Feels good to be back in Montana in the springtime. One thing for certain, spring in eastern Montana is reliably brown. Other places, other climes, daffodils are popping up their cheery heads, lilacs are readying up to perfume the countryside, trees are greening.
We, who identify with this north country, appreciate brown hills with intermittent bluffs of gray. Modest glaciers of white bury the north slope coulees. The calendar may declare spring. We know better. Winter will hang on with cold fingers and at least a couple more feisty snows before its icy grip wanes, allowing spring to loose a brief bounty of beauty.
Feels good to be back. Never mind that I’m suffering constant chill, having acclimated to consistent winter of temperatures in the high 70s, low 80s. Long underwear, two shirts and a sweater along with a lap blanket help insulate my cold bones.
This morning I look out my window to an overview of the stark magnificence of the Yellowstone badlands. I love places. My trip back to Montana has included a feast of places: half the length of Mexico, Arizona east to west, poke into California, through long Nevada, chop southern Idaho, Montana blanketing the state. I pull off the road frequently; simply sit and soak up impressions of the countryside. Feeds my soul.
People in our lives come and go. Some are brief encounters like the family in a restaurant in Nogales, with whom I shared pictures of my grandchildren while they shared their sprouts, a yearling boy and a 2-year-old girl with a mop of black curls. Or the café in Wells, Nev ., for the best coffee, down home food and friendly faces who greeted me as if I were an old friend. I’ll never see them again, but I’ll not soon forget them.
More than anything, this trip is to see people I care about. I detoured through Arizona to spend a day with Donna and Duane. Donna is one of my high school friends. It is strange how most of us were so self-centered in high school that the world revolved around “me” and I never really got to know “you.” Donna says, “Thank goodness we grow up.” And she means it. I treasure my friendship with Donna.
In Floweree, Karen and I made summer plans for day trips, for our high school reunion, plans for painting and gardening while I camp with her. Karen and I are like a pair of mis-matched old shoes, a little run down but comfortable and we fit.
Shirley is a cousin I never knew growing up but in the last several years we have come to know one another and to forge strong family bonds. Much of our conversation, as we shake our heads and roll our eyes, boils down to discussion of family traits, some we’d like to ditch but we are stuck with — things like stoic stubbornness, a critical eye and serious mien. I like to think we balance those with generous hearts, quirky humor and family love.
While staying with Shirley in Harlem, I crawled out of bed in the wee hours each morning to have coffee with the boys at City Shop, just like I used to do. My cup still hung on the nail on the wall. I filled it, took “my” chair and eased into the conversation as though I’d never left. At breakfast with good friends, Mayor Bill and his wife, Mary John Taylor, I felt the same easy welcome. I’ve been places where a six-month absence made me a stranger. That is not so here; I’ve been away, but I never left.
Glendive is home to my daughter and her family. My granddaughter Toni was a fish in another life so my stay in a hotel with a pool makes me her favorite grandma this week while the hot-tub gives me a chance to heat my blood for the next leg of my journey. To say we are having a good time is understatement. When I return for the summer, my other granddaughter Lexi and I will ride the train from Seattle to Wolf Point so the young cousins can play together a few weeks.
When I get to Havre this week I’ll cram in a flurry of visiting with friends. People and place. Both are made up, molecule on molecule, sticks on stone, of stories. For me, stories are what life is all about.
I hesitate to ask, but, “Would you please turn the thermostat up a couple degrees when I arrive? Seventy-five would be a nice minimum. Oh, and a humidifier, please. Any hot air will work. I appreciate it.”
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She found, upon her return, that things are a little different. Now, she's headed on a new journey. She moved to Mexico. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)