Tag Archives: skiing

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  

Downtown Print

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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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Forget a Pulitzer– I’m a Cartoon Character!

Wow– I think my ego just exploded! Thanks to Jen Sorenson from Portland for coming out to our neck of the woods and composing such an interesting study of our town for The Oregonian. Snowghosts and all! Here’s the permalink.

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Seasonal Depression No More


This time of year people go a little bit crazy around here. It’s been grey. REALLY grey. For a long time. And we live in a place where just about everyone knows their way around horses or skis or both.
And everyone knows their way around snow.
Some lovely lunatic decided to put them all together. It’s called ski joring. The history of ski joring dates back several hundred years to Scandinavia as a way for people to travel during the harsh and snowy winter months. Towed behind reindeer on long wooden skis, these early travelers found ski joring or “ski driving” a useful and practical mode of
transport and communication.

On February 12, 1928 at the 2nd Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland competitors held a ski joring demonstration. This style was performed riderless with the skier driving the horse from
behind and racing head to head with the other competitors.

Apparently, that lovely lunatic’s ancestor lives in our town because every year our town dumps itself alongside the Burlington Northern railroad tracks at the base of our ski mountain and watches as the bravest of us jump on horse or skis and motor around an icy gnarly track, skier holding a rope attached to a saddle.

Horses fall, skiers fall, riders fall, and the fans go wild. Half the time I can barely watch.
The train engineer toots his horn, the children drink hot cocoa and cheer from plastic sleds, the parents have a Bloody Mary or a pulled pork sandwich, and we all wake up a bit against the mid-winter sky, dripping in grey.

This is our idea of good clean mid-winter fun. And I have to say, it is one of my favorite days in our small mountain town in Montana (as long as nobody gets hurt!).

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Mother’s Nature.


Two people died on our ski mountain last week in tree wells. One was 16, the other was 29. If you’re not familiar with the definition of a tree well, here’s a visual:

The long and short of it is this: evergreens, especially those with low hanging branches, can prohibit snow from filling in and consolidating at the base of the tree. Skiers and snowboarders can catch an edge, not seeing the hole, and catapult head first into these wells, being swallowed in the snow and then buried by snow from the overhead branches. There is little hope for survival, even if you have been responsible enough to partner up and watch as each of you takes the run. It’s a fast and furious death; like drowning.

Your best hope is to ski without your pole straps so that you can potentially have free hands to dig breathing space around your mouth and nose. And then you’re supposed to gently rock, creating more space. And you’re not supposed to panic or struggle, a lot like being caught in a rip tide. Except you’re stuck. Nothing is flowing but hope that your partner is not down at the lift line wondering where you are and remembering, oh yeah, he/she was supposed to be watching you, and oh yeah, skiing and snowboarding, as fun as they are, are sports that can kill.

I wonder about this, after seventeen years of living in a ski town. I wonder about this as a mother of two kids who live to ski and their friends do too. I wonder about this as someone who loves adventure and risk-taking and the abandon found in that adrenaline high. And I also I wonder about this in the field of fear and then in the field of education and then ultimately in the loveliest field I know: surrender.

This morning at the breakfast table, I asked my children how they felt about these recent deaths which have shaken our community in not just grief, but the fresh Bandaid-ripped sting of “this could happen to you.” For these are the sorts of tragedies which happen in my children’s back yard. Not that they should get used to them—as if it would even be possible. But they need to both know how to process them and to know how to prevent them.

Most everybody skis trees here.

It’s part of the our local vernacular. That kind of heart throbbing, lung burning, stomach-butterflied rush is what keeps many of us living here, whether we’re sliding down the mountain, or hiking up a ridge, or galloping through a field on a horse. We are “getting after it,” as the local saying goes. But as a mother, I needed to check in, even if it made me unpopular. They don’t need to know about city streets for now as much as the power of snow. The snow they’ve known best makes snowmen and snow cones and sledding hills.

So this morning I asked my children what the “it” was in “getting after it.” They both said, “What you love.” I could see the snowflakes dancing in their eyes. Every winter morning they run to the computer to check the ski report. Oh for the love of fresh powder. You’d think they’d been given free lifetime passes to Disneyland on those days.

My question begat a sudden discussion about how much “vertical” each of them had gotten this winter, bemoaning the insult that it was raining in mid-January on a Saturday.

Sticking to my mother guns, I gingerly asked them if they were upset about the recent tree well deaths. They both nodded. “Everyone’s talking about it at school.” Then I asked them if they understood just what happens in a tree well and how to avoid it and what to do if they were ever, God forbid, in that brutal situation.

