December Greetings from gorgeous Montana!
I’m sitting here with every crossable body part crossed, hoping for snow next week so I can ski in Whitefish. I must have an inner Gambler in my personality, because I splurged and booked a ski-in ski-out condo for a few days, with no guarantee of snow.
Even if we don’t get snow, I can’t find the energy to complain too much. The mountains are amazing in any weather, and I’m here!
My gambling winning streak got off to a good start earlier last week as I had postcard perfect driving weather from Bozeman, where I flew in, to Missoula. Making plans to drive across Montana in November is definitely a roll of the dice. I got lucky and had no problems, but I could just have easily been stuck in a blizzard at the Bozeman Hampton Inn on Thanksgiving Day.
Why start out in Bozeman, you might ask? I know some of my family did when they heard about that part of my plan.
I flew into Bozeman for a bucket list item: The Montana Grizzly Encounter. No, not a life-threatening bear meetup on a backcountry trail, but a safe viewing of rescued bears at a location outside of Bozeman. Grizzly bears cannot survive in the wild if they are orphaned or raised in captivity, and the MGE takes in rescue bears that otherwise would have to be killed.
I have identified with bears probably from before I was born, and definitely for as long as I can remember. My favorite animal is the Grizzly bear. Wild Grizzlies prefer to avoid people, and several years ago I was privileged to see a male Grizzly in the wild, far away on the side of a mountain.
We were in Glacier Park. People had stopped on the road below to watch him. A couple of enthusiasts who had set up powerful viewing scopes were generously sharing peeks.
I’ll never forget looking at that bear through the scope. He was huge and honey colored, sitting in the sun, munching on late fall grubs and greens. The scope was so clear I could see insects flitting about his round fuzzy ears. It was the perfect teddy bear viewing moment, so easy to forget this animal is at the top of the food chain and can easily kill with a strong paw swat or crunch of its powerful jaw.
He was quite a distance up a steep hillside, so the two-leggeds (humans) below were not tempted to get closer, especially as a park ranger had arrived on scene to monitor the situation.
The second time I saw Grizzly bears was a mother with two cubs in Yellowstone. That viewing was much more stressful for the bears. She was crossing the highway that runs out of the park on the east side. The road was being repaired a few miles in and construction trucks had been hauling ass around a blind curve where she and her cubs appeared out of the woods.
A Bear Jam of lookie-lous quickly gathered, our car included.
Bear Jams, where people stop their cars by the side of the road to catch a glimpse of a bear in the woods, do not bring out the best in some humans. There are always one or two selfish people who insist on getting too close. I’ve seen them edge forward, double park, try to cut in, get in the wrong lane, and generally act like children insisting on their turn at the expense of everyone’s safety, including the bear.
In this Bear Jam, we were far enough behind to observe two cars that had stopped directly in front of the mother bear, one idiot had gotten out to take better pictures. He and and a couple of other cars were blocking her safe exit to the woods on the other side of the highway.
She was confused and running along the road, in the middle of the traffic lane with one cub, while the other stayed behind.
All I could think was how I wished she and her cubs had stayed up in the mountains, far away from the road. I knew that if a logging or construction truck came around the corner, it would kill the bears in an instant, leaving the other as an orphan.
Not to mention the people in the cars lining the road were at risk as well, should a large truck try to swerve to miss a bear. This is the kind of scenario that must keep park rangers up at night.
Fortunately, no trucks came and the mother bear and one cub made it across, they paused while the second cub joined them after a frantic scrambly sprint across the road. In a true Wild Kingdom happy ending moment (my favorite kind), all three disappeared into the relative safety of the woods.
I thought about those Yellowstone bears as I viewed Brutus, the biggest bear they have at the Grizzly Encounter. Raised by people from a very young age, he was an “inside bear” until he got too big and destructive to stay indoors. He has been trained to appear in movies and photo shoots.
He is fun to watch, but he is not wild.
He’s missing his wildbear edge, and I’m not referring to any lack of definition beneath his well-fed girth. His gaze is absent as he lumbers about like a domesticated dog looking for his next treat.
I’ve started observing nature as a teacher in the past few years, (more on that in a sec). Humans could learn a lot about the perils of too much food and comfort from observing animals who have been stripped of their wildness and live in “captivity”.
