My Complicated Love Affair with Montana

I took the last Montana lake plunge of the summer and wondered when I would have another. With graduating looming (nine months away. Why isn’t there a book called, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting…to Write a Thesis?”) I’ve been thinking about what’s next. I have lived in Montana for ten years. I was born here, my dad is from here, we spent summers here. I’m a seventh generation Montanan — something that gives me great pride. But it’s that pride that has been worrying me lately. I love this place so much, the trails, snowy peaks, small towns, ranch-folk, wide open spaces; there’s room to roam and be whoever you want to be. To a degree.

Settlers flocked to Montana for the quality farming and ranch land, and then the gold rush, and other mining opportunities. Such a distance from the country’s capitol Montanans developed a sort of “leave us alone out here” mentality that has not only stuck, but may have gotten stronger. The Libertarian culture has the ability to cross the political divide, especially when it comes to public lands and access, and our state has seen personalities from the Unibomber to billionaires. But the “live and let live” really only applies to a select few. Diversity is scarce out here and I’m ashamed to say I don’t think about it very often. I’m white, middle class, an outdoor enthusiast, a local, I speak English. I blend in with the other 89% of the white people across the state. (Native Americans comprise almost 7% of the population but are segregated on and around the reservations.) I like the mountains, like most people here. I don’t want overdevelopment, like most people here. I want public lands to stay public, like most people here. And this is what I’m realizing: I am exactly like most people here.

Montana has so many brilliant people — writers, scientists, environmentalists, artists — but the cultures, interests, and beliefs are fairly common across this massive state. I know I can stumble into any small town and strike up a conversation because we probably share more than one thing in common (except the Trump sticker.) I grew up going to church, I’m heterosexual, I’m white, my husband hunts, etc., etc., privileged etc. It’s extremely comfortable. Too comfortable. And it’s starting to affect my writing.

I have made some stupid mistakes in my writing that could come off as hurtful to some people, and I’m very thankful that a few of my classmates have pointed them out. It’s straight up ignorance born out of a narrow, homogenous view of the world. Yes, I travel extensively and am ecstatic to meet people of new cultures. I am well-read and considerate. I think I am fairly aware. But nothing I do can replace the fact that my day-to-day, what builds my subconscious psyche, is not diverse or representative of the rest of the world.

Let me reiterate, there are some outstanding people in Montana doing incredible things for social justice and the environment. That is not the issue. The issue is me and my unintentionally narrowing view of the world. I graduate in May and will pack my bags and move back to Bozeman, the town I have called home for ten years. I don’t think my husband and I are interested in moving back to our midwest stomping grounds. And even if we wanted to, my parents have hired a realtor out of state and are getting ready to leave themselves. So where is home? I wonder if the very definition of home is what has left me perplexed about my perspective of the world. Safe, nostalgic, comfortable, familiar.

For now, I’ll watch the leaves change color as we fade into fall. I’ll listen to national news that is so easy to ignore in this quiet rural state, and try to get more involved. And I’ll roam while I’m still here, before I’m ready to take that next plunge.

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