Tag Archives: western

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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Winter Carnival 2011

Winter Carnival Parade on Central Ave.


Carnival Royalty


The theme: Superheroes. The Working Women of Whitefish hit it out of the park, as usual


This is not the story you think it is.


Dogsled Adventures free advertising-- got my first dog from these guys.

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Empty Boat

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Empty Boat by Laura A. Munson

I live for passion. But I oppose fanaticism, fanatically speaking. My mouth lashes against it with venom. Hot tears come catapult. My head swirls, tempestuous. It’s fight or flight. I usually flee, hot and wet, knowing that I have given yet another zealot power they don’t deserve, but require. From fools like me.
I live for passion, because without it, we denounce the gift of life. Some call it the gift from God. And bash you bloody with the singularity of their Almighty. When I read the words of Jesus in the Bible, I don’t see all their no’s for all his yeses.
Those who call their god, The Universe, seem to have a broader way, but usually not one I can peg down too well. I get lost in their crystals and moons and stars having some hold over the was’s and will be’s of my life. Truly, what is there to say to someone who believes there is only one way, and they are there to prove it to you?
The Chinese poet and sage Chuang-tzu speaks of a man crossing a river on a boat. As he navigates the waters, he sees another boat coming toward him. “Steer aside!” he yells to the person he thinks he sees, swearing and gesticulating. But Chuang-tzu suggests that that same fellow could relate differently with his world. That rather than raging and fighting against the oncoming boat, he might consider imagining the boat empty.
“Even though he be a bad-tempered man, he will not become angry.”
If it is an empty boat, there is no one to fight. He is not threatened, nor is he angry. It’s merely an empty boat. As the boat approaches, he skillfully puts out his oar to steer the other boat aside without collision or damage to either vessel.
Chuang-tzu suggests that we relate to the world from that openhearted emptiness that allows us to let control of the world go by not opposing the flow of what is. Through this sort of surrender, he suggests that we will come fully into being.
There have been two times I have truly emptied my boat. When my first child was born and when I watched my father die.
There, the option of opposition seemed impossible. My daughter was being pushed through the waters of my womb with forces I could not have stopped for all my might. My father’s chest, full of poison, rose and fell through the wind of a machine; unplugged, it simply fell and stayed there, as dead as my daughter was alive. Water. Wind. Empty boat.
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***
People fight a lot in the rural West, mostly about land.
The fight over land is an age-old battle. Just look at the Middle East. The quest for land is more than blood-sport; it’s what we can see of “god,” of “The Universe,” of the gift of life. Without land, we’re not fastened to our lives. We have no tangible roots. We have no place to do our loving. We have no place from which to gaze at our stars and feel as small as we know we are. No place for awe. No place for the awesome.
I don’t understand the Fundamentalist Christian Right who seem to forget that they were supposedly made from “the dust of the ground,” never mind “the breath of God,” and that in Genesis 2:15 the “Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” But I don’t understand the idea of praying for parking places, either.
I don’t understand the environmental activists who steal forth in the night with spikes and hammers to give trees the bite that will take out logger’s eyes, never mind the probable fact that that logger has a family and food to put on the table.
I’ve lived in Montana for twelve years now. I’ve sat at the bar with all sorts, listening to all fires, and not making much of an effort to put any of them out. Around here, it seems that one person’s fire is another person’s water. I have made it my work—my passion to understand “the dust” and “the breath” I was created by. To receive creation and my created self in it—that has been my journey. To be as open-boated as possible.
It has been a journey of open space. Of “wandering rights,” as Terry Tempest Williams puts it in her “Open Space of Democracy.” Of “stewardship,” as Wendell Berry puts it over and over again. It has been a journey of falling in love, with my “own back yard,” yes. But it must begin somewhere.
