Tag Archives: rocky mountains

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

WF

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Amtrak Ode– The Train to Haven

1947-empire-builder

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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Long Ago: Community Entry #19

 

Purple mountain majesty. Night walks. Many pages now.

 

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Loving the mountains as I do, and being a transplant as well, this piece spoke majesty to me.  Thank you, Elsbeth Chambers and fellow Montanan!  yrs. Laura

The Mountains, by Elspeth Chambers

“The mountains! The mountains! We greet them with a song!” So goes an old college song, the college that my husband attended in fact. But it wasn’t until I wrote my first attempt at this essay that I came to realize how mountains run through my life like the proverbial silken thread.

In the summer of 1930, shortly before his 17th birthday, my father arrived in Alberta and began a love affair with the Rocky Mountains. He had been born in a country vicarage in England, the fifth of six children, and arrived in Canada with a group of boys all eager to experience the openness and opportunity of life on the Canadian prairie. Maybe an older brother’s departure less than a year earlier to work on a rubber plantation in Malaya had inspired him to travel west, I do not know. My father wanted to farm – in one of his early diaries he had written “I think I shall be a farmer when I grow up” – and went to work for a farmer in southern Alberta. But life took one of those unexpected turns, and after realizing that the life of a farmer was, after all, not for him, he crossed the Rockies to attend university in Vancouver, and later became ordained, like his father, grandfather, and many great grandfathers before him. For the next decade he crisscrossed the Rockies as he ministered to parishioners in Alberta and British Columbia during the difficult times of the Depression and World War II.

After the War my father traveled back to England to visit his family, who had miraculously all survived, including the brother in Malaya who had spent the war incarcerated by the Japanese. In those post-war days of shortages and rationing my father had to wait several months for a passage back to Canada, and took the offer of temporary assistant to a clergyman friend in southwest London. On one of his first Sundays there a beautiful young woman caught his eye, and once again life took one of those unexpected turns. Within a year they were married, and my grandparents begged them to stay in England a while longer. This was before the days of mass air travel, when crossing the Atlantic was done by sea, and the thought of their daughter living and raising their grandchildren half way round the world was more than they could bear.

So my father took a parish in England, and I too was born in a country vicarage. A quarter of a century would elapse before my father took my mother to see his beloved Rocky Mountains, but he returned to them often in his dreams, and my brother and I were raised on romantic stories of his life there. His stories, visits from my uncle, now coffee farming in Kenya, and pen-pal correspondence with a cousin whose mother had followed my father to Canada, inspired in me a wanderlust, and I knew that when I grew up I wanted to travel and see the world. I found a career that would take me to far-away places, and I can still remember, as I traveled to my first post, flying by the Himalayas at dawn, and looking carefully at all the rosy peaks so I knew I would have seen Mt Everest, even if I wasn’t sure which peak it was! A year or two later I found myself based in the foothills of the Himalayas. Each summer groups of climbers would appear and set off to conquer some of the world’s tallest mountains. I met and got to know men who had climbed Mt. Everest, and listened to their tales.

Eventually my career brought me to the United States, and here life began to repeat itself, for a few months after I started attending a church in Washington, D.C., a good-looking man caught my eye. A few months later he took me to his college town, and, standing on a New England mountaintop, asked me to marry him. (My brother also proposed to his wife on top of a mountain, though that was in Switzerland.) Unlike my grandparents so many years before, my parents were accustomed to transatlantic air travel and were more than happy to take advantage of having a reason to fly across the “pond”. Visits to Washington D.C. were invariably combined with tours of the western United States and, of course, the Canadian Rockies.

With the new millennium came our family’s decision to leave Washington D.C. We considered several places in different parts of the country, but Montana tugged at us. My husband had spent summers at a summer camp in the Bitterroots, a Rocky Mountain range in southwest Montana. Like so many before us, we liked the idea of the openness and opportunity provided by Big Sky country; we sold our house, bundled the children into that modern day version of the covered wagon, the minivan, and headed west. We made a ceremonial visit to the Gateway Arch in St Louis, and followed routes taken by the early pioneers. We built a house in a valley in northwestern Montana, 300 feet above the valley floor. From our deck, on a clear day, we can see mountains for a hundred miles.

Sadly, by the time we moved here, my father was too frail to travel to visit us (my mother had died a few years earlier) although he still returned to the Rockies in his dreams. But he was happy to know that his daughter was living and raising his grandchildren in his beloved Rocky Mountains, and he loved to see my photographs and hear me describe the mountains to him in our Sunday telephone conversations. I think we both felt that in some way I had completed the circle and, half a century after he left Canada, I had come home for him.

“The mountains! The mountains! We greet them with a song”

 

 

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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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New York Times "Lives" Column

On my side of the Rockies: (looking east)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/magazine/25lives-t.html?hpw

This is a dream come true for me. I’ve been dreaming about getting in the back page of the NYT Mag since I was just out of college. I’m currently in a part of Montana which has never seen a NYT, and probably doesn’t care or know the difference, but I will be driving over this same “ribbon of a highway” depicted in my essay this Sunday publication day, and will be privately smiling…and so will provide some visuals. I took these on my way over. Lewis and Clark and me. yrs. Laura

On the other side of the Rockies:




This is what they saw in the distance looking west…can you imagine? And I just drive my Suburban over it, home in time for dinner?


Lots of squashed bugs. Lots of wonder beyond.

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