A fresh start over the pass.
It’s June and a late-spring rain falls on winter’s lingering snowpack. In this narrow window all the plants in Montana are beer-bottle green. The peaks of the Absaroka Range loom like arms ready to give me a bear hug. For 18 years, I have lived primarily in downtown Bozeman, and now I am buying a townhouse on a creek in Livingston.
My new place is a stone’s throw from downtown. Leaving Bozeman feels big, but I am charmed by Livingston. And if I can re-create my life somewhere, Livingston feels like the best match.
Fleshman Creek swirls through my new back yard, and the mosquitoes keep my dog Zoe and I moving. I realize mallard duck chatter is my kind of wind chime.
We meander around the south letter streets, exploring our new neighborhood. There are hundred-year-old bungalows, some with fresh coats of paint, detailed trim, and new metal roofs. Others have peeling paint and the pallor of neglect. There are many simple, one-room stucco houses, interspersed with blocky, new construction.
Raised beds host vegetable gardens, and chunks of petrified wood and river rock create ornamental yucca and purple Echinacea beds. Swirly juniper posts hold up fences that keep in chickens, and keep out wandering dogs. Driftboats and trailers are parked on the street, while snowmobiles, Sprinter vans, and dead cars live in the alleys. Trash cans are tied to garages. Bicycles of all kinds lean against chain-link fences.
Summer mornings, our ritual orients around the Yellowstone River. Zoe and I walk by the new community skate park, and then we dogleg behind the high-school sports fields to access Sacajawea Park. The first few times we hit the rocky corridor of the Yellowstone River, my senses contract and open all at once. A wild river is not your average river, and the Yellowstone is a lioness. Inhaling the sweet scent of runoff, we cruise the riverside path past the Miles Band Shell and the farmer’s market lawn. The poplars and cottonwoods loom over the park’s horseshoe pits, picnic area, and playground.
Near the summer solstice, I throw sticks for Zoe and she flirts in the shallows of the icy, greenish water. Not three feet from the bank, the Yellowstone is swollen and fast. Even in the height of summer fly fishing and Yellowstone Park traffic, the pulse of Livingston is still low-key. My move-in day comes on a hot, sticky day at the end of July. My friend Michael and I sweat as we shove the bulk of my mattress, squirming fish-like, up both turns of my staircase.
The inaugural Porchfest occurs on a lazy Sunday afternoon in August. People stroll through the neighborhood and listen to live music set up in eight different lawns and porches. Pushing strollers and pulling wagons, neighbors talk in clumps and sip beer out of koozies. In my shorts and tank top, I wander home for a minute, and instead of returning, listen to thunder booms and a light rain as a summer storm eases through.
One cool Saturday morning in August, there is a reprieve from wildfire smoke, and my friend Kevin and I ride mountain bikes up the Goose Creek trail. The craggy peaks of the western Beartooths absorb our attention from the ridgeline. We loop the 14 miles back to the parking lot of Chestnut Mountain trail. Later on, I drink a couple of River Nymph beers at Neptune’s Brewery and eat a spicy tuna roll.
Late summer rolls around and my friend Deb and I decide to hike Rock Creek trail in the Crazies. Ditching a plan to go up near Sunlight Peak, we gamble on an unknown trailhead for a shorter drive. At Clyde Park, we drive due east, and then north, winding through ranches to the trailhead at the southwest corner of the range. In the first few miles of the hike, Rock Creek trail meanders through private land, and crisscrosses some roads. We lose the trail and find it again, and find ourselves in a forested canyon brimming with Douglas fir and spruce. The handsome prize of Wilsall Peak punches out the sky in the distance. Rock Lake is 11 miles in, and I make the mental note to return soon, on another summer day.