When I arrived back in Montana to visit my grandmother in September, 1975, the idea of making my home in the state was nowhere in my consciousness. (Montana in those days had not yet become known as “the last best place.”) It was humorously described on occasion as “a third world country where the natives spoke English, sort of, and plumbing with running water was generally available, except at my house:). Within two years of that visit, I was working at the U.S. Forest Service and in the process of spending my rather meager savings, acquired as a school teacher, to buy a few acres on which to build a home. It’s the same house in which I still live more than 40 years later, 5 miles from where my great grandparents homesteaded. The Bitterroot and I and the world have changed a lot since those first years when I pumped my homestead water by hand and communicated with friends and family on an 8-party line. The trees that were then ankle high now tower overhead and I can only hope that I have grown some with them.
In my early years working as a seasonal employee for the Forest Service, making ends meet, in the process of building my home while living in it, I had a variety of second jobs, as educational as any previous schooling. I learned to chop wood and grow and store vegetables for the winter. I was breakfast cook and server in a nursing home, resident assistant and cook in a group home, camp helper and cook in hunting camps, to name the most memorable work opportunities that came my way. As a fire lookout and eventually also a dispatcher for a dozen years in the Selway-Bitterroot, I learned a lot about wildfire. I also had time among these jobs to return to art making—mainly printmaking, drawing and painting, activities that have sustained me throughout my life.
Until this past month, it was nowhere in my mind to think I would ever stand for a state political office. But one of the lessons learned living the above story is to be open to new possibilities that life presents, to try to listen and honestly consider previously unthought of ideas and options. I have lately remembered a story told by my step-grandfather about some neighbors stopping by to ask him if he’d consider running for the Montana Senate. He was a very humble man and said that he had felt very honored by the invitation but had declined, believing he could not afford the time away from the small ranch where he toiled long and hard to wrest a modest living for his family from stony Bitterroot ground. For better or worse, I cannot assign responsibility for the decision to file for Montana House District 85 to my neighbors, but certainly part of my decision was based on realizing that I am at a point in my life where I can afford to give this time and an instinctive sense that, almost in spite of myself, it is right for me to offer to do this in gratitude for all that these years in the Bitterroot have taught and given me.