So while I loved seeing him for the sheer fun of seeing a big Grizzly bear relatively close, I didn’t feel the same subsurface connection I get from visiting the Redwoods, hiking in the desert outside of Todos Santos, or in general, seeing wild animals in the wild.
Do you have a spirit animal? It doesn’t have to be a woo-woo thing, it can be as simple as thinking about why your favorite animal is your favorite. It’s actually a very practical exercise because Nature is our ultimate teacher. I turn to what is happening “out there” all the time now for answers to life or even business questions.
It wasn’t always that way. I’m not an experienced outdoorsy guru type - I grew up in a Houston suburb, sitting as close to the AC as possible for most of my life. In my 20s and 30s I craved urban experiences much more than nature. I moved to Los Angeles after college and loved it.
I still love big cities, especially Mexico City!
But in my 40s, when I had been living in Austin for many years, I began to have an inexplicable craving for the woods and green space. I have since heard and read of many women they experienced the same thing in midlife. You know that saying, if it’s too loud, you’re too old? Maybe another perspective is, if it’s too loud, you’ve outgrown the music.
Austin was (and is) a fun city that was (and is) getting more crowded every year.
I remember thinking, “Wow, li’l ol’ Austin is LOUD”.
Busy coffee shops where you almost had to yell to be heard, the lines at stores, the traffic everywhere, all the time.
I started planning hikes in the green spaces that make Austin famous, yet I had to get in my car to get there. I gave up yoga class because it was expensive and the studio was a 20 minute drive away. I felt trapped in my car and we weren’t even living in the suburbs at that time.
It was about this time, early December one year, when I began to rebel against the “typical” holiday hubbub. As the pace around me seemed to rev up, all I wanted was more quiet time and staying home.
I finally realized that I was not the Grinch incarnate, I was simply obeying an inner instinct that comes from our animal side, or at least from my Bear side! Think about it - the way we “celebrate” the holidays is the opposite of what nature (and a bear) is doing in winter - dormant, tucked in and resting.
After a few years of angst and juggling desire for connection vs. a desire to hide away, what I’ve come to realize is I don’t want to be a hermit and live off the grid, but I don’t want to spend hours a week in my car, either.
In fact, I don’t even want a car, period. We use one because Sergio drives for Uber, but if that were not the case, we would sell it.
By the way, selling your car, or downsizing a 2 car family to sharing one, is a Power Move if you are working to transition to a more flexible lifestyle. You immediately save a bunch of money, and also will buy less stuff because its not as easy to haul it home. Try doing a Costco run on your bike and see what I mean. Or better yet, skip Costco and ride your bike to the park.
So, because I don’t like being tied to driving for daily doses of nature, community, exercise and caffeine, Sergio and I have made it a baseline to live within walking distance of natural spaces and a decent coffee shop or two.
We chose our locations in Mexico City based on proximity to parks. Now that we will be in La Paz for a few months, we can bike to the boardwalk or walk to a nearby park from our new apartment.
In this part of western Montana, figuring out how to be near some woods is not a problem. The communities around Flathead Lake offer an irresistible balance of access to wild nature and great coffee shops, too.
Yesterday morning I walked down a wooded trail in a light snowfall just steps from the shores of Flathead Lake. I felt like a B list movie star in one of the Hallmark Holiday movies I’ve been binge watching with my mom during my stay. Don’t laugh, I told you I love guaranteed happy endings!
I see Bald Eagles almost every time I walk down the road here, and a pair of them stopped off in a treetop for several minutes, right across the street from the local library when I was coworking there.
I feel very lucky to have family in this area where I am working and playing for a couple of weeks after celebrating my dad and older brother’s birthday near Houston.
It was my Dad’s 80th and we had a great time partying in a 100 year old farmhouse near Brenham, Texas. May you always find a house older than you are to host your birthday celebration!
I am missing Sergio and wish he could have come with me, so that led me to look at some things we had done together the first year we were in Mexico City.
If you would like a peek into two of my favorite traditions in Mexico City - Posadas and Piñatas, here is a link to a post I did shortly after we moved to Mexico.
Read here about how this half-bear-hibernation-lovin’ gringa partied until 4 AM at her first CDMX Posada and caught the last Uber home.
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