My backyard has been vast, surrounded by state lands on three sides. I’ve ridden my horse in the woods on trails blazed by the Flathead Indians hundreds of years ago, connecting their tobacco fields to their lodges down on the Flathead Lake—over a fifty mile trek, and galloped alongside of a migrating herd of elk along the way. I’ve roamed through Glacier National Park breathing in my lesser rank on the food chain deeply, with the very real chance of running into a grizzly bear, and I’ve returned home, my head screwed on as straight as it’s ever been. I’ve sat sequestered in my living room watching ash fall from the sky as forest fires rage ten miles to the west, and easterly winds blow thirty miles per hour straight toward us, missing us by a ridge. I’ve known people who have been trampled by avalanche, river rapids, rockslides, fallen trees. I’ve grown to understand these things—to empty my boat when they come.
But how am I to have an empty boat– a surrender between the brackets of birth and death– when the very thing that has taught me open-boatedness, is in full frontal attack?
Land.
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Thirteen thousand acres of state-run school trust land—lands surrounding Whitefish, Montana which have become our green belt, our Commons as Gary Snyder puts it– the place where we take our walks, let our dogs run, cross-country ski, snow shoe, ride horses, mountain bikes, show our children their first spiderwebs covered in morning dew—it’s all up for grabs to private developers. I thought we lived in a state which prized open space. Turns out the almighty dollar reigns after all, even out here, in what the developers call: “God’s country.”
I have been to meetings. People scream at each other. “Not in my backyard!” or shake their heads and come away saying, “Development happens. We can’t win.” It’s been years of Us and Them and I know people on both sides. All of them like to wander. You’d be hard-pressed to find any one of them, on either side, who wouldn’t stop and gasp at the sight of a buck rising from a field at dawn.
I’ve been quiet, trying to empty my boat. I don’t know how to do this without fighting. And I’ve been told, you don’t have to fight to win.
But there are gates. At the end of every trail, there are gates now. My boat is getting fuller and fuller every time my horse puts his nose toward our old trails and I have to steer him somewhere else, where there isn’t a gate. Soon we’ll be riding along the highway, dodging logging trucks and ousted deer.
One day a man chases me down with a pack of dogs and a gun—tells me that he’s just bought this land from the timber company. I tell him that the private land owner is protected from law suits by a governmental statute—that horse people are excellent stewards of the land, can help protect trails, keep high school partiers away, report vandalism.
He shakes his head and tells me I am not to trespass again or else. I eye his shot gun and choose not to tell him about the mountain lion den just over the ridge, the two black bear cubs that like to hang out in the stand of Grand Fir, and the sow who patrols the area with fierce pride.
The time for fanaticism has come. My boat is full. And so is the one approaching. I am hollering at the people, raising my fists, wishing their bow to hit ground and split open to bits. I cannot surrender my wandering rights.
At the local Farmer’s Market I am approached by our representative in House District 4. “You ride your horse on the state land trails, don’t you, Laura?”
I stop in my tracks, practically run to his side, stare him far too close in the face.
“We have a twenty-four month window to create a hundred mile long recreation trail system that would put the private and public sectors into a partnership. This sort of precedent has national importance. If we can do it, it could serve as a model for other communities poised for massive development.”
The private and public sectors shaking hands to a hundred mile trail system that will last forever. Gates flung open. Open space re-made holy for generations to come. “What can I do? Sign me up.”
“You can apply to be on the stakeholders committee which will work with the city of Whitefish and the DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation), representing as many user groups as possible. The user groups that don’t step up, won’t have a voice.”
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I have stepped up. I have submitted my application and I am waiting. Trying not to imagine the opposing boat at all, but to believe that such an Us/Us partnership is possible.
In my deepest open-hearted-ness, open-boated-ness place, I believe there is one way when it comes to land: it must somehow be open to the creatures that love it. Somehow. We must preserve our right to make contact with our kindred “dust.”
I see the opposing boat now. I only hope that when we are upon each other, we can shake hands.

