Wildflowers. Wildlife. Wildfires. Yes, 'wild' is one of those hashtag words that gets used to death these days, like #wander, and so I had to do a definition check before I embraced it any further in my life. Here's what the online dictionary had to say...
First off, I like that 'pie' is given as an example for entering into the dictionary. Who doesn't understand what a pie is? Seriously, that would be so sad. Pie is good. Wild, on the other hand, has a good and maybe not-so-good definition to it. The 'wild' I'll be writing about here will pertain more to definition #1. Wild definition #2 describes more of the last time I was in Montana during the peak of wildfire season. If you missed it, you can check a few blog posts back when I wrote Montana is for Bada**es. (As a side note, stories of a more personal nature that have 'wild' under the definition of #2 will be held aside for a select few good friends. There are times, places, and people better suited to sharing those kinds of things with.)
So, to get back on track, I went to the lovely state of Montana at the end of June. Now, if you have any romantic notions of what you think Montana is like, with its big sky views, abundant wilderness, ranches, and rivers running through it... you would be completely correct. It really is a special sort of amazing. Of course, living in British Columbia is a special sort of amazing as well, but for me Montana is different. And while being different, there's a familiarity between my soul and this place. Perhaps it's a connection to the wild within me.
This connection is something that keeps me going back to Big Sky Country, and I am so fortunate to have wonderful friends (Tanya and Alistair) who open their home and lives for me to visit in Seeley Lake. I was happy to go this time in June, when there wasn't a wildfire threat anywhere (no evacuation party needed) and, instead, wildflowers were abundant in the landscape. After this year, I'm going to think of June as the wildflower month, because even at home I was fixated with all the beautiful blooms catching my attention.
Seeley Lake is a lot like Christina Lake, where I plant my roots. They are towns with a similar year-round population that increases during the summer months, due to being vacation destinations. They each have a beautiful lake surrounded by beautiful mountains and lots of outdoor recreation. Locals are friendly and the lifestyles are relaxed; there's an appreciation for small community and rural living. I went to Seeley Lake without any plans, but just to be there and see what unfolded. This pretty much describes the kind of year I'm having - very few plans with very few expectations - and keeping to that theme seemed like the right thing to do.
I go through levels of anxiety when it comes to travel, whether it's a short trip to run errands out of town, or a longer trip that I need to pack a suitcase for. I love travel, but I also love being home. This duality creates friction when it's time to actually go, and my thoughts turn to excuses to stay put. Thankfully, my want to explore overrides any fear of flying, long drives, or traveling solo and the negative stories my mind wants to tell me. And from experience, I know that once I'm on my way, I have a hard time looking back. I'm going places no matter what.
Montana is fairly close and so a road trip for me. Arming myself with a programmed GPS, a playlist of my favorite podcasts, all my camera lenses (weight is not an issue when driving!), and a good-luck travel talisman or two (whatever helps), I took a different route than I normally take to Seeley Lake. I headed east through BC until I could cross into north Idaho, and then I cut over to the Montana border. This kept me off the Interstate Highway - a common route to take - and on more quiet roads. Towns were few and far between and cell service was sketchy. But, the wildlife watching was fantastic. Coyotes, eagles, ravens, deer, and turkeys... so many turkeys! I even stopped in a remote area outside of Libby, MT to let a mother turkey and her babies run across the highway. I wasn't alone by any means, I was surrounded by life.
No, I don't have photos of these wildlife encounters. I was driving. And listening to two Australian podcasters talk about African Ju-ju magic (I pick great entertainment if you ever want to road trip with me). And learning to be okay with being in the moment, even when that moment would make an awesome photo. This is another duality I fight with - always being ready for the shot versus just being okay with experiencing what is happening sans camera in hand. I'm learning to not be disappointed when a photo op gets missed. When that coyote turned to look back at me as I slowed the vehicle, our eye-to-eye contact held something much more special than if a camera lens would have been between us. That is a moment I'm glad didn't get away from me.
