Reporter's Notebook

Welcome (Home) to Montana

I am, admittedly, a transplant with a lot to learn. But, I am also a person who gets to call the Flathead Valley my home.

By Denali Sagner

There’s something funny about living in a place where nearly everyone who passes through the airport is on vacation. 

In his 2021 book of essays titled “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” author John Green wrote about his time in the Orlando International Airport as a child growing up in Orlando, Florida. Home to Disney World and Universal Studios, Orlando is almost strictly a vacation town – a town that Green says, “was such a tourist city when I was a kid that whenever you flew out of the airport, a message played, saying, ‘We hope you enjoyed your visit!’” 

Green recalled the times the cheery farewell would appear and his parents “would always sigh and then mutter, ‘We live here.’” 

Sitting in the singular terminal of Glacier Park International Airport – the location from which I am penning this column – elicits similar feelings. 

I grew up passing through New York City’s three busy airports, which see over 12 million passengers on a monthly basis. Every flight I took through New York was a relatively balanced combination of locals and tourists. I always enjoyed the guessing game of who was visiting the city and who was returning home, which I would figure out by eavesdropping on conversations and listening for good New York accents. 

Passing through the Kalispell airport, though, feels a lot more like John Green’s descriptions of leaving Orlando. The bear spray collection containers before security, the “welcome to Montana” loudspeaker announcements, the families exiting flights decked out in cowboy hats, the huckleberry-themed desserts at the café – it all embodies a certain kitsch that elicits an eye roll from any real Montanan. 

Just to clarify, I am by no means a real Montanan. If I’ve learned anything in my residency in the Flathead Valley, it’s the weight of this title, one that only comes after decades of life in the Treasure State. I am, admittedly, a transplant with a lot to learn. 

But, I am also a person who gets to call the Flathead Valley my home and Glacier Park International Airport my home base. Thus, I have never known what to do with this funny airport feeling, one that makes me feel like I’m walking down the “up” escalator of commercial air traffic patterns. 

The few times someone at the Kalispell airport has asked me if I’m on vacation, I’ve quickly responded, “No, actually, I live here,” grateful that someone posed the question I had been dying to answer for a full 20 minutes. 

Sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of something that gives away a Flathead Valley local – a copy of the Flathead Beacon, even – which always makes me smile. 

But, most of the time, I just find myself watching the crowds. 

I suppose it’s a reminder of my luck, as I wait for my flight to the East Coast and watch tourists bound into the terminal, chatting about their fly-fishing tours and hotel reservations. They, in a week or so, will watch the purple mountains fade into obscurity from a Delta Airlines flight to Minneapolis, holding an iCloud photo album and a Montana-shaped hole in their hearts. And I, in a week or so, will return to the Flathead, toss my bags onto my kitchen floor, check my mailbox and peek out my window at those same purple mountains. I might even spot a plane landing at FCA, complete with a few dozen visitors buzzing about the vacation ahead of them. 

And, I will certainly be happy to be home.