In early winter 2008, I was living in Manhattan (the big one) and scheming a move to Boulder, Colorado for massage therapy school. When I told my boyfriend, who I’d only been dating a few months, he said he’d happily go west with me. I hesitated to put that kind of expectation on a new relationship, and I deferred my enrollment for a year.
In the meantime, a couple of things happened. I ended things with my guy, and I met stage five burn-out on NYC. I visited Montana the following fall to help my brother with his transition from civil engineer in Texas to chiropractor in the middle of nowhere. I offered to come and work for him for a while, and he offered me a job. A few weeks later, and a few dozen trips to FedEx in “the car” with what seemed like a hundred boxes of my stuff, I had condensed what was left (after mailing the majority to my parents’ house) into a suitcase and a pet carrier. I traveled back to Kansas, unpacked and resorted my things, bought a Jeep, and set out for Montana.
I’d made arrangements by email to rent a tiny, A-frame apartment attached to the main building (the owner’s home) in a trailer park — the only rental unit in town. The current tenants decided to extend their stay, and the deal was off the table. For the first several weeks, I stayed with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew in their cabin in the mountains, until one of our patients at the chiropractic office suggested he knew a couple with a mother-in-law cottage that might be willing to rent it to me as a favor. Soon after, I settled in to their fully (retro) furnished guest house. The main house and guest house had been designed by the original owner, an architect, and his pianist wife. The main house was designed around a baby grand piano. The couple who lived there when I moved in were EMTs.
My place was a few miles from Belt, where I worked with my brother, in a little community called Armington. We were right off the highway, and since there were few places to run that weren’t snow-packed, I went running on the railroad tracks that ran less than a quarter mile from my door. A few hundred feet the other direction from my house was Belt Crick. I learned to appreciate central heat that winter, as some mornings the temperature was -30 F plus wind chill.
On the advice from my brother, I had a device installed under the hood of my Jeep to keep the oil from freezing overnight. In the evening, I’d plug it into an extension cord that ran to my house, and in the morning, I’d unplug the Jeep before driving to work. (Some of you from colder climates are, I’m sure, used to this practice, but it was novel to me.)
We had several feet of snow at a time. Then the Chinook winds would carry warm air into the valley and melt it all. A few days later, more snow.
I didn’t have cable — or internet, for a while — so I rented $1/week DVDs from Hastings in Great Falls once a week and completed my first-ever show binge on my MacBook: Friends, Seasons 1-10. I also broke out the Billy Blanks Tae Bo DVD I’d purchased years before but never used. I side-kicked and upper-cut in my living room to keep myself sane.
I kept my nephew, then 2 years old, a couple of times a week, sometimes over night. At the first distant whistle of the 11pm or 3am train that passed by, he would bolt upright in bed, wide-eyed and panicked, arms outstretched to me, crying out to be carried to the window to watch the train. God forbid I didn’t jump and hurdle through the house fast enough, for it would take an hour to soothe him back to sleep if we missed the train. When we did make it to the window in time, I’d place him on a kitchen chair. He’d stand facing the window with wonder-filled eyes, sucking his thumb. Gradually, he’d find his way into my arms, leaning his head on my shoulder. By the time the caboose passed, he was heavy-lidded once again.
We watched a lot of Finding Nemo and built blanket forts under the kitchen chairs, where I read to him before bed.