Season Opener: Less is More

Men, like rivers, become crooked by following the line of least resistance. —Edvard Raasted

Well, it took us a few months – the benefits have revealed themselves slowly, like an intense workout regimen after weeks of sloth – but a new attitude is emerging in southwest Montana. There's a collective murmuring, a quiet yet confident declaration: This recession is good for us.

And it's true. We were spinning out of control. Gleefully accepting every dollar of credit our mortgage lenders and MasterCard companies would give us, we bought expensive furniture and enormous plasma TVs, dined out every night of the week, and lusted after the latest Audi model to hit the market. Our Saturdays were spent not in the woods, but at Linens & Things picking out decor for the den or searching the MLS for the next real-estate deal. Longtime locals with moderate incomes built big, outlandish homes; city folk who moved here to get away from the rat race found themselves flipping four houses a month. People were over-extended, under-capitalized, and in debt up to their ears. And there was no end in sight.

Yup, we were becoming crooked, twisted out of our natural shape, following the easy but erratic path laid before us by a consumer culture bent on amassing ever more material goods. "Get rich and live large" was the mantra du jour: Buy low, sell high, and move up the ladder until you've got a mansion in Triple Tree and a couple high-end German autos in your four-car garage. An eight-lane highway to the Promised Land!

And in the meantime, we forgot something: That we're already here. We've made it. Montana is the promised land, and this paradise we're lucky enough to inhabit has nothing to do with the square footage of our homes or the material in our kitchen countertops. No, this particular Shangri-La is about life, not stuff: A place to forge meaningful relationships, identify and realize our ambitions, and enjoy the splendor of natural world. Sure, the recession hit us pretty hard at first – like a drug addict going straight, the sudden change was confusing and painful. But what sounded like a siren of doom soon transmuted into a soulful, mellifluous wake-up call. Slowly but surely, we're starting to straighten out. We're starting to remember why we live here.

Lucky for us, it's summertime. The sun's shining, trout are jumping, the mountains and rivers beckon. What better season for a physical and psychological overhaul, a transformation from upward-mobility obsession to the modest, carefree Montanans we were born to be? Time to take our long-overdue epiphany and make the most of it. We'll see you out there.