You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.
So it has been far too long since my last blog posting. The real world has taken an ugly grasp on me and I have not had a chance to sit down and write. Or maybe I just haven’t made it a priority as I need to start doing, maybe that should be a April Resolution (forget New Year’s Resolutions I think everyone should make a new resolution every month). Anyways I am getting off track. We all have role-models or people we grow up emulating and learning from and I am lucky to have a cadre of men and women that fall into this group. The past two weekends I was very fortunate to spend some time with two very important woman in my life. I am speaking of my two beautiful grandmothers. Each of them has had their trials and tribulations in life (like many who are nearing 90 years in age), however, it’s how they have handled these tribulations or held themselves that I and many others can learn from.
My father’s mother Merle (Beckman) York is the type of person that once you meet her you’re intrigued to learn more. Raised in Anaconda, MT with six siblings. She met my grandfather and they eventually settled in St. Ignatius MT to raise their family. My grandfather served as a high school science teacher and principle and my grandmother raised four children and also worked as the school receptionist. While not being formally diagnosed at the time, it was later projected that her symptoms that occurred with her last pregnancy could be attributed to multiple sclerosis. If you know someone who has been affected by this disease it is very different for each and every person. My grandmother has been in a wheel chair for ~31 years and fighting symptoms and flare-ups for much longer than this. My grandfather Herb (a saint himself) was always by her side. But Merle (or Nanny as she is known to her 8 grandchildren) has always been as independent as able and to this day is a champion of positivity. She has been my rock in “looking at the bright side” and I have very RARELY heard her complain, even with recently being diagnosed with primary liver cancer. While MS can affect cognition my grandmother has remained sharp as a whip and I love our conversations that occur often involving politics. Lately it has become increasingly difficult to converse with her unless you can read her lips as she speaks thus it was nice to see her two weekends ago, her sense of humor continues to make me laugh and as we reminisced on so many great memories it made us both cry too. She is one hell of a MT woman and I can’t wait to pass on her lessons she instilled in me to my children some day.
My mother’s mother Georgia (Wendt) Lodders is another strong woman who simply makes you want to hug her when she stands at a generous 5feet tall and giggles. She was raised on a ranch outside of Lewistown, MT with two siblings. Hard work was instilled on the ranch at a very young age, she passed this on to her children and thus my mother (along with my father) passed this on to my sister and I. My grandfather, trained to fight on skis in the 10th mountain division, suffered a brain injury after being shot in the head and left for dead in Dolomites during WWII. He remarkably recovered and went on to work on Truman’s Press Corp as well as a publisher for the Disabled American Veterans magazine while living in Washington DC. Eventually the West was calling them home and he and my grandmother settled in Denver, CO to raise their four children (with summer visits to the ranch in Lewistown). My grandfather suffered from mental health issues thus my grandmother often worked extra hard to support the family. She finished her career working for Colorado Ski Country known as “Ski Mom” throughout the area. She was even inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in Vail, Co with the likes of Warren Miller, Andy Mills etc. After retirement she settled in Anaconda, MT with her adorable sister (my great aunt) Jane. She has been through an an artificial valve replacement (in the 1970’s), emergent bilateral total knees replacements due to bleeds as well as bilateral hip replacements. But she still takes her walking sticks out and “hikes” with a smile on her face. Last weekend we spent the evening visiting with her as she stayed in their local hospital after having a rough return trip from wintering in AZ. Ever the host she insisted on sitting up the entire time we were there and refused to talk about her situation just stating “I am just getting old” followed by “you two look so good, are you going skiing tomorrow?”. Once again I was able to laugh and cry with another remarkable woman in my life.
Each of these ladies continues to affect those they meet and do so with such grace and humility. I can only hope that someday I will leave a lasting legacy for my grandchildren.
My husband I are very fortunate to get the chance to vacation to the beautiful Hawaiian Island of Kauai. This trip marked a celebration of a myriad of things such as our fifth wedding anniversary, him having a very successful fire season and his upcoming summer 2013 adventure detailing as a Smokejumper. While we both absolutely LOVE winter in Montana (mostly due to our boarderline obsession with skiing) a trip to warmer weather, lush vegetation and island cocktails didn’t seem so bad. Being typical tourists we purchased a few guidebooks to wet our whistle on what to expect in Kauai. When I actually started reading it on the plane ride over (I know not much preparation, but hey I have been ridiculously busy) I noticed in the Hawaiian language section the word “Paniolo” – or “Hawaiian Cowboy”. This piqued my interest in the search for Panilolos. It’s true, there is an unexpected “cowboy culture” in Hawaii that is over a century old when longhorn cattle were brought to the islands and after some trials and tribulations a successful beef business was established. At first my thoughts were centered around the more traditionalist version of cowboy as this is what consumes a lot of Montana culture and heritage. However, after driving around the Garden Isle and seeing the amazing mountains that promote such an almighty presence yet put you amazingly enough at ease (hiking out the NaPali coast should be on everyone’s bucket list) my focus on the word Paniolo shifted. Often when outsiders think of Montana the first thing that comes to mind whether correct or not is cowboys. To me cowboys and cowgirls presents an image of a “hardworking, never give up even if it’s tough” type attitude. In a traditional sense they’re the ones that will work 18-20 hour days during calving season yet still make it to a good friends birthday celebration with their family. I think, however, this attitude and awareness extends beyond the areas of ranching. Fortunately these cowboys/girls often pass this same attitude and work ethic on to their children. One early evening during our trip we were sitting on the beach in beautiful Hanalei Bay (Peter, Paul and Mary definitely had this one correct in their song “Puff The Magic Dragon”). The sea on the North Shore had been quite rough due to higher winds, bigger swells and strong rip currents which is not unusual in the winter months. In fact, many of the beaches were closed that day to any swimming, surfing, snorkeling or scuba diving. Despite a “beach closed” sign posted by the lifeguard station at Hanalei you could see many locals out surfing in the huge waves that would crash down in thundering BOOMS. With the sun in a perfect spot we decided to sit on this beautiful beach and immerse ourselves in the sites and sounds.. After about 30 minutes we thought about packing up and heading back to our condo (there was after all an amazing fish market we had heard about that was calling our name after our 8 mile hike) but then my Paniolo vision arrived. Here came 5 local girls not more than the age of 12 all carrying their surfboards. I looked at Justin and asked “are they seriously going out in that surf, those waves are much bigger than any of them?” So we watched with marked trepidation as they paddled out as a group to start riding the waves.
