Smoked In: Portraits

“That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality–your soul, if you will–is as bright and shining as any that has ever been….Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”
― George Saunders

In winter, a frozen fog shielded us from the sun almost entirely. There were days when I was curled over my steering wheel watching for the yellow lines on the roadway, staring directly overhead at lunchtime and seeing the smallest pale light fight through what seemed like a globe of haze. Today feels similar, though I stand in the yard barefoot and in a sleeveless shirt and I’m looking at a blazing red eye in the sky. Alas, this means the blue bird days of summer are behind us.

This bittersweet season feels more like the romanticized writings of summer in novels―captivating, sweep you off your feet, dare to do anything, sun bathe naked, walk barefoot, and then…fleeting, gone. The nights are crispy now, cold only moments after the sun tucks itself away. I’m not sure if there has been one day this entire year that I haven’t worn a sweater in the morning or at night. So in Jackson, on the way back from our honeymoon, I buy another sweatshirt and wear it religiously. On the back it says Adventure is Worthwhile and it sort of feels like a get well soon card: Just ride it out for those really great days. It’s so worth the deep freeze and the choke of smoke. Love Always, Montana.

It’s funny how the portrait of yourself changes along with your lifestyle or landscape. Most evenings I sit with my feet perched up on our coffee table and I always notice the small brown dots just beside my ankle bones―evidence of a life I left in NYC, wearing ruby red heels that nagged me all day long in this particular spot. It’s been over two years now since I’ve gone and my feet, along with my whole being, are thankful. I’m the girl in boots, even at magazine meetings, and jeans and I’m fueled by iced London Fogs and―if it were healthy―chicken and waffles. I’m 26, I ride horses by day and write/edit for a magazine by night and days off. I’m a religious reader of high brow fiction, I love a good baseball cap, and there’s nothing like a good clean house before watching TV with Chris each night.

So we are here, going about our business with whirlybirds overhead, all of us against the dreary end-of-the-world backdrop of fading grays.

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ME: Writer, blogger, farm mom, cowgirl, wife, sister, friend, aunt.

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CHRIS: Structural Engineer, farm dad, snowboarder, gym-goer, pasta and pastry enthusiast.

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Lucy & Raven, our sweet girls.

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Evening chores…

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Selfies with Timber. What a lover!

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All grown up!

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Willoughby, chowing down on dinner. 

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My heart!

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Our cape cod style farmhouse, my pride & joy. 

Domestic

“If you have not touched the rocky wall of a canyon. If you have not heard a rushing river pound over cobblestones. If you have not seen a native trout rise in a crystalline pool beneath a shattering riffle, or a golden eagle spread its wings and cover you in shadow. If you have not seen the tree line recede to the top of a bare crested mountain. If you have not looked into a pair of wild eyes and seen your own reflection. Please, for the good of your soul, travel west.”
― Daniel J. Rice

My favorite part of camping is seeing the highway on the way out. Funny, but true. I’ve never considered myself a “camper” by any means. My fight or flight instincts start to stir at the thought of it and all the what-ifs rush in: what if a bear comes into our tent? What if a forest fire rips through? What if our truck doesn’t start and we have no cell service? What if something happens to one of us?

Camping and anxiety are just one of the same to me, and when I think of our friends―those who backpack into the wilderness for days or weeks on end―I think of them in a dreamy light smiling for an REI advertisement, jealous that I can’t wear the same look of ease.

Our kind of “camping trip” is laughable. It’s Chris and I and our horses and dogs, several forgotten things, an air mattress and one night away from home. It’s laughing at our own expense until our bellies ache, and filing into the truck at 2:30 a.m. because a hole in our air bed let all the air escape from beneath our bodies. It’s also realizing that two labradors can’t fit alongside us in our cab and pumping the air bed once more and riding out the rest of the night overtop the inevitable slow leak. It is as if someone has dropped us in my unimaginable nightmare―alone in the woods without a plan.

But these things we shared: an evening on the river, fishing, rock sitting, laughing. Wading in and out with our labradors and throwing the tennis ball to Derby until she and it were a caked muddy mess. Fetching our horses water and making ourselves some “college budget” wraps, a stumbled upon favorite from when Chris and I were in school―peanut butter and chocolate chips. Chris helping me into the truck when all else was packed up and the horses were loaded because I was feeling like a truck had accidentally struck me amid our overnight failing after being thrown from a horse twice the day before. Our fun is sometimes dangerous, sometimes unplanned, sometimes a complete undoing of sorts but nevertheless, we were together, in shambles and tremendously in love.

Happy Monday, readers. Love always, the Montana Domestics.

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Beatin’ The Heat

“When I feel the heat, I see the light.”
― Everett Dirksen

The mornings have been short stints of perfection: the sun is hung up in the sky long before I wake, the air is cool and still, the grass is damp with dew, and the deer―sometimes dozens―are disappearing from their night in the neighboring hay field. Every morning I wish I had thirty extra minutes to just sit on the porch and enjoy the peace of it all before the day (and heat) kicks in, but of course I’m too exhausted to get up earlier, having spent most nights staying up too late to watch the 10 p.m. sunset and awaiting the roll of evening air―my cue to open all the windows in our home.

