Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hello, Ashland.

Internet access here is sketchy at best (back on dial-up, AHHHH!!!), but here's a few brief observations regarding life back in the central time zone:

1. Minnesota drivers: y'all need to start putting antipsychotic meds into your water supply. Seriously. Calm down. Passing someone who's going the speed limit, then slowing down and going the speed limit once you pass them...what the hell is the point of that? Honestly. Relax. Don't make me do the Montana finger-shake at you like that all the time, you're distracting me from driving like a sane person.

2. It's really flat here. I know, I denied it for a long time after moving to Helena, but wow. Yeah. Looking out across Chequamegon Bay toward Washburn, I keep expecting to see mountains jutting up & yet, they don't ever seem to materialize. (I maintain that Duluth is steeper than Helena, however--coming down Central Entrance or I-35 toward the Blatnik is just as steep as going down MacDonald Pass, at least to my eyes & car brakes.)

3. My parents' cat Toivo is officially the dumbest animal I've ever encountered. I've been slowly trying to get Toivo & Flannery into the same room, so they can have at it and try to crush/claw each other to death. But Toivo? He just sits there, stares at Flannery, then falls asleep. Flannery, being sensible, freaks out and runs back underneath the bed. It's like having our own little National Geographic special, 24 hours a day...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Packing blankets & dirty sheets...

"Packing blankets & dirty sheets
A room full of dust and a broom to sweep up
All the troubles you & I have seen..."
(Eels, "Packing Blankets")

I really don't think I can find words to adequately describe how I'm feeling right now...but for the sake of a blog update before my internet access gets sketchy, I'll try.

I guess if I had to sum it up, I'm in full yo-yo mode. Energy levels, up & down...moods, back & forth...emotions, fiery to robotic, all twisting and bending and wrapping around me so that half the time, I'm not even sure what I'm doing/thinking/feeling. I just keep going, flying up & down that string & spinning & flailing wherever the arm of fate decides to whirl me next.

I go from moments of intense physical activity--the packing, the cleaning, the seemingly endless task of organizing logistics--to these moments where I'm so utterly overwhelmed that I just sort of...stop. Like my engine just craps out completely and I have to give it some time to cool down before I can gently ease it back into gear, and start climbing up that hill again.

I was just in the middle of packing some books, moving furiously, concentrating so intently on the task at hand that not even the sounds of my ghetto neighbors yelling at the deer could break me out of the trance...and then, all of a sudden I find this old photograph tucked into the pages of a book. It was taken when I was four years old or so, standing on the porch with hands on hips, giving the camera an amount of sass that would make Judge Judy dole out the hairy eyeball. And when I looked that little kid in the eye, I realized that I've become the person that kid would have looked up to.

This is more than a move. This is more than me packing me & my boxes & my cat up, and changing our physical location. This is a moment where several different planes of my life are converging, the past & present & future mixing into some big glorious mess. And like with any massive geological movement, there's gonna be some shakes and some stuff might get a bit busted up as the world rattles around. But damn, even though it's scary and a bit more unpredictable than you'd like, you've got to admire the power in it...and sooner or later, you've got to get over being scared and just hang on for the ride.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I live for adventure.

Last weekend, I decided to take a break from the ongoing apartment packing & cleaning, and took a drive down to Philipsburg for the annual accordion festival there. (No, really.) Sadly, I found the festival to be kind of a bust, so my time there was short...it did, however, allow me to spend the rest of the day wandering around the countryside, checking out some ghost towns. It was a day of intrigue, a day of adventure, a day of driving on mountainous gravel roads that were probably not designed with Chevy Luminas in mind...but all in all, a much-needed break from thinking about boxes and classified ads and all that crap for a few hours.

Downtown Philipsburg -- pretty little town, but the locals had a staring problem.

My first ghost town of the day, about a mile southeast of Philipsburg. This place was called Kirksville, and those two big smokestacks in the back are from the original "Bi-Metallic" mill that burned down in 1967.

Sweet Bessy hit a milestone on this trip--107,000 miles!

On my way back north to I-90, I decided I'd take a detour on the way home and stop by Garnet Ghost Town. Consulting the maps I had with me in the car, they all said there was a decent gravel road running north to the park, which eventually would meet up with Hwy 200. And as this sign posted at the road's start said, it was "not recommended for motor homes, buses, or trailers." Since sweet Bessy the Lumina doesn't fall into any of those categories, it appeared we were safe to proceed.

Let's just say, whoever gave this road its designation was a very optimistic person. If I'd been in a car slightly lower to the ground than Bessy, I don't think we would've made it--perhaps it was a result of the earthquake a few weeks ago, but there were a LOT of rocks along the road, some deep little gullies washed out, tons of washboarding...and there was poor Bessy clunking along, in need of some new rear struts. There were moments that I thought she'd shake clear apart. (To quote the late great James Doohan, "I'm giving her all she's got! She cannae take much more of this!")

A fairly tame section of the road...

On my way up the road, there came a point where it was pretty steep and it was mostly switchbacks (that means the road zigzags up the side of a steep incline, to stretch it out and make it easier to drive up)...keeping an eye on Bessy's engine heat indicator, I thought I'd stop for a few minutes to give her a break. My eyes off the road at last (I love to drive, but on really isolated backroads climbing up mountains, I get a little nervous), I looked out to my left and saw this. (And yes, there was a cliff edge right outside the car door.)

