Wildfire smoke suffocated the last days of August. Our valley an endless, disorienting, gray haze that hid the mountains and the sun. We woke in the mornings with sore throats and headaches. Ash rained from the sky, blanketing tomato leaves and picnic tables with gray layer of burned up tree. We stayed inside a lot, where the air was barely better.
the sun, 6pm
I found the greatest relief in water. The invigorating, cleansing purity. Jumping in electrified my skin with goosebumps, washed the smoke out of my hair and felt like a giant gulp of fresh air. Submerged, I occupied an unpolluted, hopeful suspension.
The day before school started, I felt desperate to be out of the haze, away from homestead duties, having fun with my daughters. We couldn’t escape the smoke so we drove into it, through it to one of our favorite little lakes.
Ruby and Margot were tucked into the back, eating cinnamon rolls the size of their head, Mabel between them.
Ruby: Margot! Smell my feet! I think they smell gross!
Margot: No way sister. Hey, mom do you think the earth is light or heavy?
Ruby: So heavy. Except light, depending. On gravity or something.
The smoke grew thicker, visibility diminishing. We passed a fire crew camp and I thought maybe this was a bad idea. But kept driving thankful for my car’s air filtered air conditioning, thinking – at the very least – we would drive to the lake, jump in and head home.
Turning down the dusty, cracked dirt road toward the lake, Margot was the first to notice the air lighten a bit. Helicopters flew overhead fetching buckets of water from the valley lakes, hauling it into the mountains where the flames thrived.
At the lake, the wind blew just right and we landed in a tiny patch of clean(er) air, letting enough sunlight through to cast shadows. Shadows! We hadn’t seen shadows in over a week.
Oh mama! It’s perfrect!
I smiled at one of Ruby’s very last mispronunciations. Just last week she asked for breakfast and broke my heart. I will forever miss breakfrast. And I hope she forever says Lake Maroony Ann instead of Lake Mary Ronan.
We finished Little Town on the Prairie, had a cartwheel contest (I was a strong contender but decided to give the glory to my kids. ahem. “Mama I think you need to, like, practice more.”), ate melon, swam, found cool stuff like feathers and crawdads, threw rocks and sticks, listened to loons, remembered when I lost my sunglasses in the outhouse and fetched them out, journaled and really had the most fun.
In this new season of motherhood, where both my kids are in school and I have this giant expanse of time, I have some plans for this space and my work. I am happy to report that the change all feels good and right – for all of us – at the moment, which I am so damn thankful for. Thank you for supporting me in the times these last few months when I felt so unsure and sad about the impending change.
The first plan I am excited to announce right this minute is that my daughters and I are embarking on a grand adventure in a little over a month: we are driving from Missoula to Chicago, stopping at several of the Little House sites along the way. These books have profoundly influenced our family and I am thrilled to travel this path with my girls. We will then fly to New York to meet up with Andy for a wedding, followed by a week in the city. Do any of you have ideas or must-see/do things you’d like to share with us? We’d love to know your favorite museums, hikes, food markets (we won’t be eating out much but please tell us restaurants too!), coffee roasters, anything at all! Thank you in advance.
Here is a rough map of our journey there (the route back will look a bit different – open to suggestions – and will involve flying from New York to Chicago and then driving home):
We’ve been dreaming and planning this for a long while now and it isn’t all set in stone just yet (is anything ever?) but I believe saying it out loud is a good step in making it happen. It’ll all be perfrect.
Love this, Nici. You always seem like you’re the best and most spontaneous mom ever. I really wish I knew your secret! (Seriously, consider sharing please?)
We ended up driving to Butte the night before the smoke broke… I just had to breathe. We packed the kids in, and drove slowly down the back country roads on the other side of Homestake just to breathe in the smell of hay and listen to crickets. It was lovely.