Last night our line of towering poplars swayed with the wind, their leaves rustling while the goats stretched for another branch they couldn’t reach. The horses’ tails were at rest, a respite from the daytime swarm of flies, and the chickens were perched outside their coop. It’s moments like these when I feel like summer is a babysitter. It’s telling me not to worry, all is well, go have fun. It’s our great reward for surviving winter on our own, each of us battling it from a different angle.

The hottest part of our day comes when we both return home from work, so we’ve been frequenting the river access in town along with few other like-minded people (and their dogs!). Timber and Derby LOVE the water. Timber is more of a wader and Derby will swim to the bottom of the Atlantic if it meant retrieving her ball. We’re beatin’ the heat and enjoying all sorts of free fun that’s available here.

Tomorrow we leave for our first overnight camping trip with the horses and dogs. I’m a little nervous but mostly excited. I mean, what could go wrong with hauling over two thousand pounds of babies into the woods for a night? We’ll be at a poplar fishing hole north of us, equipped with horse pens, and we’ll be feasting on cold foods since campfires are a no-go in stage two fire restriction areas.

Happy weekend, readers! I hope to have some fun camp photos to share next week!

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Back home, watching the smoke steal the sunset.

Wilder Still

Your face seems kind. But your eyes – they’re beautiful. They’re wild, crazy, like some animal peering out of a forest on fire.” – Charles Bukowski

As everyone else is talking of fall and circling our only gas station on Main Street with a sweat slicked face, bitter, I have the summertime glow – you know, the kind that I imagine pregnant women have.

When it was negative twenty degrees and I could barely blink without it being painful I would dream of days like today. Golden brown, hot air on my face. There’s even something dreamy about writing of summer, too. Bare, bronzed skin, jumping in any icy cold ditch and being completely dry moments later. We have but little time left, Montanans!

And so with the heat we’ve inevitably come upon fire season. So far several (we can only see two from our place) are controlled lightning burns, causing our skies to wear the smudge of smoke across our valley. Thankfully our air hasn’t been compromised, yet. We’re still clear blue and beautiful, watching from a distance.

Our little corner of the world is the same as it’s been. Our pastures are ever ticking with irrigation sprinklers, the horses are ever munching on what grass we have left, the goats are sunbathing, the chickens (minus our Fiona, who was grabbed by a family of six foxes that have settled in our log pile) are pecking along for a few short hours per day, careful not to fall victim to our uninvited furry guests, and the dogs are enjoying the cool of our home brought in through the windows each night.

The fox problem has been a thorn in our sides, letting light touch the dark places I never knew existed in me before. We decided to purchase a rifle on the way back from our honeymoon and face the issue head on. And so we sit, every evening, and watch. We’re always chased out by the loss of light. They wait for the drape of night to fall and award them another hunt. Sometimes they wake us with their calls echoing through the midnight air.

Ever since we planted our roots in Montana I’ve been on a learning curve. It’s challenged me physically and mentally. The circle of life and how to coexist with animals and the land in this wild of a place is so apparent here. It’s unavoidable. It’s made me rationalize, it’s a steady hand balancing the scale of love and fury, it’s mourning every loss, and appreciating the smallest, simplest of gifts. Whenever I think I might have it figured out, Montana shows me that it’s wilder still.

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Smoke blowing across the valley from the Bitterroot Mountains

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Waist high grass, because it’s heaven

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Our rescue girls, how sweet are they?

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Into The Wilds Of Love, We Go

“The love between humans is the thing that nails us to this earth.”
― Ann Patchett, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Sitting here, home from our honeymoon and waiting for the heat to fall beyond the Bitterroots, I’m scrambling for the right words to describe these last few weeks, and struggling. I’ve written about our wedding day in my head, over and over. June 24th was my most searched weather forecast. It was lists on my computer, on sticky notes, on my phone, in text messages to Chris. It was a day I’d prayed for and hoped for, prepared for, right up until time swept me sideways and had me hugging friends and family in our driveway – moments I’d already done in my mind a million times before this day.

And so it was a clear blue big sky day in Stevensville, Montana the day I married Christopher. As if by magic, our finished barn stood tall above nearly one hundred guests and the man my father found six years prior, by complete chance, told our story in a way no one else ever could. My mother walked me down the aisle, our dogs wandered around passing out love, tears almost choked us on our words. We bowed our heads and prayed for our future and today we wear rings the way most married couples do. We danced, we ate, we danced, we held tight and fast to everything at once.

I think that’s the struggle with writing about a day of this magnitude – it’s as universal as McDonalds but yet I beg my fingers to tell it differently, say it in a way that’ll make you feel the love and magic, kind of life telling a joke you can’t quite remember the sequence of. Anyway, there is a story I share every Father’s Day – Nobody’s Son – about an author whose father had died. It’s probably my favorite story, ever, and it’s terrifically sad in the way that makes me appreciate how a universal truth can suddenly drop a pin on a specific life in specific time. Mark Slouka writes, “It doesn’t get more ordinary than that – the dying part, at least. Except that he was my father.” 

