Monday, April 2, 2018

Montana Again

We just returned from a week's stay in Bozeman, Montana - visiting our oldest daughter (Lara), who is a sophomore in range management and ecology at Montana State University. This was my fourth trip to Montana; it was the second trip for Emma and Sami. But it was my first trip in a season other than summer, and it gave me fresh insight into why Lara seems to fit in Montana.

As the saying goes in most mountain communities, "if you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes!" This seems to be especially true in the northern Rockies! I found the minute-by-minute changes in the forecast for Bozeman amusing - seems like the National Weather Service is as puzzled by springtime in the Rockies as we laypeople are!

Having only been in Bozeman in the summer months previously, I found that my expectations about crowds were based on a California perspective. Since it was the week of Spring Break for most high schools, there were a fair number of families visiting the town and the university. However, once we got outside of Bozeman (on a hike up Hyalite Canyon and a drive to northern Yellowstone), the crowds thinned out. The shoulder season (springtime in this case) seems to discourage all but the local folks (mostly) from venturing out of town.

Some of this, I'm sure, is a matter of population. Montana, according to a quick search, has a population of just over 1 million - as do San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego! Since Montana has an exponentially lower population than California, I suppose it's not surprising that we saw fewer people. That said, I think the difference is more than a numbers game. I think that many of us Californians aren't tough enough to live in places like Montana - or Wyoming, or Nevada, or Idaho, or Alaska, or.... Winter is real in these places - folks ignore winter at great risk.

Thank goodness! Thank goodness there are still places that are wild enough to discourage human habitation! Thank goodness there are still places where tenacity and perseverance are required to make a living from natural resources (which isn't to say it's not required in California, but the brown of early spring Montana stands in stark contrast to the green of early spring California). Thank goodness there are still places where my cell phone doesn't work!

Juxtaposed with our trip, I read an article while we were traveling about the Starbucks that recently opened in Yosemite. I found this news incredibly discouraging. And yet, on our drive through Livingston and Gardiner, Montana, and on into northern Yellowstone, I was equally encouraged by the fact (seemingly) that some environments are too harsh (even) for franchises. The fact that portions of Yellowstone National Park are inaccessible to all but the most intrepid backcountry enthusiasts for at least part of the year may be its salvation.

Driving home from the Sacramento airport on Saturday afternoon emphasized all of this for me. Despite my insistence that we live and work in a rural community in the Sierra foothills, I was astounded by the amount of traffic on the highway. We saw more cars between Penryn and Auburn on I-80 than we saw in our entire drive from Bozeman to Yellowstone, I suspect. Seeing Montana again, this time during the tail end of winter, helped me understand why my daughter loves living there. And I guess that's the point of raising kids, right?! I learn by seeing the world through their eyes!


  1. Hi Dan! Just wanted to have a chance to say Thank You for your Blog! I discovered it recently while searching for sheep farms and farmers around Placer County. You are the great inspiration! I wish you all the best in your activities and hope to meet you sometime!