Alaska (panhandle), Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Illinois (Chicago), Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (City), Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee (briefly). These are states that I’ve been in that are more than just an airport stop. Sadly, I’ve seen more of the US than I have Canada. One day, I will change that. I will also travel to more states because I am clearly missing out on quite a few. And since I was young, I always wanted to travel all over the United States. I remember having a colourful map on my wall that showed the entire country. I studied it and memorized shapes, locations, cities. I don’t know where this obsession came from. Maybe all the traveling my dad did for work, always bringing me back a souvenir fitting to the state he had been. For me, each of the fifty states held some treasure to discover. They still do.
What I never could have predicted was that I’d one-up my US travel plans by becoming a US citizen. A decade that included marriage and residence in Washington State led to that. And then, because life happens, we all parted ways and I moved back to Canada eventually. Obviously, the citizenship has stayed with me, along with good memories and special family members that decided to keep me on board even though divorce changed my official status. Family is who you choose. Each year I quietly mark my citizenship anniversary (14 years this year) and send gratitude to the life I experienced there. I’ve been home in Canada for nine years now. Of course I still go to the US quite a bit, but my ties are somewhat diminished.
During my time in the US, I allowed myself to become Americanized. Not that I was far from Canada, but Washington was my home and I wanted to make the most of it. I also didn’t have any local Canadian friends or know any ex-pats down there, so it was natural to become consumed by the American lifestyle. While people are people at the core, there are differences in us between states and provinces and countries. Wouldn’t it be boring if there weren’t?
While I have re-Canadianized over the years, I still find myself unable to shake some idiosyncrasies from my former home. I cross over with my spellings and measurements, I pronounce a few words the American way (it’s all about the vowels), I covet certain US grocery items and - to be honest - the selection in grocery stores, I understand that ‘Country’ is a lifestyle and not just…music, for better or worse I get US politics more so than Canadian, I’ve acquired a taste for spicy food and, even though Canada has improved so much, dark beer really is dark beer in the US (Rickard’s Red, that I was once offered, is not). I’ve managed to make it all work here in the glorious red and white, without the blue. And that’s the great thing about living in a country that has such a melting pot of nationalities - anything goes.
Though I’ve been feeling more and more like a visitor to the US, and not like it was once my home, something shifted on my last trip to Montana. I thank my dear friends, Tanya and Alistair, for repeatedly opening their home to me and for the initial introduction to life in little Seeley Lake. The state itself had me at the Welcome to Montana sign the first time I drove past it on I-90. What draws us to people or places or things is beyond me. Perhaps we really are souls living multiple lifetimes, and some attachments and experiences come with us into each reincarnation. All I know is that I’m caught in Montana’s pull like a trout on a fly-fishing hook in the Blackfoot River.
I enjoy the increasing familiarity each time I travel to Montana. I know the points of interest and the good places to take a break (including where to get the ‘Best Huckleberry Milkshake’), stores I need to stop at in Missoula to stock up on favourite items, and that I’ll be mesmerized by the landscape during the drive to Seeley Lake. I look forward to all these moments. However, familiarity and a sense of ‘home’ are not the same thing. Not every town we live in is home. A house is not automatically a home. And home can be more than a place; it can be a person, pet, event, or activity. It’s a connection that is somewhere deep inside that just lets us know we belong. The beloved character Dory in Finding Nemo might have said it best when she told Marlin, “Because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you and I'm home.” Yes, home is a feeling.
My visits to Seeley Lake are a mix of repeats and newness. There is a lot to explore and learn about the area and its residents. On this occasion I’d meet more people, see new places, and bond with new furry friends. I also would reconnect with those people, pets, and places I already knew. I had never been in Montana in autumn. It was spectacular and in fact my whole drive down was breathtaking, with Northern Idaho showing some of the best colours along the Pend Oreille River. On my first morning in Seeley, we woke to a skiff of snow. Seeing the surrounding mountains dressed in a fresh coat of white was a feast for the eyes. Tanya and I braved the frosty wind for a sight-seeing tour to Upsata Lake and the quaint town of Ovando. We detoured to Scotty Brown Bridge and found fly fishing on the Blackfoot a priority for some, even in freezing temperatures. Life in the 406 is big and bold and not a lot stops it, as I am finding out.
There was a girls night, with good company, food, drink, and Aloha hot tubbing (think tiki torches and Hawaiian tunes). Since my last visit, Tanya has delved into the world of real estate by becoming a realtor. I enjoyed tagging along to preview homes, because window shopping houses is fun for someone currently living the RV life. It’s not often I get to actually be with my friends on their birthdays anymore, and Tanya happened to be having hers. Dinner at Lindey’s was absolutely necessary. A photo shoot of the Bee Gees with their Special Guest, Fallon, was also a must. I learned that photographing ferrets is a lot more challenging than dogs (or maybe any other animal for that matter!). And, of course, all the other pets I got to snuggle and people I got to meet along the way were fantastic.
My stay wrapped up with a moment that pretty much brought everything together for me. It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and since Tanya and I are both Canadian naturalized US citizens (say that three times fast), we had to celebrate, Montana style. ‘Go big or go home’ is the saying, and Tanya may have cooked one of the biggest turkeys I’ve seen. Throw in all the other accompaniments, along with a contribution of homemade perogies, and it was quite the dinner. Oh, and let’s not forget the Nanaimo Bars made from a Laura Secord recipe. You Canadians will get this special touch. The best part was that this was shared with more new friends who have their own Canadian-American ties as well. This reminded me of the Canadian Thanksgivings I hosted while living in the US. I know my American friends loved it (is it possible to have too many turkey dinners in a year?) and it was a way of keeping my connection to my native country alive. So, this celebration of Canadiana in Americana was pretty special. It also proved that fitting in is not as important as being accepted as you, wherever you are, to create a feeling of belonging and, therefore, home.
Of course, there is no place like home home, and I always happily return to British Columbia with Montana memories tucked into my heart. I know how lucky I am for this experience and how grateful I am to have roots in two most amazing places.