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The Fire-fighter and the Grizzly Bear

firefighter

Laura A. Munson

The Firefighter and the Grizzly Bear
by Laura A. Munson

I sat next to a New York City firefighter this morning, at the café in town. He was visiting Montana; here to fish.
“Were you—you know…there?” I said.
He talked about it for a little while. I shook my head, speechless.
“So, where’d you go fishing?” I asked, trying to change the subject, for his sake, really.
“Someplace called Polebridge.”
“Oh. Up the North Fork. Beautiful. Did you have any luck?” I said, expecting the usual North Fork-sized grin.
“Are you kidding? I didn’t fish. With the grizzly bears? No way. I hardly got out of my car. Ended up at the saloon. I think I met the Unibomber’s twin brother.”
“Oh.”
His earlier words rang in my ears: fingers with wedding bands, briefcases with kid’s drawings perfectly in tact, melted running shoes… I lifted my coffee cup up in front of my mouth. “Well, the river is huge this time of year with the run off, anyway. Not the best time to fish. Did you get up to the lakes, though? Bowman? Kintla? They’re amazing with the mountains still snowy.”
“Well I had to go somewhere. There was a grizzly bear right behind my cabin. Believe me, I was outta there.” Then he pantomimed his rendition of a mauling. “But when I got to the lake, some guy told me there had been a wolf sighting, so I stayed in my car. And when I got to the next lake, there was a bear sighting, so I ate my sandwich, and headed back to the saloon.”
No, I begged into the arch that surely linked the two of our human brains together, somehow. Please don’t take that back with you to New York. Tell them you saw a grizzly bear and it was grand. Tell them it was just there, behind your cabin, munching on some grass. Tell them that for one instant everything came clear for you and you realized that not everything bigger than we are needs to be conquered, controlled, isolated. Tell them you felt in that moment, holy. That he did not attack you. And you knew, just for a flash, that there is grace in the world, that we cannot worship fear, that the hell you were apart of at Ground Zero, was washed in the hulk of this creature, that just wants to live. Just like you.
But I stayed silent, finishing my coffee. Maybe you can’t afford to see danger in beauty after you clean up after one man’s total betrayal of love. Maybe, after that, it’s one thing to see the man-made world for what it is, but another thing entirely to see the natural world for what it is.
“There were people actually riding their bikes around,” he said. “One guy was jogging! They’re nuts, man.”
I caved. “Those folks would probably say that taking a bike ride through bear country is a lot less dangerous than going to work in the Bronx every day, taking the subway, fighting fires.”
“Gotta do what ya gotta do.”
“I think those folks would say the same thing.”
“Yeah but you don’t have to do that stuff.”
“I know what you mean. When I first moved here I was scared to hike in bear country. And when I mustered up the nerve, I was always looking over my shoulder. Then I had a baby, and I used that as my excuse. But after sitting in my back yard all summer, knowing that Glacier National Park was only twenty miles away, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Now, I consider it a great honor to see a bear. When I lived in the city, I took the subway home late at night after work. Sometimes it was scary. But there are inherent dangers in everything we do. I guess I’d say that I have to be out there now. Bears and all.”
“I think that’s freakin’ crazy.”
“There are those who say they would rather be killed by a grizzly bear than in a drive-by shooting,” I said.
He just shook his head. “I got kids. It’s not worth it.”
“Me too. And I promise you that it is.”

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Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My Posts, Stories

Stop the Clocks

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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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The Pack Rat Ate My Patagonia

Fred
The Pack Rat Ate my Patagonia by Laura A. Munson

I have never wanted to kill something before. Trap it live, and then shoot it. Or drown it in a glacially chilled grave. That thing—with the pretty little well-appointed pink nest, with its self-important aroma and little be-jewelled leavings. You see, I am planning a surprise party for my mother’s 70th birthday at her suburban Chicago country club from my rural Montana post, and I really could give a pack-rat’s ass whether or not Mrs. Who’s-who will eat blue cheese. So flush—down she goes. Her and her kind. The kind that is currently camping in the engine of my Suburban. The pack rat that broke the good-daughter’s back.

How is one supposed to carry on sophisticated conversations with the club manager about roast suckling pig in a port demi glace with wild mushroom risotto when there is activity in the garage of architectural proportions? Thievery from diaper bags when I’m trying to sort out the soup course from the salad course? Pillage while trying to estimate how many martinis Mrs. Who’s-who is good for? I’m talking about what floral colors lend themselves to the Persian rugs in the Hunt Room with Roberto the botanical coordinator, and a rodent the size of a Corgi dog is scurrying past my toes with insulation from the garage to beat the ensuing night chill. He’s heard the temperature is supposed to drop to eighteen tonight. Probably because he’s been sitting on my couch with a Budweiser in one paw and the remote control in the other while I’ve been in my office ordering five dollar a piece balloons.
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The phone rings: “Laura dear, I’m going in for a little nip and tuck if you know what I mean, and I’ll be tardy to your mother’s big surprise ta-doo. So if you can arrange to have someone just spoon me into a chair for the party, I’ll be a definite oui to your respondez vous.”
At this moment, I am actually cradling a cordless in my neck, picking out– thumb to index finger– pack rat shit from my children’s car seats before I pick them up from school.
“Why of course, Mrs. Who’s-who, and by the way, do you like blue cheese?”
“If it’s Stilton, Dear. If it’s Stilton.”
It is then that I realize that my car smells like blue cheese. Like blue cheese atop a skunk canapé, served with a musk coulis.
So I run back in the house and I grab a stick of incense and light it off the cigarette burner while I’m mocking 90 down the highway so as not to be, yet again, one of those mothers who gets scowled at by crossing guards as she whips into the school playground fifteen minutes late. It is patchuli incense sent to me by my forty-five year old Deadhead brother who lives in a car conceivably better-smelling than my own, and I realize that my car now smells like a Grateful Dead concert, and I open the windows to get that smell out too.

