The Montana Experiment

View from the Front Door

Eighteen months ago, my husband and I set out for a shiny new life filled with new adventures. To live out the vision we had created for ourselves in a place called Montana. Vast, open spaces and big skies and nature everywhere we looked.

And the quiet…oh, the quiet. On our 1.11 acres of land with vast views of Flathead lake, and mountains and wildlife galore, I would finally find the peace and the quiet I’d been so desperately yearning for.

And we’d have four seasons. Just like I had growing up. Mild summers spent on the lake, fall and the bounty of colors and leaves just waiting to be crunched, and enough snow to decorate the mountain tops and allow us to show-shoe right out our front door. And, oh, cozy nights by the fire.

What could be better?

And the rush hour traffic that consumed up to three hours a day? Gone. For. Ever.

I mean, sure, we would miss our family and our friends and all of our favorite places. But we would make new friends and find new favorite places and our family and friends would come to visit.

And for a while it was great.

View from the Great Room

We built the home of our dreams with postcard-perfect views. We watched bald eagles fly in front of our picture window, and deer chase coyotes down the street, and fox and bear and many other species of wildlife.

View from Great Room

We hiked in Glacier National Park (and many, many other places).

Glacier National Park

We kayaked in more lakes than we can count. And we saw beauty that surpassed anything we ever could’ve imagine.

Blanchard Lake, Whitefish Montana

We learned how to live together 24-7 for the first time in our married life. And we survived!

Tree Pose at Avalanche Lake (Glacier National Park)

I found yoga and myself and a practice to sustain me. In good times, yes. But also through the hard times. And there have been more than a few of those.

Like the time, before our home was finished, when we lived in a mansion on a big mountain that was infested with cluster flies and begrudgingly learned to live with mice (including the presents they left on our kitchen counters during the night).

Or the tiny home that came next. Where we slept in bunk beds and every day felt like a week. Where one of our dogs broke her back. The other developed heart disease. And our cats? One of them sprained her arm. The other one went to the rainbow bridge.

Or the day we lost nearly all of our worldly possessions in a fire at the storage facility that we never even thought about getting insurance on.

The Storage Unit

But those hardships are behind us now. And the dust has settled. The shiny new life we imagined is not so new. And it is not so shiny.

Because, even as I sit here looking out at the newly snow-capped mountains, stunning in all of their magnificent glory, I feel a sense of loneliness so profound it nearly splits me in half.

And that next great American novel? Yeah, it’s so far from what’s left of my mind because all I can think about is how lost I feel. Lost and completely unrecognizable. At least to myself (and probably to my husband).

I think again about all the reasons we left. Reasons I felt so strongly about just a year and half ago. Things like traffic and the heat of summer that seems to last forever and the endless stream of traffic from the busy street we lived on. And then I think about something else, and when I do, it knocks the breath from my lungs.

I think about all the reasons I had to stay. Things like family and friends and community. And diversity. Things that, with few exceptions, were glaringly missing from our shiny new life.

And then I think about the nine-thousand square-foot home that will someday be built in front of us. The one that will block most of our view. And I think about the hottest real estate market the Flathead area has seen in more than thirty years. And I wonder.

Is it a sign?

Is the universe telling me it’s time to go home?

My heart aches at the thought. It aches for the family and friends I left behind. For all the coffee shops where I used to write the stories I seem to have left behind. It aches for everything that was comfortable and familiar to me.

I shake it off. No way. We didn’t come all this way, spend all this time and effort and money building this beautiful home, endure the hardships we’ve been through, just to tuck our tails, admit defeat, and run back home.

I mean, we are not quitters. We’ve never run from the challenges in our lives. So I shove my loneliness into a pocket of my soul and stitch it shut. And I learn to ignore it.

Until one day my husband’s mounting anxiety about the impending mega mansion across the street gets the better of him and he suggests that we consider selling the house before the mansion breaks ground…before the value of our home plummets.

My heart shimmies, but outside I act cool. I tell him to call Tom (our realtor). Set up a meeting. Just to get his thoughts about things. And when Tom tells us that if we are even thinking about selling, now is the time to do it.

Later, my husband tells me he wants to sell. That he is unhappy. Has been since before we even moved into the new house. I admit the same to him. The words tumble from my lips. Freed at last.

The sign went up the next day. But even though I know with every fiber that going home is the right thing, leaving is still bittersweet. I mean, I found myself here. Found the best version of myself here. The version I will take with me. Back to Sacramento.

And so, on November 23 we set our navigation systems to our final destination: True North. Also known as Home. Because home is not the place with the postcard-perfect views or grand adventures I shared so much about on social media. It is the place where family is. Family and friends and favorite places and everything that is familiar.

Home is where the heart is.

Peace Out, Montana.

4 comments on… “The Montana Experiment”

  1. It took great courage to share your story, Suzanne. I’m so glad you’ve returned Home with new perspectives and a fresh appreciation of what’s really important in your life. Life’s filled with adventures (good and bad), and this was a great big one which (thankfully) didn’t last too long. You’re an extraordinary writer, and I look forward to more stories as your soul settles back into the valley and the community you love.

    • Hi Mad. And you are on your own grand adventure! I’m so happy that you get to be near your sister. I know how much she means to you. And thank you, I hope to return to fiction writing someday, but for now this seems to be the type of writing that is calling me. Love you.


  2. Catherine McGreevy


    You did something many of us dream of! Reading this reminded me to appreciate those things in life that matter most, and yet which I sometimes take for granted. Thanks!

    • Hi Cathy! Thank you for that, and YES, our grand adventure really reminded us of how much we appreciate not only the big things (family, friends), but the little things. Like diversity, amenities, etc. Hugs my friend.

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