A young Paniolo surfing in Hanalei Bay
These girls deserve some major respect as they were amazing to watch. Some of them would get pounded by the wave and tumbled like they were in a washing machine only to turn around and paddle back out. Each of them, however, would catch a wave and make it seem so effortless. Their smiles coming out of the water were as big as their smiles going in. It made me think they are the true Paniolos, in that, they wouldn’t have dared to give up even if they kept getting flipped, knocked, and careened off their boards. As I watched these young girls rip I realized, we could all learn something from these young Panilolos, life may knock you down but smile get back up and come at it with greater determination and inevitably you will succeed.
I sit in my quiet livingroom next to a rippin’ fire with Gregory Alan Isakov on Pandora and my faithful pup Ginny (I know you thought I would say Bridger and or Madison) curled up on her blanket close by. She is making soft yelps as puppy dreams run through her head and her feet are still moving as if she continues her obscessing quest for her frisbee. Reflection on life is easy to do in a setting like this. I have always been interested in writing, in fact I thought I was going to be a journalist at the age of five. As I went an entirely different career route my love for writing, reading and current events has not waned but merely been put in a dusty shoebox on the top shelf of that closet you keep telling yourself you’re going to clean out, someday that is. We live in a world of electronic media most of which I have yet to get involved with (tweets, blogs, Instagram, LinkedIn). But a few of my friends have started blogs and after reading them it made me nostalgic for writing again. So I decided, why not? At least my mother will be pleased that her daughter who used to write up stories of all our family adventures in the Montana wilderness was writing again. So here goes….
A recent post being shared and re-shared across the time-sucking world of Facebook described how Autocomplete (no I don’t know what Autocomplete is either) describes each of the 50 states. Montana had truly the most, well badass description… simply put “Montana is for Badasses”.
Badass [bad as]
adjective Also, bad·assed.
1.(of a person) difficult to deal with; mean-tempered; touchy.
2.distinctively tough or powerful; so exceptional as to be intimidating.
**(let’s just forget #1 and focus on #2)
Being a fourth generation Montanan this concept is not new to me, in fact I would proudly boast about my home state whenever I had the chance while an undergraduate at the University of Oregon. I would wear that badge proudly and know that most of my Montanan coeds would do the same. Even when I lived for awhile in Salt Lake City, UT after graduate school my home was always still in Montana. Thus when the opportunity for employment arose I jumped. I could list off many reasons why “badass” is a perfectly good adjective to describe Montanans however that may take too much time so I’ll try to limit it to one story. Recently I went on a great backcountry ski tour in the Hebgen Lake area near West Yellowstone. It was a beautiful very crisp (i.e. freezing cold) bluebird January day. I was fortunate to have the company of my husband Justin and dear friend Erin. Despite our skin issues (lets just say that in the end each of us had only one legitimate skin to ascend the 2700 vertical feet) smiles were still plastered to our faces as we skinned back across the frozen lake to our awaiting car and more importantly valiantly earned apre ski beer. We met some fellow Bozemanites in the parking area who had gotten up at the crack of dawn to drive the 1.5 hours and get in multiple early ski laps. They were then leaving there to hit the Madison River near Ennis to fly fish only to follow it up with a dip at Norris Hot Springs as they returned back to Bozeman making a complete 196 mile circle. If that doesn’t sound like a Badass day I don’t know what does. For those of you not familiar with Montana Badassness (I know, i just coined a new word) driving long distances is often part of the equation of what makes up an epic Montana day. Autocomplete definitely got this one correct, Montana is for badasses (like you had any doubt). As I finish my first blog post I’ll leave you with this, Montana isn’t just FOR badasses, Montana IS badass. I think these famous faces had it right:
John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley: In Search of America “I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
Colin Meloy frontman for the folk rock group The Decemberists spoke in his 2012 graduation speech to his alma matter Helena High school about “Montana Exceptionalism” and I think he hit the nail on the head. http://colinmeloy.tumblr.com/post/24409516505/i-spoke-at-my-high-schools-graduation-this-is-what-i