Fourteen years ago, this month, freshly equipped with a degree in English writing, I stuffed my old green sedan full of what I thought I’d need for my new home in Montana: backpack, tent, sleeping bag, skis, hiking boots, a coffee pot, camp stove, a few crates of clothes and one box of books that I couldn’t bear to part with. A bike and kayak were strapped to the top of my car, and I told my parents that I didn’t know when I’d be back to Michigan but that my summer would be spent along the shores of Flathead Lake working at a dude ranch. I’m certain that my mother’s heart broke that day as I pulled out of the driveway, turned north, crossed the Straits of Mackinac and drove on U.S. Highway 2 until I reached Kalispell. She’s long known that Montana held a special place in my heart, after I first visited the state on a ski trip to Big Sky when I was in seventh grade. However, I don’t think it lessened her tears as her oldest child fled west to the mountains.
At the time, I just wanted out of the Midwest. I had attended college in Indiana and my eyes craved topographical variances. I wanted adventure in the mountains, wanted to know what it felt like to take in Glacier National Park, and learn how to ski powder in the winter time. While my college roommates were busy during our senior year with job interviews, I spent my time dreaming about a place. My parents were concerned that I lacked serious job prospects and that I was facing a rather large student loan debt bill, but it’s hard to describe what it means to fall in love with a place. It’s hard to put those words into writing or assure your parents that despite moving across the country to a place where you don’t know anyone, that moving to Montana would be the best decision of your life. It was a dream, and we all know that dreams are not without risk or heartache or scraping together three jobs one winter just to make rent. But when you fall in love with a place, these heartaches are soothed by a long walk on a trail padded with golden larch needles or a bracing dip in Flathead Lake at sunrise.
I fell in love with the Flathead Valley, and because of this place, I fell in love with my husband. Like me, he left behind the Midwest for Montana. Like me, he loved to ski and climb in Glacier. Much of our relationship is rooted in this place: we were engaged at Glacier’s Hole in the Wall backcountry campground and our wedding was aboard the DeSmet on Lake McDonald. When our son was three weeks old, we took him on his first “hike” to Avalanche Lake where he also had his first outdoor diaper change.
We’re hoping our son will love this place as much as we do. And my mom? She’s no longer heartbroken. She moved here last year to be with her first grandson. She loves this place, too.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.
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