However, some wildlife did make the shot on this trip; turtles, for instance. "I'm heading to Montana to look for turtles," said no one ever. But they are there alright, and in mass quantities in Emerald Lake, which is along the gravel road to the meadow where my home-base was. Everyday, I ventured out to town or on some sightseeing adventure, and there were those shiny shells reflecting the sunlight. There was the day of the Great Turtle Escape, where one said turtle managed a 40-foot embankment climb from the lake to the gravel road above. I have no idea where it thought it was headed, but as I drove by, all I saw was more climbing and less lake in its future. So, I stopped my vehicle and hauled it and its shell back down to the water. I do regret not taking a selfie at that moment, as I was dressed for dinner out at Lindey's Prime Steak House, in my strappy sandals and some sparkly 'bling' that Tanya sells. It would have been great ad for Chloe & Isabel jewelry for sure. The caption would have read: What to wear on a wildlife rescue while also hoping the large bear you saw not far up the road, and not too long ago, doesn't decide to come out of the woods, because all you have to defend yourself with is this turtle and some pretty jewels. You know... something along those lines.
Speaking of lakes, this part of Montana has many. If there is another 'w' word I love to hashtag, it's water. Like pie, I do not feel I need to look the definition up. If my inner compass points anywhere, it's toward water. I am a Cancer, I must live near water, it soothes me. As my agenda was to explore, and I was in the midst of lakes, I did just that. You get a little peek at Seeley Lake from the town, but I needed more visuals and headed to the state park and campground. I don't know what makes the earth so red around these parts, but the contrast it has with the blues of the water and sky is quite stunning.
Aside from Seeley, Emerald, and Salmon lakes, which were visible on my daily treks, the sign for Placid Lake - that I would drive by on the highway - caught my curiosity. It states a three-mile distance to the state park, along another gravel road through wilderness. This time I made sure I was more appropriately dressed before taking off on this adventure. I was also armed with a fresh birthday pedicure, and an iced-coffee from The Bear Claw in town, which I know is beginning to make me sound like maybe I shouldn't be out in the wild so much. But if you can believe it, all this luxury 'stuff' was really rare circumstance. Though, there is nothing wrong with looking good or having a cold drink when you go into the woods, in my opinion. Just be reasonable; wear sensible shoes and carry bear spray.
If you love cheesy movies of large creatures - like an alligator - eating humans, then you've probably seen Lake Placid with actors Bridget Fonda and Bill Pullman. It's a good one (in my opinion). A day or two before my venture out to Placid Lake (notice, words transposed), Tanya, who is also a veterinarian, told me a story about a bacteria that had some relation to alligators being found in some dogs from the area. So come on, how was I not supposed to go there? Turns out the lake is named quite appropriately. It's peaceful with lovely homes speckling the shoreline, and alligator sightings are non-existent. I did watch an osprey dive successfully for fish, however, while sunning my newly-painted toes on the public dock and contemplating whether a large, man-eating reptile could actually exist in such a lake. I dipped my feet in the cool water, but decided not to keep them dangling for too long. Just in case.
You are probably wondering where the heck all the wildflowers are in this story. I'm slowly getting there. Remember... few plans and few expectations. But if you need to know, the flowers were everywhere. They painted color into the scenery, took up residence in my expanding heart space, and constantly reminded me of the beauty that is found in everything. We don't even have to try that hard to find it. My side trip into Missoula even had a wildflower purpose of sorts, when I stopped by the Good Food Store to pick up some local Wustner Brothers Raw Honey, made from wildflower and knapweed nectars. I discovered this honey when I was in Missoula last year and it's a little bit of heaven that I was happy to get again, much like my trip back to Montana.
I haven't ventured far from home since getting back. Summer activities and responsibilities have taken over, which is fine. I have one of the most beautiful places to enjoy summer in. There are a couple more adventures to go on - I just haven't quite made the plans yet - and I'm always keeping my next trip to Montana in the back of my thoughts. At some point, I'd like to embrace more of the culture and try fly-fishing. It would be a great way to get even more into the wilderness. I promise to stick to proper attire if I do. However, there is no guarantee I won't add some pretty earrings, in case a good photo op comes my way.
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen some of the photos I've already shared from this journey. Always feel free to connect with me and my #hashtags on social media. And, as always, thanks for joining me in the adventure by being here!