My kids each have a friend coming over to play.
“What took you so long? Oh geez! This car stinks!” This four times.
“Get in,” I say, as a beer bottle actually rolls out from under a seat and clink clink clinkclinkclinks down the incline of the school parking lot. (I’m not sure I can blame this on the pack rat.)
A PTA mother looks at me, and ushers her perfectly clean child into her perfectly clean white mini-van.
“A pack rat is living in my car,” I say. Like that is an excuse.
It is at this point that I hear a sound– a pitter patter, coming from underneath my hood.
I get out, realize that I am not wearing a bra, open the hood with some odd posturing, and ploink– the damn thing evicts itself and slithers off into the soccer field, which is occupied by just about every kid in town, not to mention their myriad on-time type, non beer-drinking, non-pack-ratty parents.
I smile at them, hiding my pendulous post-breastfeeding chest behind my elbows, and pick out a pink nest of insulation from my car engine, replete with a few pieces of dog food, and one of my daughter’s barrettes. Then I cross the parking lot, and throw this vestige of Montana living, into the dumpster. It is here that my cell phone rings.
packrat
“Laura Dear, hi, this is Mr. Club Manager. Listen, we got your choices for hors d’oeuvres, and we think there might be a problem here.”
“Oh?” I say, slamming down the hood of my car.
“Yes, Dear. We noticed that you chose two Asian hors d’oeuvres. We think one is enough. Remember these people are WASPs. I don’t know how they do things out West, but in the Midwest, it’s still pretty much meat and potatoes, even at the Club. We would suggest the bacon and brown sugar.”
“Bacon and…what?”
“Brown sugar. Everyone in their crowd just begs for it.”
“What’s this black poo looking thing in my backpack?”
“Can we go—it stinks in here!” Times four.
“Laura, Dear? It’s your choice, really. I mean this is your party, after all—even if it is for your mother’s seventieth birthday. I mean everyone knows it’s a surprise party. So if you make a little mistake, they can blame it on you, if you know what I mean.”
“Huh?” I hear a squeal from the soccer field.
“It won’t be a reflection on your mother, is what I mean.”
“Oh. Okay. I guess you can exchange the Thai dumplings for the bacon and…brown sugar. Listen can I call you back?”
“Fine, Dear. But do call me back soonish. I still have to go over the color of the linens with you. The party is in a week. By the way, when do you arrive and what is your local number in case I need to contact you for any last minute details, like whether to serve during toasts or not?”
“Uh—I think my flight gets in mid-day on Monday. I’ll call you from the airport for any last minute details, because I’m…I’m going directly up to Wisconsin to visit a friend for a few days before the party. And she lives in a little cabin. And…and she doesn’t have a phone.” This is a lie.
“No phone? How about a cell phone number?”
“Uh—no cell phone service up there either. Kind of like most of Montana.” This is a lie as well.
packrat

