Montana: the spirit of the west, the home of the fearless cowboy, the land of hard work and determination, and, according to some, the last place on earth to have indoor plumbing and vehicles. When outsiders talk about Montana it is not uncommon to hear questions like “do you ride horses to school,” “did you go to a one room schoolhouse,” or “what do you do for fun out there?” It’s amazing how little the outside world seems to know about Montana. Even more surprising is how some Montanans don’t even know about Montana. I’ll admit, I was a Montanan with very little knowledge of the state I lived in for most of my life. I grew up in Billings where the landscape is brown and flat with decorations of sand and dead brush. For so long I hated this state. I hated the modern day cowboy and cowgirl associated with it. I believed, like many other Montanans that harbored similar feelings of angst, that you could not be in love with the state without carrying the cowboy/cowgirl stigma. The Montana girl in my mind wore daisy dukes and cowboy hats, had no care for our mother earth, exercised unnecessary dominion over animals, and carried a fake smile on her lips and an insidious laugh on her breath. I would never be a Montana lover. I could never sink to that level. However, over the years I discovered I could not have been more wrong, and I’ve never been so happy to find out exactly how wrong I was.
A spark only developed between the state and myself when I left Billings to pursue my education in the lush and mountainous land of Bozeman, Montana. The first hints of love began to strike during a day trip to Yellowstone National Park to visit the Boiling River. Out from the rocky river bed spouts steaming water which has been heated from the thermal activity deep inside the earth. People from all walks of life change into bikinis and swimming trunks even in the icy wind of winter, and dip into the river with no hesitation. Uncontrollable laughter erupts from the bodies easing their way into the flow with disbelief stretched across their faces. “Could they really be climbing into a river with snow falling from the sky and massive buffalo grazing within a stones throw distance from the river's edge?” As swimmers slip and slide through the river rocks they are simultaneously hit with shocks of the freezing water from the river and the burning water that pours out of the earth. Once you find the perfect mixture of hot and cold it is easy to settle in and relax; and suddenly, you realize you’ve never been closer to nature in your whole life. There you are, sitting in a river during the dead of winter, in a national park known for its caldera resting place. You’re relaxing as a result of the burning magma located miles beneath the earth’s surface. My heart grew warm as I enjoyed this adventure with some of my closest friends and some strangers (who eventually became friends.) From this moment on, I grew more and more fond of my home state. To me, this is the definition of Montana.
Being in love with Montana means loving your neighbor, seeking adventure and overcoming your fears. It is loving the earth and finding solace in the heart of mother nature. A Montana girl worships at moon rise as his face creeps over the horizon from the security of her North Face tent. It’s meeting strangers on the street at midnight and making memories with them that will last a lifetime. It is the adrenaline that pumps in your veins as you jump from the dock into the icy water of Flathead Lake, but it is also the unconditional trust and comfort that touches your heart when you look into the eyes of a horse. I hope it is obvious that I am in love with Montana for it has taught me who I am and shown me who I should strive to be. A Montana girl is adventure, courage, love and laughter. It is the warmth of the campfire that touches your soul. It is embracing the elements and realizing how very small you are in the vast scheme of things. It is holding the beauty of the world in your heart and working together to make it healthier and happier place. I can assure you, I am no stereotypical cowgirl of the west, but I am a Montana Girl.