I assumed they knew it by rote; that with all the ski lessons they’ve had and all the lectures my husband and I have given them, they’d recite it like they did the National Anthem. But it turned out: they kind of knew. But they didn’t really know. They had been seeing snowflakes during the “scary” conversations and warnings, turns out. I was horrified.

My kids ski in the trees every weekend from Thanksgiving to Easter. And here is the crux of what every mother knows well– that daring walk on the tightrope between scaring your children out of their gourd, and empowering them with knowledge. And what every child knows better: the line between being cocky pre-teen/teens, and notably shaken. Upside down suffocation? That hadn’t landed on their snowflaky radar.

I felt a rant coming. I tried to take pause. To no avail. I began with: “There’s an expression: All the avalanche experts are dead.” I paused for them to chew on it. Suddenly they weren’t so keen on chewing on their eggs and toast.

I wanted to full-on lecture them then, out of motherly fear. How was it possible that they hadn’t learned all about the full array of dangers on our ski mountain…maybe I had left something out in the long list of things to teach my children…had I remembered Hospital Corners, and not tree wells??? But I tried not to get dramatic—tried to keep it direct.

In so many words I explained that when you make decisions in the back country based on ego, you get into trouble. And then I wanted to twist the knife a bit in their hearts. Because maybe it’s the hurt that makes the mind listen and remember and maybe two deaths are not enough in the minds of children.

“Being in nature is a privilege and one that should never be taken lightly.” I explained that sometimes we forget that privilege when a machine like a chair lift zooms us up to a place that normally would take all day to ascend, and that for people who hike up the mountain rather than take the lift…for just that one…run…down, there is the grace of gratitude. We need to remember gratitude.

They looked unimpressed. Hiking up? All that work and only one run?

So I started twisting that knife harder and I knew not to but I couldn’t stop. Call it fear. Call it shock value. This was my motherhood talking now. “You need to respect the mountain. It’s not a ride at Six Flags. People who hike up the mountain for that one glide down…they know all about gratitude, but they also know about respect. They leave their egos down in the parking lot, along with their credit cards and the heat button. Their power is in paying attention, and knowing the real power, and that’s Mother Nature. They are as vulnerable as can be, save for their fiberglass skies and their Gortex. And that’s the way they want it. They have checked the avalanche report, the snow conditions. They have their partners and their plan.”

Now my kids looked like they wanted to cry. But I couldn‘t stop. Maybe you know this feeling. It’s called Running Scared.

“But when technology makes it so that you can cram in 15 of those runs in a day, tuning out the ascent with your iPod-bedecked helmet, telling jokes about the skiers below…then I just wonder about that descent and where the ego is.”

I had them with iPod.

“I’m not saying that it’s ego that had those people end up in tree wells. It happens to back country skiers too. I just wonder about intention and humility and lessons learned in a second flat, and then lost to suffocation.”

And then I lost them. Too many big words. It was probably better that way. They went back to breakfast. “So what time are we leaving for the mountain,” one of them asked their father, who had been staying out of this. Probably wisely so. Probably because he could have covered this ground in a four minute speech in the car on the way up the ski hill. Mothers.

The local papers haven’t reported whether or not those snow boarders were riding alone when they fell into those tree wells, and frankly it’s none of my business. I just think that for all the young people who go up to “shred” in the fresh “pow pow” after a few days of “dumpage and puking and pissing” snow…who smoke a few bowls and blare agro head banging hard driving music in their helmets, getting after “it”…or even the blithe skiers and snowboarders who are just in it for the innocent fun it is and the french fry breaks and the chance to play in the snow with friends and family and slide down a hill and gain some speed and take in some views…maybe there can be a moment of pause this January in Montana in our little town. Maybe those deaths can be a reminder that Mother Nature is more powerful than human nature will ever be.

For an expansive education about skiing and snowboarding near tree wells, go to this site which was created by a collaboration of the NW Avalanche Institute, Mt. Baker Ski Area, Crystal Mountain and Dr. Robert Cadman.