“Mom! There’s that black poo-looking stuff in the baby’s diaper bag!”
Then the baby says, “Ewwww-ah.”
“And your fleece coat—it’s all—holey.”
“Hey—I’ve got a situation. I trust you guys. You do this all the time. I haven’t done it ever. And frankly, I think you know my mother’s taste better than I do. So– listen…you pick what you think is best. I’ll call to confirm…soon. Ish.”
I look into the back seat, and into the one nice thing I think I have left on this planet after two kids, two dogs, a cat and life in the country—it’s the Patagonia fleece my mother-in-law bought me last season. Just a little knock-about coat so you can look spiffy when you’re picking the kids up from school.
And I pick up my fleece, and hold it in the air, pack rat pellets falling off it as it lifts to the sun, and there is not just a little hole under the armpit, no– the whole thing is like a piece of polypropylene Swiss cheese.
That is when I open my mouth and these words come out: “This rat must die.” Then I spend five dollars of quarters at the car wash vacuuming out my car with a blaring Terminator-pitched hose so that all of the kids plus the baby say, “Whuuuht?” when I ask them afterward if they want to go for ice cream.
packrat

That night I take dry wall screws and drill them into the bottom of a rat trap the size of a flip flop. Then I mount it on a two by four and actually say out loud, to myself, “Ain’t nothin’ dragging that trap nowhere.”
Then I slather peanut butter on it and turn off the lights in the garage. “Nighty night.”
The next day there is nothing in the trap, but the inside of my car is covered in pack rat shit, and now, my other last nice thing—my $250.00 Pierre Deux diaper bag given to me by my mother’s suburban Chicago bridge group so you don’t feel frumpy, Dear carrying around all those horrible diapers and things—has a hole in the side of it the size of a softball.
I drop off the kids at school in a drive so silent, that they are afraid of me. And I go to the car wash, forgoing my hair appointment designed to assuage my mother’s comment on her last visit to Montana: can’t we do something about that hair of yours?
I am interrupted by a guy standing at the hood of my car. “Better be careful,” he says. “I just spent five hundred dollars fixing the wiring in my truck from a rat.”
The cell phone rings, then, in-between quarter-feeding rounds. “Laura, Dear, hi this is your Aunt Who’s-who (for some reason every woman in my mother’s bridge group refers to herself as aunt somebody—usually when they want something) “I hate to bother you Dear, but I thought I should let you know, Mrs. So-and So has her nose bent out of shape that she’s not included in the surprise party for your mother at the club. For what it’s worth.”
And standing there, holding the power vac, I feel my oats, because I actually say: “I’ll tell you how much it’s worth: fifty frigging bucks a head!”
Flash: a call waiting from my Deadhead brother: “Laura, hey dude, listen, I’m still a Vegan so like…could you make sure there’s something for me to eat at Mom’s party. Maybe some raw organic carrots and hummus at the cocktail party and like…a smoothie, maybe. I still do garden burgers so that’d be cool for dinner. Hey—and like is this a surprise…or does she know. Because I might have said something to her about it.”
“First of all, YES it’s a surprise! Generally speaking, a surprise party is supposed to be a surprise! And second of all, I don’t think the Who’s-who Club would know a smoothie, never mind a garden burger if it slapped them across the face, and third of all…” I can feel my heart beating in my temples. And it is here that I have a vision of my brother welcoming a pack rat into his Volkwagon van—befriending it, adopting it as a pet, feeding it lentils one by one, fastening a little red bandanna around its neck and naming it Magnolia Blossom. “And third of all…third of all…you can take your flippin’garden burger, and shove it up your–”
“Whoah. Hostility. What’s that about?”
“There’s a pack rat living in my car, okay? The pack rat ate my Pierre Deux diaper bag, okay? The pack rat ate my Patagonia!”
“It’s just a creature. He’s probably just looking for a warm place to get in from the cold. You should–”
“What? I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up.”
I beseech myself: Why am I trying to be the good daughter? At what point do we stop paying proportionally for our adolescences, never mind our births?
packrat

