as I looked around and said, “Well, kiddo, you haven’t changed a bit.” And then my head hit my knees and I cried like a baby.

I don’t know if I went there that day out of guilt or loyalty: Guess I never will. But nevertheless, there I sat.

“Listen… I know I haven’t been here in awhile. Well, I haven’t been here at all… A few times but … it’s not like I could forget your birthday or something.”  Phil Collins flashed throughmy head. No Reply At All. “Jesus. Listen to me talking to a rock.” I took a swig of beer and waded through my myriad of thoughts.

“Ya know – I read your name on that damn thing and I still don’t believe it. I feel psychotic sitting here but we always said the big 2-1 would be a hell of a party.  Some party…

“It’s not like I forgot you or anything…  It’s just that, well, it all feels so superficial…   I’d come here, drop off a flower and sit and cry… what’s the point?  It’s not like I’m here for a visit with some tea and a chat, right?

Listen, Kate, You were my best friend – always were, always will be. You were the person I talked to and trusted and partied with – and then you just up and died and I had no one to tell.   I can’t come here.  Just to look at a damn stone with your birth-date on it?  I can’t do it… I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

Before any tears fell I got up to leave. Hands shoved in my pockets, I slowly backed away. I turned my back on that stone, that grave. And then I walked toward the gate, never looking back.  I knew at that moment I would never return.

I left the beer bottles there that day. One full one and one empty one, standing side by side. They stood there together like old buddies saying I’m sorry and I forgive you and Happy Birthday all at once.

When the groundskeeper swept them up the next day, I’m sure his only thought was that a local drunk had left his garbage once again. He would never know that those two bottles stood for years of friendship and laughter.  For vacations and smiles and tears and
understanding. He would never know that those two bottles were a tribute to a friend.

Submitted by: Kaye Dieter  

“The River”

Glacier National Park’s Rocky Mountain Front borders the east edge of the North Fork of the Flathead River that winds its way past my childhood home.  These mountains rise rugged over the grassy, tree-dotted valley that holds this river that has been a friend to me for over 30 years, a friend that listens, always listens.  Even before I sensed it was listening, I was drawn to the river.  Before the sadness.  Before the tear drops would not fall, then carrying the tears that could not be contained, unnoticed and without a grudge, in its welcoming mass flowing cold, clear and comforting, away from where I stood on its rocky edge.

I have come to this place since I was seven years old.  Back then it was pure joy to be a seven-year-old girl with an hour, or afternoon on a hot Montana summer day, with time to be oblivious to everything but what absorbed me from my inner-tube portal.  Tied to a log in the mainstream of the river, my rubber craft allowed for enough interruption in the current that, if I sat silent and still, was usually rewarded by a glimpse of a bull trout lying heavily on the grey-green limestone river bottom.  The inlet, where the water flowed slowly in a clock-wise direction, and the spring glacial silt settled to cover the rocks, is where I drifted facedown, delighting in the newly hatched frogs that hopped from the muddy shore, and the minnows as they zipped, zigzagging through the mesmerizingly spaced grassy reeds.  I was keenly aware of the large water beetles swimming haphazardly, and then colliding bluntly, into whatever happened to be in their paths.  Any innocuous leaf or silent stick that was unfortunate enough to bump into the last 1/3rd of my foot (it required too much effort to keep it out of the glacier-chilled water), was unfairly accused of being one of the clumsy little monsters, and was reflexively kicked at. If the water beetles were monsters, then the slimy green-black leaches were blood-sucking snakes that brought terror into my inlet water world.

From the idyllic age of seven, the dependable nature of the four seasons initiated me into early adulthood sooner, and later than I would have liked.  The river saw it all, and listened the whole time.  When I had to leave the river is when I needed it the most because that is when the sadness became my constant, demanding and meddling companion.

During the winter months of November, December and January the river struggles to flow as the slushy islands of ice glob onto its edges.  By early January it is no longer a black ribbon meandering quietly between soft snow banks, it has become just another cold, hard surface for snowflakes to settle on.  But under the deep layer of snow, on top of the thick glass ice, the subdued river is still listening.  Then, as an 18 year old, I kick and glide, kick and glide down its unobstructed path, the snow greedily snatches the tears falling from my eyes, and the water below murmurs quietly.  I listen.