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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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Stop the Clocks

clock
Stop the Clocks
by Laura A. Munson
(for Erin and Caden)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Auden

People die here in ways they probably don’t where you live. To grizzly bear. Mountain lion. Horse…mountain bike…mule pack…off a cliff, launching their humans, avian, for one last adrenaline rush. An avalanche. A capsized river raft or kayak and a class four rapid and a rock or a log jam. A tipped canoe too early or late in the season on a frigid lake. Tractors, chain saws, timbering trees in the forest, no wood for winter for the ones back home. Deer, elk, moose on the lightless almost-empty country roads…right through the window shield into suddenly pulse-less laps. It hurts to think of all the dead in those moments that go so readily from brave to gone. But we like to call these, somehow, good deaths.
People almost die here all the time, and there are hero’s tales at the bar every night that end in toasting and another round and bragging and laughter, like little boys who have stolen something from the school gym. What doesn’t kill you here, does not necessarily make you stronger. It makes you lucky that you got away with being so brave.
Sometimes it makes you a voyageur. Journey-man. Rich in maybe not moral compass, but clairvoyance when it comes to the ways of mountains, creatures, waters, trees, wind, snow, heavy machinery. But still, even with intuition and bravery, in this country, there is an element of dumb luck to your survival. Put it this way: An agoraphobe doesn’t last long in this neck of the woods.
However you choose to describe us in death, there are a lot of ashes sprinkling the forest floors here, sent from not-so-brave, not-so-unlucky hands. Grief hits hard in our little valley. So many ways to live. And die trying.
Shocking then, when the mountains, lakes, rivers, and creatures and trees and machines seem unimpressed. Cold. Cruel. They didn’t ask us to be here. It’s we who came to them. We who invented some things that made it possible to go where we weren’t supposed to go in the first place. Helicopters. Boots. Polypropylene. But they don’t always save us in the end.
You fool.
You beautiful brave unlucky fool. You had a good death. You died with purpose. Doing what you loved. Getting after it, people like to say around here. We’ll say that about you. We’ll need to. We’re getting good at it.
But what will we say about the lives we lost this last day of winter? What will we possibly say?
The Jehovah Witnesses knock at my door and I hide and am glad I’ve got requiem blaring from my stereo. I might not be the only house today that is playing funeral dirges. I hide, still in my pajamas, still without breakfast or clean teeth, and hope they don’t get stuck in the icy steep of my snow-bermed driveway. Again.
Last time I had to spend an hour with them waiting for the tow truck to talk their sedan back from the ridge where it had attempted to jump, head first. I felt like my angle on Jesus might have embarrassed them a little. Trespassing against us, such as they do.
Today the flyer that prowls though the crack in my door has a strapping, well-fed on red meat, Jesus on the cover holding an immodest glass of wine. Blood. Lots of blood in this Jesus.
A car scratches down the driveway without snow tires. I peer out the door at my golden retriever, wagging his tail after it. He liked the man in the long wool coat with the shiny leather shoes. But wonders why he didn’t lean down for a quick good dog and a pat on the head like the UPS driver, the propane guy, the Culligan guy, the FedEx guy, the neighbor who delivers the eggs, the teenager who brings wood with his buddy, mid-winter.
And I wonder if the Jehovah Witness thinks he’s brave. All those doors and dogs. And today, all the dirges. Maybe doors will fling open today, and weeping young people will lift fists at his shiny shoes on their winter-strewn front stoops. Rage at his red-blooded Jesus and all his wine.
There is nothing that helps us with these deaths. They’re deaths we aren’t used to. We have nothing to frame them by—no sense to make of them– nothing that will gather us at the side of a mountain or have us huddled in the woods, somehow thinking about good ways to die. People who didn’t believe in God, are mad at God. People who did believe in God are mad at God.
We reach to out-of-towners for solace and understanding– who live near highways…busy highways…highways that bear commuters and constant chains of serious voyageurs—people who know that there are weak links every day in that chain. It’s their common practice to expect the ringing phone to bring them news they dread…but will swallow…eventually, or maybe even at once, as the way of the world. There will be a proper burial with just family and close friends. They’ll gather in churches, in black, ashes to ashes in a little urn. A party afterward where people will drink wine and plenty of them will get drunk and cry, but no one will talk about a good death. It’s a normal death. A normal tragedy.
Not this.
This was no regular death. This was no normal death. Not to us. Just because it happened on the busiest strip of highway we know.
So I’ll refrain from telling you for a moment more, how she died. They died. How our pregnant she and her thirteen year old son died. On the last day of winter. Here where we live. Because I can’t bear your reaction: Well, accidents like that happen. Dime a dozen. Still, tragic.. And then you’ll launch into all your people, lost on pavement.
I don’t want to feel so normal.
I don’t.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

