Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Montana. The Big Sky Country. The Last Best Place*. My home. You may think it strange that I would call a place I haven’t lived in for almost 40 years “home” but those who have lived there understand. Montana is in my bones, in my very soul. It is part and parcel of who I am. I wasn't born there, but I was formed there. Let me tell you about it.

I was actually born in Pueblo, Colorado, but I remember nothing of that place, since we moved to Montana when I was a year old. My father was born in Montana, however, and lived there until he joined the army for WWII. His DNA was forged in Montana, and he passed on that DNA to me!

In 1958 we moved to Great Falls, Montana, on the Missouri river. (The ‘great falls’ were named as such by Lewis and Clark on their journey. There were 5 waterfalls along that stretch of river – I say ‘were’ because they are all dammed now – but they are still beautiful.) The mountains of Montana were literally life-giving to me: I grew up drinking the (purified) water of the Missouri, water fed by mountain streams. I drank the unfiltered water of Giant Springs – a large spring just outside of town that flows into the river. Its waters seep from the mountains hundreds of miles away, taking decades to reach the cracks in the earth’s crust to bubble to the surface. We would ride our bikes down to the springs and fill our canteens (these were the days before water bottles!) and spend the day hiking around the area, maybe catching tadpoles in the springtime.

Just as the waters fed me, the landscape helped form me, as well. None of our relatives lived in Great Falls, so family trips were a common occurrence, as we drove to visit grandparents or cousins. I spent the long hours in the car looking out the window at a vast panorama: leaving town we’d see large buttes carved by wind and water, and on the horizon, looming ever larger, the Rocky Mountains, with their snow-peaked caps jutting from the plains like a serrated knife. As we drove these roads, I would imagine times past, with buffalo herds as far as the eye could see, and native tribes camped near rivers. With few signs of modern humanity along these roads, it was easy to let my imagination roam. I am sure that the very patterns of my brain were influenced by these vistas, both real and imagined.

Flathead Lake was another formative Montana feature for me – every summer from 4th grade onward I would spend 2 weeks at our church camp at the south end of the lake. I spent many an afternoon exploring the rocky shore, clambering over granite outcroppings, wading in the shallow pools captured by rock hollows. At night, the quiet susurrations of the waves on the shore were my lullaby. And I’m sure I drank more than a few swallows of lake water as we played in the swimming area!

Above all this was the sky – a huge expanse of blue, with a multitude of different cloud formations. It really does look BIG! (Don’t believe me? Take a trip to Montana and see for yourself!) And it was a piercing blue – especially in winter. I remember walking to school on winter mornings, with the sun glistening on the snow practically blinding me, ice crystals dancing in the air, and the bluest blue sky you can imagine. (As we slog through another gray, rainy Spokane winter, how I long for those cold, crisp CLEAR winter days!)

This combination of water, earth and sky shaped my childhood, and as such, shaped who I am today. I am a child of wide open spaces, of majestic mountains, of a sky greater than any cathedral built by mere mortals. I grew up living in, breathing in, and drinking in the absolute beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. How can this not have shaped me?

Even today, almost 40 years since I left Montana for Spokane, I still feel like I’m home when I cross that border from Idaho. It just feels right. Even when I’m on a road we never traveled when I was growing up, the landscape seems familiar. The windswept plains, the river gullies, the mountains – they embrace me as their own. And surely I am.

*The Last Best Place is the name of an anthology of Montana stories, essays and poems. You can find a copy here.