The river says softly, “Let go and weep, I will not leave. Even though you must leave again, when you return I will be here, and will always listen. I know you and I also feel your sadness. I knew and miss her too. I saw her watching you from the high bank.  Making sure I wasn’t playing too rough with you, admiring my graceful form in the varied shades of light, and paying me the highest compliment by putting my likeness on canvas.  Her protective gazes over you were over me too. So please, let go, weep, collapse, remember, weep some more, and when you are able, remember and smile.”

 

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Summer Vacation

I’m hanging up a Gone Fishin’ sign for August to enjoy summer with my family and do some good old fashioned novel-writing. Enjoy the rest of your summer and I’ll see you in September! Here are a few highlights of the last few weeks of Montana-ness. yrs. Laura

Red Eagle Falls, Two Medicine, Glacier National Park

Whitefish Lake

Mama moose in Aster Meadows-- Glacier National Park

Two Medicine Lake from Aster Lookout-- Glacier National Park

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Montana Summer Moments

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I Like Skiing


One of the things I love about blogging is that you put yourself out to a global community, and you find kindred spirits. It’s so powerful to admit my weaknesses and observations and little vanities here, and have them meet with people from all sorts of different countries and cultures and social groups. I especially love how people are so willing to share with integrity and vulnerability. I know I say this over and over, but I’m so grateful for that. To that end…I will share with you about a little issue I have…and one which yesterday, I put to rest.

I have lived in a ski town for seventeen years. This would be the answer to many people’s prayers. There are hundreds of people who live in my town who work whatever job(s) they can find just so they can soar down that ski hill. I am not one of them. I have never felt comfortable on skis. I can’t really deal with the whole scene, plummeting down the mountain in total white out so that you can’t see whether you’re on ice or a foot of carved up snow until you are upon it, in temps so cold your nose hurts, people careening down all around you, cutting you off. I say over and over, “I like skiing, I like skiing” the whole way down. Until I get to the chair lift and fanataszie about the hot cocoa I’m going to have at the lodge, but then think about how much money it costs for a lift ticket and force/guilt myself to go up again. To be apart of what my children and husband adores and my town’s culture. In the lift line, it’s all about the fresh pow pow and the gnarly moguls and the forecasted snow which is described by words like puking, dumping, croaking and vommiting. And then there’s the ride up on the chairlift which contains the possibility of dangling fifty feet in the air for a long long time, due to mechanical issues– a lot of fun for a person who likes to ask the question, “How do I get out of here,” and have a logical answer. I’m the one who knows where the exit row is on an airplane, for instance. The one in front, and the one behind. In other words, I’m a real treat to ski with. Usually I get left behind by my family. Usually I ski alone. So in the last years, usually I don’t go up at all. I am what you might refer to as a ski-widow. Luckily, wintertime makes me want to write books so I’m home all weekend by the fire, writing, and cooking something yummy for my family to enjoy upon their return.

But yesterday I had a come-to-Jesus conversation with myself. My family was going up skiing and the kids complained that I never join them. It was a stunning day– not too cold, not a cloud in the sky, views of Glacier National Park all the way down through the valley to Flathead Lake. The snow conditions were stable the way I like them, and so really…I had no excuse. So I went. Both of my kids ran into friends in the parking lot and off they went. “See you at the lodge at the end of the day,” they chimed. I wasn’t about to MAKE them ski with me. And my husband got called in to work before the first run. So I spent the day skiing, alone. BUT I refused to feel sorry for myself.

I decided I’d do an experiment. I’d go slowly and pay attention. I’d pretend like I’d never skiied before in my life. Like I’d never seen a mountain peak or even snow. Like everthing was new to me– the pines laden with snow like ghosts, the chairlift, a miracle invention, allowing me to have those views, those fiberglass skiis a genius appendage I could strap on and slide on like a kid in a candy store. I took away all the pressure of being any good at this thing I’ve battled with for seventeen years. This thing you can’t buy a cup of coffee around here without hearing about. This “club” that I’m not really apart of. I would just be with the moment of snow underfoot. And I would go as slowly as possible. I would stop. I would take a half an hour to get down the mountain. I would carve my turns instead of formlessly speeding down the mountain to get it over with. I would lie on my back in the sun and be thankful for vitamin D in all this season of grey and fog. And you know what? I had a great day. It’s amazing what can happen when we go easy on ourselves, remove our head noise– all the shoulds and musts and what ifs…and just be with the moment.

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