I won’t try to drop a pin today. Instead, I’ll leave you with these photos of our day and our post wedding trip to Glacier National Park and our honeymoon shortly after, to Yellowstone National Park and Kelly, Wyoming. The beauty of these days, like our love, is undeniable, unescapable, unwavering.

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PC: JENuine Photography

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PC: JENuine Photography

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Boat ride on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

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Old Faithful!

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Bull Elk sighting right off the roadway in Yellowstone

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Golden Eagle spotted in Kelly, WY while ATV riding

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#yellowstoneexperience #animalsfromcars

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The falls at the Yellowstone Canyon

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The Grand Tetons still sporting their white caps

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Moose on the loose, outside of Jackson, WY – first bull moose sighting!

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Soda Lake

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That Wyoming sunset…

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Two grizzlies at the bear & wolf sanctuary right before the West Entrance of Yellowstone

Lost & Found

“The fear of loss cannot outweigh the joy of life.” – Lana Linhart

My little hiatus from blogging wasn’t planned. Life, living, the heat, oh God the beloved heat, and the sunshine – they swooped down like a red-tailed hawk and swept me clear away. They say it takes winter to appreciate summer, bad times to make the good times sing, and heartache to know when the heart is full. I can’t argue with they but I do think I detoured into the wild of my own mind this past winter, losing – almost completely – the feeling of sweet joy, of anything at all being effortless.

And of course I threw myself a few punches for taking it all for granted, sometimes having to actually say these words aloud: you have legs and arms and a beating heart, legs, arms, beating heart, legs and arms and a beating heart. It seems silly to even think of this now, sitting on my back porch, bare skin to the sun, sprinklers ticking their way across the infinite acres before me. It’s a dream, heaven here on earth.

This morning I woke before Chris and stumbled out into the sunlight straight from bed. The chickens, all grown now, were chasing bugs and paired up, exploring. The horses and goats came trotting to the fence to greet me and stayed a while, Lucy letting me kiss her on the nose the way she always does. However silly it may seem, I’ve learned that in order to be truly found, you have to get a little lost.

On a morning like today’s, several weeks ago, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a photo on the Women Who Farm page of a woman and a goat, the text was a story of loss and it nearly brought me to tears, hitting too close to home to this lifestyle. The last sentence was this one: “Because at the end of the day, the fear of loss cannot outweigh the joy of life.” These were the words I needed months ago, as a reminder that joy will always tip the scale, always.

So here we are, 10 days out from summer, I’m about to marry my best friend in less than two weeks, completely lovesick with the sun and heat, horsing around and holding tight to these words from Lana.

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A barn of our own, almost complete.

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Trip 2, wasted hay.

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“Can I get in?” #getinthelift

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I think he was always a cowboy.

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The love, oh the love.

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Willoughby, being his usual flirty self.

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Future Mr. & Mrs.!

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The original “baby”. My sweet Raven.

Home In The Mountains

“I’m a person of the mountains and the open paddocks and the big empty sky, that’s me, and I knew if I spent too long away from all that I’d die; I don’t know what of, I just knew I’d die.” – John Marsden

Today, Monday, it is 75 degrees and the sky is dressed in its best shade of blue. The past three days have been the same, gradually warming and slapping my skin with a nice late spring tan. My friend Julie, who I guided horseback riding adventures with last summer, came down from Kalispell to go to work with me on Friday. We saddled up and rode the hills and all at once I forgot how easy it is to take these days for granted. Riding and writing, riding and writing…

We camped at Sanders County Fairgrounds on Friday night in the pickup right next to my girls, who were lucky to have stalls and not stand tied to the trailer. Saturday morning we hit the trail with 148 other riders and saw every variety of tracks and scat but no glimpse of the wildlife who left them. Getting home, after two blown tires (one overdue and the sun-rot spare) and belly-hurting laughs laughter, was perfection. It was front porch sitting, tennis ball throwing, goat and horses lounging in the sun, lawn mowing perfection.

And just like that, the weekend is over and we’re back in the race to our wedding date next month. It’s all talk of flower vases and cake stands and lengths of table linens. This trail riding trip was meant to be a commencement of sorts to our season of riding but it looks like the next several weekends (and weeknights) are spoken for – sanding and painting a vintage table and windows, pouring concrete for our alleyway in the barn (wedding dance floor), ordering the barn roofing supplies, Chris slaving away on the trusses to finish off the barn, and finding him the perfect tie to wrap up the end of our preparation.

Happy Monday, readers!

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Atop a mountain ridge in Plains, MT with Lucy

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Looking West from our wedding ceremony spot

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Front porch daisies

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Looking North, my favorite tree on our property

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My head-deep huntress, Timber, finding some moles