Christy gave the three of us this assignment. It's very simple: Memories of Montana.
Christy recalled a trip to the Ross Creek Ancient Cedars through pictures she took, here. Carol wrote a romantic memory involving her husband Paul, here.
Christy gave us this assignment because she and Carol and I plan to go on a sibling outing to Montana right after Thanksgiving. I think we'll knock around in Missoula, go to bookstores, eat some food, drink a little local beer, and take pictures.
The second I read this assignment, I went back to my favorite of all summers, the summer of 1992, when I drove from Eugene to Kellogg by heading east, then north, and then west to Kellogg. I spent a majority of those days in Montana, much of it on Richard Hugo tour, visiting places Hugo used as settings for poems he wrote.
I have written several times about this tour: here, here, here, and here. I've decided not to write about it again.
But, I will begin by referring to a Richard Hugo poem, "Driving Montana". If you know Hugo's poetry at all, you probably recognize the first line of this poem: "The day is a woman who loves you. Open." And you might remember this way that Hugo wrote about the openness of Montana: "Never has your Buick/found this forward a gear."
Those times the Deke and I have driven across Montana, we didn't have a Buick, but first we were with Molly and Patrick in a Toyota van and later we drove across, both directions at different times, in our Subaru.
The last time we drove across Montana, the miles and miles of open land stretched out before us like the uncertain future we were entering.
As we sped on I-90 through Missoula and climbed out of Butte over Homestake Pass and the Continental Divide, headed toward Bozeman, I thought about the West we were leaving behind.
No longer would I be looking east from certain spots in Eugene and see the white-topped peaks of the the Three Sisters and no longer would I hear the Subaru gasp a bit for air at elevation going over the Rockies.
I realized that as we headed out of Bozeman, that eastern Montana, just as eastern Oregon had, afforded me not only a place to let my physical vision stretch as far as it could, but these open spaces gave my mind room to wander, to ponder the grandeur of plains and ranches and room to roam.
We were leaving the landscape that had become the idea of West inside me. We were leaving those purple humps and the endless wind towers on the Columbia; we were leaving the coulees and mesas and buttes cut into the land by ice age floods in the Inland Empire; we were leaving the endless rolling hills of the Palouse; we were leaving the mighty dunes of the southern coast of Oregon and mighty waves crashing against boulders on the northern coast. The great expanse of eastern Montana, where almost all I had to do to drive was keep the car going straight, gave me time and the chance to let the images of waterfalls, powerful Coast Range creeks, abundant wetland herons and cormorants, and moose crossing the river road of the North Fork of the CdA fill my mind and let the reservoir of nostalgic images begin to fill.
Driving across Montana, the expanse of land gave way to an expanse of thoughts, of anxieties, of hopes, of curiosity, of faith that leaving the open spaces and towering places of the West for the thick forests and crowded roadways of the east was going to work out.
In July of 2014, driving across Montana made me wonder if the Deke and I really knew what we were doing as we moved east. But did we know what we were doing when we drove Molly and Patrick across Montana, across the country and back in 1998? Did we know what we were doing when we headed out with Maggie and Snug and drove across Montana on our way across the country to Cincinnati, western North Carolina, and back again to Chicago/Western Springs/Arlington Heights? Did the Deke know what she was doing when she took off across the country with Patrick and Maggie and Charly in 2009, driving to New York, flying to Texas, ending up in Arlington Heights, and calling me to fly to Chicago and drive her back to Oregon -- across Montana?
In the geography of my mind, my long and expansive and restless thoughts are the Montana inside my head. I love this metaphysical Montana inside me, just as I love driving the physical Montana, whether on my way across the country, or, as will happen in November, I'm with my sisters on the way to Missoula.