As I sat there looking out on the hills, way off in the distance I could see a break in the trees and what appeared to be some kind of house. Looking at it more closely, I realized it was a cabin surrounded by pick-up trucks...and no less than eight flagpoles with Old Glory waving on the breeze. Could it have been a militia compound? Who knows. Frankly, I'm glad I didn't have any reason to go over there and find out. Picture lil' old me walking up in my Chuck Taylors, my AmeriCorps sticker on my car...they probably would have thought I was a secret government agent or something like that.

Continuing up the switchbacks, I came upon this...no, it's not Garnet. I'm actually not sure what this was. It was clearly abandoned, with some of the doors & windows boarded-over...there was a tiny part of me tempted to stop, but after the potential militia spotting, I thought it was in my best interest to keep moving as steadily as possible toward the sheltering arms of state park territory.

And then, at last--the state park sign appeared, and I knew I was safe.

Garnet's pretty neat. It's the most "intact" ghost town in Montana, and has undergone some impressive restoration efforts -- especially since the restoration stuff is really subtle, designed to blend in and keep your eyes on the old stuff, not the newer structural improvements. There's a lot of old cabins on the site, as well as some of the old main street--some storefronts, an old bar (turned into a visitor's center), and a cabin that was once a speakeasy back in the day.

Here's how one house looked back in the day...

...And here's how it looks now.

Here's the visitor center--it was once a saloon, and was actually open until the 1960s.

The J.K. Wells hotel--the stick poking out of the 2nd story was part of a pulley system that pulled heavy trunks upstairs.

Taken through one of the front windows--which adds to the spoooooooookiness.

And another taken through the windows...

One of the storefront exteriors...this one doesn't look like it, but it's had a lot of stabilization work done.

And here's the interior, again taken through the window...the tour guide was off that day, I guess.

Do you see anything spooky in this picture?

Because this sign says that there are ghosts frequenting the area.

Clip-art of the damned!!!


On my way out of the ghost town, I saw this sign...okay, so it was there because the upcoming interpretive site was on a sharp curve, but still, that's a funny sign regardless.

This wasn't the interpretive site we were previously warned about, but along the road on the way back north to Hwy 200 there was this amazing overlook...absolutely beautiful. From this spot, you can see the Rattlesnake Mountain Range, the Mission Mountain Range, the Blackfoot River Valley, the Swan Mountain Range, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, and the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. (And this wasn't even a particularly clear day -- there was some haze on the horizon drifting over from the fires by Alberton, near the MT/ID border.)

I'd like to point out that the road leaving the park, heading north, was way better than the road coming into the park from the south.

The countryside along Hwy 200 is really pretty. Mountains, rivers, valleys...lots to look at.

A burned hillside...

I took the long way home, across Hwy 200...east to Lincoln, then down Flesher Pass, and into Helena from the northwestern side of town out in the valley. Here's an oil rig propped up down near the bottom of Flesher Pass on the northwestern end of the drive...it's weird how you're in the middle of nowhere, and then all of a sudden you're staring at an oil rig.

View from the highest point of the road on Flesher Pass...the mountains look straight out of a bad hotel room painting.

As I was snapping this picture, I saw a hawk flying up above...had I been quicker, I would've taken a picture of the hawk instead.

And the last shot of the day, quite possibly my favorite -- the bales of hay just outside of Marysville on the way back into Helena. When I think of Montana, this is the kind of image that's going to pop into my mind.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Didn't realize how lucky I was.

After reading the following in a copy of Better Homes & Gardens that I found at work the other day, I suddenly realized that I must, in fact, live a really rich & fulfilling life.

"Thank you for including the article 'In the Fold' in the February '04 issue. Folding fitted sheets has been a mystery to me for 37 years! I took great pleasure in the simple joy of finally folding them neatly. I cut out and taped the instructions to the inside of my linen closet door. Thanks for making my week!"
--a lady from Casper, WY

Dude, I learned how to fold fitted sheets "neatly" when I was a mere 17 years old...twenty years ahead of the curve, apparently. Rock!!! One more thing to cross off my list, I guess...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

My Two Weeks' Notice

It's official: in two weeks, I'm moving back to the land of my birth...the land of beer, cheese, brats, and yes, foam hats in the shape of cheese. (You may sense a common theme here: foods that make your heart explode. And foam hats. At least we go out in style.) On, Wisconsin. On, indeed!

The wheels have actually been turning in this direction for a while, but I didn't want to make anything "official" until I'd properly given my notice at work and gotten most of the logistics worked out. My parents will be making the journey out during the week of the 15th--we'll have some quality time here in Helena, as well as a quick trip up to Glacier National Park, and then we'll be hitting the road in a caravan back eastward around the 19th.

Clearly, this is a big move. And there's still a number of unknowns. But I can't help but feel pretty good about it. (Despite appearances to the contrary--hey, my name is Mary, it's my job to be contrary!--I'm secretly kind of an optimistic person. Hell, I wouldn't have ever wound up here in the first place if I didn't at least have a little of it in me. haha) :+) I've had a fantastic four years here in Montana, and will miss it very much...but as a twee-voiced folk singer once sang on an animated film's soundtrack, "The greatest adventure/Is what lies ahead."*

More updates to come...

*First person to name which movie that's from gets a prize.