Dear Montana,

It’s been one year.

One year that I’ve lived in your valley along the Clark Fork river, one year that I’ve lived in the West, one year that I’ve hiked up my skirt for your hillsides.

That’s a long courtship by my standards. Usually the caveats, bad habits and dirty laundry cut into the open by now.

Instead, you continue to woo me.

You arch your back of rock, pull me into your canyon veins, and peel me naked.

I sigh at the wildness of it all—the breadth of space between your spiny ridges.

And I inhale at the petals unfurling, the fields of wildflowers, the winged delicacy of it all.

You see, Montana, I told people back East, in those Adirondack mountains I came from not so long ago, that I’d return. I told them this was only temporary.

And here you are, wooing me at every turn.

Something happens to me here.

I wasn’t sure if it was because it’s a new place, a new set of mountains, or if it’s you in particular. Or perhaps it’s both.

Love confuses me in this way.

I came here.

You opened your bronze fields, and I suppose I walked into them unknowing, all barefoot and raw and in need of some topography to show me I was going to be okay.

Cherry Gulch held me loosely, pushed me up onto the ridge.It pushed my chest wide open.

I can breathe here in a way I’ve never been able to anywhere else.

This winter, I biked to class nearly every day in mild weather. And then, I would drive up onto your mountain passes, find five feet of snow on the trail.

I found your hot springs, and one morning after too many hours immersed, I swooned in the heat of it.

But I went back again and again, went back to find the water pouring out of the earth still hot.

Snow and ice and steam: It splits a woman like me. Splits her so she can see who she is once again.

Seven months in, when I thought I knew you, you surprised me with the smell of cottonwood buds after an evening rain.

Then came green hills.

The balsamroot, the prairie smoke, the lupine, the arnica, larkspur and penstemon.

I biked for miles with scenes like this.

I’m infatuated. We’ve always known this is the problem—my infatuations with places and flowers and hills.

I dream of roots. Of some place teaching me how to hold on, to set tap roots and fibrous roots like talons. But plants are fragile like this. And I’m not sure. Not sure if roots are ever that which we hope them to be.

Is it fair to say that you make me whole in some way I have not yet known, until now?

You are relentless in summer now.

Camping.

The rivers.

The bike rides.

My hair resurrecting the blondness of my childhood.

One Friday, I wrote at my computer until four in the afternoon. And then I found myself in a raft on the Blackfoot River until eight. On the way home, you thundered and hailed and swiped the sky with a rainbow before waxing the sky pink at sunset. At home, still hungry, we harvested vegetables and grilled bison.

The thing is, I’ve written love letters before. It’s not that I stop loving, as much as I decide to break free.

I’m not sure what this means for us in the long run, but you’re romancing me in ways I have never known.

I’m trying to be all non-committal about this, Montana. (I like to insure my word in that way.) But you’re making it hard. You’re too lovely.

Even now, you burn in places. You smoke the sunsets red.

But I’ve seen your burns and how they then bloom pink with fireweed.

I spent our one-year anniversary camping next to a stream in the Mission Mountains.

I slept on your ground, swam in your water, ate your huckleberries, and lengthened my heartbeat.

Tonight, I realize I am no longer waiting for the bottom to drop out.

Today you gave blue skies; a thunderstorm; the clouds inked their way through yellows, violets and bruised purples as the sun set; and tonight a pearl of a moon drifts outside my window.

We are just as we are.

We are here.

And that is the rooted beauty of it all.

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JENNIFER DUFFIELD WHITE is neither a flower child nor a wild child, merely a hybrid of the two. She was born in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, lived for several years in the Adirondacks, and she now resides in Montana where she field-tests mountain life and the writing life. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in publications including Narrative Magazine, Drunken Boat Journal, Witness, and Terrain.org. You can find her nonfiction in places such as Adirondack Life and Women's Adventure. She is a contributing editor to The Nervous Breakdown. Her website is here and she tumbles pretty photos here.

27 responses to “Dear Montana, I Thought You Should Know”

  1. adkmtns says:

    beautiful jenny! stings a bit, i love it. i’ve missed your tnb posts so much, i’ll read this 20 more times

  2. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Girl, I feel you on this one. Montana is beautiful. Sounds like it could be the real thing.

  3. Jude says:

    This is a beautiful love letter. Your resistance is futile against the beauty of Montana. I feel you succumbing with every line you write. Lovely…

  4. Irene Zion says:

    Jennifer,

    Montana never sounded so good.
    If I could stand the cold, I’d go there too.

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    Montana is one the places I’d really love to spend some time in in the States.

    The photos have really sealed the deal, but even without them, this would have been a wonderful capturing of it.

    When I make it over, you’ll show me the good places to go, right?

  6. You make Montana sound so sexy! You’re descriptions are lovely as are the pictures.

    Your love affair sounds steamy and long lasting. Weird how sometimes places we’ve never been can end up feeling more like home than home, huh.

    And love your dog, by the way. The oldies always tug at me.

  7. Thanks Colleen. Places always surprise me. I hope your new home in Florida also holds such surprises.
    And yes, my dog is king of tugging at heartstrings.

  8. Sara H says:

    I live in Montana (Great Falls, also spent a couple years in Missoula), so maybe I’m biased when I say, Yes, stick around.

  9. Erika Rae says:

    Jenny – I was stoked to see you had posted and I’ve gotta tell you, I am anything but disappointed. So raw and ripe and…sexy, this post. Just gorgeous. And now that I’ve met you, I’m even able to put the memory of your pure soul behind this.

    I loved this line: Snow and ice and steam: It splits a woman like me. Splits her so she can see who she is once again.

    Lovely.

  10. Yvona says:

    Wow… I still love your writing. How’s school? When do you finish? How are the novels coming?

  11. Zara Potts says:

    Beautiful.

  12. Judy Prince says:

    Jennifer, unfortunately, my eyeballs won’t tolerate this post because the little caret symbols which should close the html commands haven’t been inserted in the right place.

  13. Matt says:

    Damn, but that’s some awful pretty country.

    Nice words too, Jennifer. Wouldn’t mind being written a love letter like this one damn bit.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Oh how in love I am with this piece, Jennifer! And with Montana. I lived in Dillon near the Beaverhead River for four glorious years, and I have every intention of working my way back there. I hope you enjoy every minute of it, and thanks so much for giving me a much needed taste of the last best place.

  15. Carrie Simpson says:

    Jenny,
    This was absolutely beautiful. I wished I had sat down and written out my love affair with Montana. I will be passing this on to some Turkish friends to help describe the enchantment, the magic of Montana.

  16. jonathan evison says:

    . . .yup, beautiful country . . .used to live in missoula, and spent a lot of time at glacier, flathead lake, yellowstone . . .thanks for bringing me back!

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