Today I woke to the sun and a clear blue sky; two things I have (until the last few weeks) taken completely for granted since moving from the smoggy land of Southern California to the wide, amazing expanse that is Montana. We moved here last year, on the tail end of a gloriously snowy winter and wildly wet spring. So verdant and full of life was my new home that my heart swelled with joy just to be lucky enough to live here.
If you’ve ever been to Southern California, you’ll know that the majority of its attraction (save the vast expanse of beaches) are man made. Exclusive communities built on fabricated lakes, cheerful green little league sports complexes in the suburbs, the resorts of Palm Springs, shopping and sightseeing in LA, and of course, the wonder that is Disneyland (the most crowded, if not the happiest place on earth), all situated under a decidedly brownish blue sky, typically void of clouds. And it’s hot. So, so hot. For example, when it was 69 degrees in Montana yesterday, it was over 100 in So Cal. It’s beautiful in its own right, but not the kind of beauty that speaks to me, personally.
So you can imagine what a wonder it was to move to the Bitterroot Valley. The sky is all aquamarine and sapphires- entirely free of the smog blanket I was accustomed to. And the clouds… absolutely spectacular. Watercolor clouds, and storybook clouds, and the clouds from Disney’s Toy Story (you know the ones I’m talking about). I never realized a sky could be so incredible. The valley is nestled between two completely different mountain ranges in northern Rocky Mountains, and the Bitterroot River rushes happily along the entire length of the valley… and its incredible. Hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, kayaking, canoeing and swimming are all within a few miles’ reach. The valley is absolutely brimming with life- from the fox raising her little kits just a hundred yards from our door to the moose who almost ran smack into us on the trail this summer. From the osprey fishing the lakes and rivers and the dozens of whitetail and mule deer you can see any time you drive down the highway to the miles and miles of cattle, contentedly munching away in the fields, tiny calves frolicking and napping away in the sun. By the way, that whole ‘happy cows come from California’ thing? Horse shit. If you’ve ever seen cows in California- its a sad sorry state to be in- haha, no pun intended.
This valley is a veritable paradise for our little family of three (my husband and I, and our furry black bed hog of the canine variety). At least, it was until fire season. Thankfully, we have as yet escaped the horror of experiencing any of these fires for ourselves. The valley (so far) has remained blessedly free of anything but a few small and quickly controlled fires, where as literally hundreds of miles of the northwest have been burned in one of the worst fire seasons to date. Many have lost much, and my heart goes out to every one of them.
Our valley is just under a hundred miles long, and due to it’s shape, the winters are much less severe than in most of the state- it also serves as a sort of wind tunnel, sucking weather (and in this case, smoke) from as far off as Washington.
Within days of the first fire in Idaho, the valley was a blanket of smoke. Visibility was a mile or two at best, and the air quality was so bad that alerts were issued, urging residents to stay inside their homes, limiting their exposure to the toxic air as much as possible. The sky turned brown, and stayed that way. We didn’t see the sun or the moon for days on end, and when we could see them, they were a sickly shade of jack-o-lantern orange. It hurt to breathe. And every day, we felt sicker. The glorious place that we moved to became a memory- something to gaze longingly at when swiping through the pictures on our iPhones. We began to say things like, “I don’t know… if this keeps up, we may have to find somewhere else to settle down. I don’t know how much of this I can take.”
And then yesterday, a storm blew through, taking with it the oppressive, toxic cloud that has been hanging over the valley for the last three weeks. As we walked outside late last night, the moon was out in all her luminescent glory. The sky was clear, the air was clean, and the stars twinkled merrily down on us. We stood, wrapped in the absolute wonder of the night sky, and realized that it was something we’d taken for granted- something seemingly such a part of every day life that we hadn’t thought it would ever be something we would have to go without. Until we did, and the only thing we could do was lament the loss of it.
This morning, I woke up to the sun and a beautiful blue sky. The air was clean and crisp, and smelled of the early promise of autumn. And even though, as I write this, the smoke is slowly filling the valley once more, I know in my heart that it is only temporary, and it will all be wonderful again.