The sun has set on this last night of our time in Montana. It is a bittersweet night--sweet because the weather was finally perfect for today, our last day, and bitter because we have to leave tomorrow. Yes, I am looking forward to being back in the studio again, and J is eager to see her friends and start second grade. We are all missing our home, our beds, our dogs and hamster--our place in the world. But for J and me, Montana holds big pieces of our hearts and it is a wrench to leave.
I am finally caught up on sleep after months of running full out (there were days here I slept 13 hours straight). It is so silent and dark up at the lake that the chattering of one small squirrel in the morning is enough to jar you momentarily awake. Dave did not get a vacation--he worked the whole time we were here, but I hope even he is taking a little bit of rest and peace back with him to Austin. If not peace and rest, at least a respite from the intense southern heat.
Northwestern Montana is about the best kid's vacation there is. You can spy on deer, wild turkeys, bats, and black squirrels. You can catch feral bunnies (and maybe even keep them!), pick cherries and chokecherries, and play with Gramma, Grampa, Gramma's bird Sam, and Grampa's dog Jig (that's Mister Jiggles to you). You sleep quickly and deeply every night, and your days are filled with swims in the lake, rock-collecting expeditions, kayaking, paddling in the paddle boat, and waking up every day to the fresh-air-filled wonder of the wild mountains.
This is one of the best fruit years I can remember. The huckleberries are dark and plentiful, the cherry tree limbs sagged with black fruit, and the apple and pear trees are almost ready to start shucking their fruit. In fact, one of the apple trees in the neighbor's orchard started tossing apples at us tonight as we sat watching the deer. To thank Candy and her daughter Ann (our neighbors with the orchard) we got a bouquet of local farm stand flowers that J presented them on our last day.
We bought huckleberries (five pounds) at a roadside fruit stand the other day, and the neighbor with the orchard let Dave, J and me pick all the sweet cherries we wanted. In under half an hour from one tree we had over 14 lbs of the most luscious, ripe bing cherries I have ever tasted. mid-August is the best time for cherries--they're too ripe to pick and ship, and in a week they will be rotting on the trees. but for now they are bursting with perfect black juice. J and I pitted and froze them all in single layers on cookie sheets and then bagged them to bring home. We froze the Huckleberries the same way, but there's no need to pit them.
Then I discovered ripe chokecherries out back at my grandparents' cabin and convinced Dave and the J to help me pick 3 lbs of them from one clump of bushes. Chokecherries are very small, acerbic berries with big pits--not much at all to speak of when they're fresh. They are a native American cherry (prunus virginiana) found all over the US except the deep south. The American Indians made pemmican and wojapi from them, and my grandmother Jessie used to make syrup from the ones my uncle Ed and I picked. I remember sitting up here at the lake and putting that syrup on the sourdough pancakes that my Grampa Cecil would make us all for breakfast. Sweet memory, sweet syrup. I froze mine whole--like the huckleberries--and will make syrup, wine, or some other treats with them this fall back in Atlanta.
We all saw more deer this year than we have in previous years too. There is a doe with twin fawns, and another doe with a singleton fawn that graze by the cabin and in the adjacent orchard. A few properties down the lane two yearling bucks, two older bucks and a small herd of other does and fawns frolicked every evening in a larger orchard. The llamas that have lived around the corner for several years are sadly gone, replaced by a roaming flock of wild turkeys, but there is a small herd (gaggle? parliament? symphony?) of yaks a little further down--next to the restaurant that has all the feral bunnies living under the deck. Of course the times I wanted to photograph wildlife all I had was my iPhone--I had left the good camera at the cabin. So if you squint through one eye and enlarge the photos a bit, you can see the bunnies, yaks, and turkeys in the accompanying pics.
Montana brings me back to my childhood with a vengeance, so much so that one night when we were having dinner at the restaurant with the wild bunnies living under the deck and J asked if she caught a bunny could she keep it, I gave the answer I always wished my mother would give and said yes. Of course I never thought she'd actually catch one, but my child is patient, perseverant and resourceful. Welcome to the family, little Jasmine. A sweeter bunny, I could not imagine.
As a last farewell gesture, J honored Montana with the loss of a tooth today. Well, I pulled it out for her before she swallowed it! Now we just need to hope the tooth fairy can find us here (and has enough cash to pay for the tooth!).