Just over a year ago I worked a full day at OHSU, boarded Tri-MET and conveniently jumped off a few blocks from Portland’s Amtrak station. Within an hour or two I boarded the Empire Builder train and undertook my overnight journey to Whitefish, Montana. I traveled without hand sanitizer or mask, and my biggest fear about the guy who got on and sat next to me later that night was the worry that he might snore. (See Hello Montana: How we connect.)
So much has changed since then. We are in the midst of a pandemic, uniting us with others around the world in a battle never before experienced by most of us. I think about my friend Ismar, remembering that sunny August morning of 2019 when I spontaneously sat next to him, freeloading an i-Pad charge, but instead of sipping coffee alone I bought this new English friend breakfast. We sat next to each other at the Echo Lake Cafe counter, swapping stories about cycling and writing, and a month or two later bought him a beer in downtown Portland as he shared “Montana to Oregon” cycling escapades. In today’s world of 2020, instead of reaching out to a stranger in impromptu dialogue we eye each other to ensure we are masked – not knowing for sure if a smile persists within its confines – while we question the safety of indoor eating. I believe deeply in the public health practices that are becoming second nature, even dreaming about forgetting to wear a mask or carry hand sanitizer, and yet…I am saddened.
While we wear cotton masks to screen out viruses, our eyes tear up as our beloved West singes by forest fire flames and our valleys smother in smoke, only later serenading rain drops in the middle of the night, rejoicing upon their arrival. Although the showers cleansed our air, they didn’t erase the worries we have about changing climate patterns, and the future of our forests, land and communities – though we acknowledge that funding and adopting forest management practices is part of an important future equation. In this year I’ve learned more about Amtrak’s pathetic response to some injured on its December 2017 Seattle to Portland train derailment, making me question whether it is ethical to support a convenient PDX to Whitefish trip in the future. Finally, the future of our country, politically and socially? Yikes.
And yet, this week I bask in the, albeit sheltered, refuge of Montana. Some may not know that I met my spouse of 32 years nearly 40 years ago in Missoula, Montana. I was finishing my senior year at UM as he began graduate work in geology. Me, an Oregon native of six generations had been eager to get out of Dodge, and fell in love with Western Montana, even choosing to be a Griz ball player for a couple seasons. Why not four? Oh, I already told that story: About that Husky Grudge.
Summer of 1990 found us living in Seattle – me pregnant and working for EPA Region 10, and Russ for CH2MHill, both of us ready to jet that city (we returned to my home roots barely a year later) and recognizing it to be the last time to find affordable property in Big Sky Country. We purchased this piece where we now regroup: camp, reduce fire danger and dream about what may be ahead. We missed summer by a month this year of 2020, too much work, fires and other excuses, but are fortunate to be here for a brief few days. Back then, soon after returning to Oregon it was easy for me to acknowledge that, yes I love Montana, but my deepest roots may always stay in Oregon, for good and for bad. Truly, I will never tire of this drive that weaves together so many memories between my two special places.
And here I sit surrounded by mountains, forests and bald eagles circling above. Oh, it is raining too, and a bit chilly to be truthful. In respite, for a bit. I feel guilty in the luxury of it, as if for this short bit of time all is as it was, before. Guilty for those of us who still have so much – to be able to take time and be in a safe and beautiful place – when so many cannot. Perhaps that is the lesson – how can we give everyone now, even for a few moments, a reprieve from the sadness, pain and hopelessness. Even in the toughest times, humans have used the gift of story telling and time with loved ones to refill the well. Now is the time for this, my friends. Now is the time to build up for what lies ahead.