I’ll add to Auden because it’s the only way I can imagine being brave right now, hiding from the solicitors in a snowstorm on this second day of spring:
Pack up the machines. The inventions.
Bring out the bears.
Wake up and beckon us.
Make us come naked. Without boots.
Make us see how far we can get. And watch us stop and cry.
Because it’s not so very far without boots.
Then comfort us where we fall. By wandering past us.
Sniffing our punctured, leaking bravery. And what’s left of our luck.
Tell us you don’t have the appetite for fools. Even beautiful ones.
Make us listen to the shivering birds.
Who’ve come back, knowing there would be snow and little food.
Make us listen…to the shivering birds.
And mourn now. Normally.
Shivering in the woods.
Knowing that spring will unravel now.
Whether or not we join it.

For however else can we understand a head-on collision on the highway? When a purportedly suicidal sixteen year old, in a fight with her boyfriend, catapults her Pontiac Grand Am into oncoming traffic, and hits a Subaru Forester, holding a pregnant woman, and her thirteen year old son, coming back from a band concert on a Thursday night. In Montana. mother and babe

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Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Stories

Inversion

inversion
Inversion
by Laura A. Munson

It’s lonely in February with just one woodpecker and a few chickadees against the grey. They call it inversion.
Our valley is flanked by the Whitefish Range—foothills to the Rockies– what in summer looks like a towering garden wall. Then winter rolls in from the Pacific Ocean and gets caught along its jagged edges; and we are sequestered here under a low ceiling of grey, from as early as October, to as late as June.
I don’t have the mind for winter much past the end of January. I can’t sleep that long. Day after day of this grey, socking us in, pressing us down, depriving us of vitamin D. I try to work with what is left—with what is not dormant. I become fascinated by paw prints—are those snow hare prints? Mountain Lion? Fox? I go out with a field guide and a ruler. Scat becomes a symbol of communion. Even the deer start to seem exotic. Crows, prophets. The raven, a mystic holy one.
I walk in insomniac circles in the snow to prove that I am alive. Is that the actual dirt of my driveway glinting through the ice? Does the pond look like it’s opening up in the middle—just a bit?
I force bulbs in my kitchen window, missing the wildflowers that
cover the hillsides from June on to the snows—the yellow arnica, the pink roses, the purples of the columbine, wild lupine and geranium, the orange of Indian paintbrush, the blue flax, and on and on until the violet of the asters. The bulbs in my window come up so wan, knowing they are decoys.
I become good with the mawl, splitting kindling, never enough in this undying season. Sometimes I split wood just to hear the echo. Maybe the woodpecker will answer. Maybe it will be a Pileated woodpecker—maybe there will be red in the trees.
It is fashionable to complain. I do not want to complain. I remind myself that it is this precise grey that keeps our valley free from over-development, our hillsides thick with Larch and Fir, Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine– not thick with the “rustic chic” of log-accented condos and private ski chalets. These are not Colorado winters bedazzled with sapphire skies and relentless “champagne powder” days. This is still the great Northwest; fertile and wet and dense. And grey. Perhaps that which is so fertile must sleep deeper. Longer.
I slap skins on my skis and hike to the top of the mountain, above the cloud level, just to see what has been procured for pilots and high-flying birds who’ve had the guts to stay. I strap on skis and climb through the grey to remind myself—my skin, my retina– that there is a color in this world brighter than my orange down parka.
The sheen off Glacier National Park is garish. Like a confection. The sun so sovereign. The sky so blue with infinity. My heart rises then sinks: How could we be so…neglected?
And I remember the gluttony of summer. Dipping hot feet into mountain lakes turquoise with mineral-rich glacial run-off, melting lotion into golden shoulders, waking with the birds at the exact blush of dawn, little bundles of fingers purple from picking huckleberries, emerald green peas in a silver pail.
Maybe I’ve got it wrong.
Maybe we are being protected from something that only the sky knows. Maybe the inversion is a great grey net, preserving us, somehow.
It looks so quiet below. Not sinister.
Yes, I decide. We are being preserved.
I breathe into the blue and slide back down under, and for a moment, as the world vanishes into vertigo, I feel free. Floating in-between acute wakefulness and sleep again; a part of the gentle hand of ozone covering us all these months, year after year.
And then it’s the valley again, cut off at the shins. The lake, a white footprint in the middle of it all. And again, I am on my front porch, chin to the grey, but I am thanking it now.
For however else am I to remember the welcome the wildflowers deserve?

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