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For a Moment, Happy

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

All too soon, it was time to head east, back to North Dakota. Oh, it was hard to leave Montana, so we made one last stop at Makoshika State Park, which is a paleontological site southeast of Glendive.

We never found the dig or any fossils, but the scenery was terrific. Transformative. We drank in the evening, making the most of Montana's midnight sun, when it stays light until almost 11 pm in June.

A mule deer doe came walking carefully up a draw, her attention ahead of her.

Her huge ears swiveled side to side as if she were apprehensive of ambush.

Oh, the light was so beautiful. I could see myself painting the scene with her just so, touching light across the grasstops and casting the foreground in deep violet shadow. Oh, to have world enough and time...for now and for the foreseeable future I'm painting birds, but someday...deer.

Suddenly she vaulted into space.

She pronked high, looking for danger.

Her springy tendons and slender, resilient legs carried her high up into the air, over and over.

She wasn't so different from my daughter, whose lightness I envy as I grow closer to the earth.

The grace in these children comes alive when they are allowed to gaze out over miles of wilderness. It turns into something electric, something beautiful, infused with the spirit of the landscape.

I couldn't stop trying to keep some of it for the coming winter. And now I'm glad I did.

There is a thought scrabbling around in my head that's hard to catch and contain, so it's going to come out in pieces. It's about happiness, that most elusive of human emotions. If emotions were birds, happiness might be a rail, skulking through the dark reeds of dissatisfaction.

You can take trips with your family, and think back on them, and think, "Yeah, that was a great trip. I was really happy out there in Montana."

And what I'm thinking is: Why does that feeling have to be remembered as just part of a great trip, isolated in occasional memories, floating out there on its own? Why not look at that trip as part of a continuum of good things, an integral part of your great life, and think of it when you step back to take stock, as we so often do?

Because this is your life, this moment in Montana. And these are the people you love most.

And you set up a camera on a tripod to record this moment, this evidence that you were happy for a while.

Believe it. You are.

These are the gifts that wilderness can give to us. Small wonder we turn to it again and again.


I would like to commend the person who coined the term "pronking." So perfectly evocative.
And the person who turned the phrase "skulking through the dark reeds of dissatisfaction" is no slouch at wordsmithing either.
Cool shirt, Liam.


Posted by Anonymous December 2, 2009 at 1:49 PM

That mule deer looks like a kangaroo in the 5th photo! I had no idea it stayed light so late in Montana in the summer.

Must get to Montana some time in my little life time.

The question I struggle with is why, when the wilderness makes me feel so much more alive, do I spend so much time in the city?

Julie, your words are such that they touch my soul!

I feel that total, encompassing happiness in Maine every year, where I have gone every summer since I was 8 weeks old. In the cabin my grandparents built by hand, snuggled under patchwork quilts my grandmother pieced, with my great grandmother's china cereal bowl in the morning.

Some of it is due to the connection to the past. And the rest is due to the disconnection from the world. We have no TV there, no radio. I do not know what is going on in the world and I don't care. There are no bills to pay, no schedules to meet, no lawn to mow. No alarm clocks, no bathtub to scrub, no carpet to vacuum. It is heaven. But it's not real, every day life.

Yes, beautiful prose and photographs, too. I think you have written your family's Christmas letter andn New Year's resolutions as well.

When you live in the west, you see these sights every day and yet somehow become inured to them as if they will always be there and you will always be able to look at them. I try to use fresh eyes each day on my wonderful 7 mile drive to work. Thanks for making me do that.

Sweet, sweet post Julie. Thanks for a smile tonight.

Do you think realizing happiness could be as simple as living days free of distraction?
Just for a while having no phones, no bills, no deadlines, no responsibilities. Being able for whatever reason to really take the time to see the world and enjoy it.
It's always there for us to go to--I only wish I could get myself "there" more often!

Ah, ah. Ah. Much obliged.

I drink in the evening, too.

I think happiness may be easier to measure in the intensity of a trip, whether it's a five hour drive upstate, or a walk in the woods. It's harder to feed my ravenous ADD when I'm away from what sets my mind to swirling. Deprived of bills, undusted surfaces, unvacuumed floors, unwashed dishes, the colonoscopy I keep forgetting to schedule, the closet I really need to excavate, and why the hell I haven't potted up those violas I bought 6 weeks ago, my mind is free to focus on what's at hand. And so is my heart. Nature connects me to the divine. And what could be more divine than being able to share that with a like-minded-and-hearted tribe? Happiness may skulk like a rail, but its low visibility shouldn't be confused for absence. It's still there, waiting to be found out.

Catbird's right. Given time off the grid, and away from mundane but necessary chores, and clamor, we are allowed to find what we already have. We are the lucky ones who discover that it is happiness we've been distracted from, and not fear.

I think happiness comes with freedom, whether we're in the Montana wilds or the grocery store. Our daily lives can make us feel like we don't have choices, that we're locked into a routine and lists of things that must get done, bills, commitments, etc. Wilderness takes all of that away for a time, frees us from responsibility and expectations, our own and those of others. What we forget is that we DO have choices at home, that we don't have to let the mundane suffocate us. It's all in what we focus on.

I agree with what Linda said about the beautiful becoming common and how those who live in places the rest of us think are magical will, after a while, stop seeing it, feeling it. What we all need to do is to remember that the spirit of place is always with us and can always bring us happiness, whether it's a new, unexplored place or our own backyard. "The question is not what you look at, but what you see", as Thoreau said. Carry that magic of wildness with you everywhere you are, find beauty in the mundane, and let your soul be free.

And kill your T.V. :-)

Oh, I need this right now. Thanks, even though you really have no idea what you've given.

A great SEQUENCE of thoughts and photos, Julie--wildflower, deer, light-footed children, rail, family. It all connects really well.

Whenever I leave your blog I always take something with me. Today is no exception. Thank you.

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