Necessary companion to yesterday. Feel free to take offense.
1: The food
I irritate friends and coworkers almost weekly on this subject, but the thing I lament most often about Montana is not being able to get a decent Avocado for less than $1.25 and being able to count the acceptable eating institutions in a valley of 100,000 on both hands, with fingers left over. The former is a function of distance, and I presume lack of demand, but the later* is less easily explicable. The prominence of the exceptions to Montana = shit restaurants, and the fervor with which they are upheld by their devotees, only proves my point. With a few exceptions (Bernice’s, Sportsman’s Lodge, the Polebridge Merc under the previous owners) my most memorable meals have all been at home or in the field, and centered around wild game or fish. So go suck it Montana, and let me know when the 20th century has made it over from Wyoming.
*It should be noted that this does not apply to Montana breweries, of which there are many good ones.
2: The distance
As I noted yesterday Montana wins much by being far from population centers. The somewhat inexorable corollary to this is that a substantive change of scenery, when for instance the rainy fall doldrums have set in, is often a very long way away. 6-8 hours, or in the grip of winter even more. Lower latitudes provide more diversity of opportunity, especially when they’re associated with more drastic changes in elevation than most of Montana provides.
It also requires more time, money and effort for folks to visit you when you live in Montana, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
There is no way to have your cake and eat it with this one.
3: The dark
These last two are somewhat specific to our corner of the state, which has both the short days of early winter along the 48th parallel and occasional spells of Pacific-influenced drizzle and cloud. We also, in the valley, are frequently blessed with inversions of mist and fog off Flathead Lake, which during severe temperature gradients can be thick enough to necessitate fog lights and sub 40 mph speeds on the highway. In short, late fall and early winter can be tough, especially when all daylight hours are spent at work and the snow has yet to fall in earnest. Getting into hunting has made this much easier to bear, as by the time the season is over I’ve generally been so tired that I’m quite content to stay home in the dark, reading and cooking. Nonetheless, we miss southwest sunshine, when a cloudy day is so rare as to be an afterthought. Having it again will be a welcome return.
4: The white people
Of which I am of course one.
The Flathead Valley is sufficiently remote and uninviting (see above) that one needs a compelling reason to be here in residence. The most obvious, and in my book most trustworthy, reason is any permutation of hiking/skiing/boating/hunting/fishing. Most of the truly enthusiastic participants here are transplants, do more than one outdoor activity at a dedicated level, and are white. The second reason, and in my book the least trustworthy, is those who moved here “for the view.” I’d like to deport any Flathead residents who don’t drive east beyond West Glacier at least six times a year, it’d doubtless sort out the sprawl, hilltop eyesores, and continue degradation of the wildland/urban interface nicely. These people are also majorly white, and much more likely than average to be from California (an easy slur, but a true one). The third reason, which will be addressed in a forthcoming valedictory post concerning my professional life over the last six years, is that the folks in question were born and raised and due to the cathection of choice and circumstance cannot leave. Again, most of these people are white.
The dark side of all this is that the Flathead is an insular, insulated, often out of touch place. There’s a reason Richard Spencer chose to move to Whitefish a few years ago, and that reason does not do the area credit. I’ll miss the Flathead, I’ll miss the mountains in all directions, I’ll miss the clear rivers and the larches changing in October and the deer behind every third tree, and the many friends we’re leaving behind, but I will not miss the cynical utopia which is much of the valley, halcyon uncritical of a daily world which never was. The more I think about it, the stronger my conclusion that it probably isn’t the best place to raise a child.
Bye bye Montana, we’ll visit often but I doubt we’ll ever be back for good.