Another five dollars in quarters later, with no epiphanies to speak of and two more phone calls from my brother who is now trying to convince me to pass around a hat at the surprise party to fund his return airfare, I am at the hardware store again, investing in a live trap. Maybe he’s right. I am hostile. Hostile that this pack rat is making it impossible for me to go back for my mother’s surprise seventieth birthday party and look presentable. Hostile that I have offered to co-ordinate this party in the first place. Hostile that people get their noses bent out of shape, especially when they’re just going to go get it nipped and tucked anyway. Hostile that my mother can’t just fly out here for her seventieth and have a good old fashioned pot luc under a rain tarp with a keg and a DJ like everybody else in this country.
I buy the trap, put it in my car this time, bait it with a piece of old pizza and turn off the garage lights.
My ex-boss calls me later that night from a Christian conference in the deep South to tell me she is on fire for the Lord. I tell her about my pack rat. She says, “Jesus says you reap what you sow.”
Next morning at seven-o’clock, I am staring a terrified and noticeably cute little critter in the eyes, striking a deal. “I take you out in the woods, see…and you go make a nest in a nice old stump, see. I save your life, and you save mine, see. It’s a Jesus thing. Capice?”
packrat
And we go, me and my little doppleganger buddy, out to the woods before anyone wakes up. And I lift up the door. And he doesn’t go.
“Go on! This isn’t a Lassie episode! Get out of here. Shoo. Go! I know they don’t have Patagonia or Pierre Deux in the woods, but moss works just fine! You’re a rat! I’m the one with the WASP lineage to uphold. Go on! Git!”
And he goes then. Slowly, with stealth, at a royal’s pace, a little hobo stick over his shoulder, looking back once, his nose a little bent out of shape—he wouldn’ta cared, you see, if I double-Asianed his hors d’oeuvre choice, wouldn’ta cared, see, if I’d spooned him into a chair or hung him from a chandelier, given him a GD gardenburger or one of his own turds.
Aw shucks, little guy. Write when ya get work. It’s a cruel world out there. Ain’t it.

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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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Raven

Heart_Shaped_Rock

Raven
by Laura A. Munson

I know a woman who frequently finds hearts. In rocks, in the dish suds, in the shape of manure clods. She’ll say, “Laura! Come here.” And I’ll know that I am about to see some mystical arrangement of two curves, cleavage, and a point.
I know another woman who claims that whenever she begins a trip—in her car, on horseback, by foot, a hawk flies right across her path. “That’s how I know we are going to be safe,” she says.
I know a man who says that when he was a boy, his father told him that there was a magic place in the forest where there was a circle of trees. And if he could find it, and stand in the very center of the circle, he would get any wish he could dream up. So he was always walking around in the woods behind his house in northern California, in search of the Circle of Trees. He never found it. But now, as a man, in northwest Montana, he says that he cannot take a walk in the woods without coming upon a perfect circle of trees.
“Do your wishes come true?” I asked him.
“I’ve never made a wish there, actually. I just figure that the circle is, in itself, the proof that wishes can come true.”
I knew a girl when I was young, who was on the lookout for stones with perfect rings around them. “They’re good luck,” she’d say, squatting on the banks of Trout Lake in northern Wisconsin. She would pick them up faster than it took for me to imagine how a ring in a rock could have power; never mind believe in it. I wanted to believe—her bucket filling up with all that luck.
For a while it was blue sea glass. On the beaches of Lake Michigan. Green, white, and amber were abundant. Blue was hard to find. But not for me. Red was almost impossible, but I’d find red too. Then someone said, “Do you know what that is? It’s broken glass. It’s litter. Pollution. How can you find that beautiful?” So I stopped looking. Still, on beaches, I find blue sea glass. Put it in my pocket. Don’t tell anybody.
My daughter finds X’s in the sky. From airplanes. “Look, Mama. Another X. Isn’t it beeuuuuuuuuuutiful?” I don’t tell her that it’s exhaust from an airplane. She can find beauty wherever she wants.
Now, for me, it is the raven. Always a raven with audible winging, coming out of nowhere as if it is the same one, following me, flushing at my presence, performing its fly-by. It halts me. Reminds me to breathe deeply; say thanks.
My husband finds faces in coals. Usually late-night, around a campfire, when the fire has burned down and everyone else has gone to bed, and it’s just us. He is silent, staring. I know what he is doing. I leave him to his faces. I have never seen them. He says I look too hard.
I apologize to the coals. I assume I have not looked hard enough. I assume I should be the sort to see every design in all of Creation.
But I hear the winging; the raven being released into the night. So close I could reach up and let it skim my fingertips.
Breathe. Thank you.
I take a stick and poke into the coals, collapsing the faces I haven’t seen for whatever reason. I do not need to see faces, I say in my mind. I am the fire. The faces are me. I am not Narcissus of the fire ring. Nor an interpreter of Nature’s art. I do not need to see the designs as much as receive them when they come.
And still, there is the raven. And I wonder: are these things offered? Or are they beckoned.

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