Fresh Eyes: A Bad Day in Bozeman???

Lara Wisniewski  |  Tuesday Dec. 31st, 2013

Last night at three a.m., I woke up in the middle of the night from a bad cold. As I sat up in bed, I noticed that the trees outside my window were casting a shadow on the snowy ground. How could that be I thought, in my half awake, half mucous, dazed state of mind. I went to the side of the house and pressed my head against the side window to get the full view.

On the horizon, clear and cold, was a perfectly round moon sending some serious rays over the fields behind my house. I have never seen a full moon like that, where its reflection is as strong as a sunny day. Out of my half awake state I took a mental photo. I barely remember taking two Advil after that, but I won’t ever forget seeing that big glassy moon reflecting over the clean snow.

When I volunteered to write an article called “Fresh Eyes”, about my first impressions as a new resident of Bozeman, Montana for Bozeman Magazine, the magazine’s editor, Angie Ripple, told me that longtime residents needed it. She said that it would help them remember what brought them here and made them want to stay.

Last night when I went out to have a beer with some friends, I had my “Fresh Eyes” article practically ready for publication, give or take a few edits. At the bar, I mentioned to my friend, who has lived here since 2001, that I was writing this article. When I told her what it was about, she replied: “That’s a great idea, I need to remember what it is that brought me here. I was driving through Bridger Canyon today coming back from skiing, and I looked around me and realized that I take all of this beauty for granted anymore, and I didn’t used to.” Needless to say, the coincidence was startling. She was proof of what Angie had told me. It was then that I realized that even though I had just moved here, me and this longtime resident have something in common about life in Bozeman. Let me explain.

My husband and I moved here three months ago. We needed to get out of the city. Montana opened our eyes to the fact that there had to be something more than the life that we had been living. We deliberated, could we live well without making the compromises for beauty and convenience, that we had been making in our current lives? We took the chance. We made the move, packed up our stuff and our cat Mena, and came here. It was a massive leap of faith.


We found an amazing old ranch house to rent for a very reasonable price and the world’s sweetest landlords. It was almost scary how well all of this was lining up for us, almost too good.

Having lived in the Southwestern Arizona desert for over ten years after growing up in Virginia, New York City and Vermont, I had been craving the seasons and lots and lots of bad weather. I was really excited for the first heavy rains of the fall, the cold, the snow — all of it. I was locked into my Weather Bug App on my phone checking the forecast several times a day.

The rain was coming and it was coming soon, like in a few days! When I professed my excitement to my husband, he reminded me that we still had an exposed roof on our house. The winds from the summer storm had torn off some of the tiles on the roof and the whole side of it had to be re-done. It is a small roof so it wouldn’t, or shouldn’t take a long time. Right? Not quite. Our roofer/handyman, nice guy, had a slew of other jobs and things to handle. So after he tore off the roof, he wasn’t able to get back to the job immediately.

As seasons always seduce you, summer was going to go on forever. And Weather Apps hedge. Since the forecast was only twenty percent chance of rain, nobody was too worried. We went with it, forcing ourselves to choose confidence over fear. But forecasts, I have noticed, only start listing fifty percent chance of anything like, the day before. Suddenly, we needed a roof and we needed it yesterday.

Add to the mix that we had decided to sand the floors in our home. Their ancient patina of chocolate brown promised to lighten to a rich, buttery transparent   yellow after a good, professional sanding. The only day the sanders could fit us in was that Tuesday. The Tuesday after the Monday forecast of fifty-percent chance of rain. Tuesday morning at nine a.m, only one half hour after the rain began to pour into the house. I love the rain, but not that morning.
Fortunately everybody rallied, even neighbors came out to help. While the sanders were in the house sanding around the water, we all sat up on the roof in the pouring rain wrangling a roof sized tarp. And as excited as I was for the weather, I was certainly not prepared for it. Since I hadn’t lived in bad weather climates for years, I didn’t even have a worthy raincoat. All I had was a pair of Hunter boots, you know the fashionable ones that come in all colors of the rainbow. Yes, they are totally waterproof, and the proof in the pudding, only good for walking vertically on city streets. On a diagonal wet wooden roof? Not even. Here I was, my first week in Montana and I was about to slide off the roof into the next world.

Our cat Mena had exiled herself to the corner of the bathroom closet, as far away from the assault of floor sanding, indoor rainfall and noise as she could get. Since we had to move to the Best Western Grantree for a few days for obvious reasons, we left her in the house, knowing she’d probably be more comfortable there. But the next day, my husband called to report that she was missing. Since this was all new to us, I had no idea where her new hiding places were. Mena is an old, feral desert cat so I knew that her becoming an a la carte meal for a coyote or eagle wasn’t quite a possibility. But when my husband said he had found some fresh cat poo right outside the house, it was all I could do to ask him to check if it was still warm.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my husband and I spent every Happy Hour at the Grantree bar wondering if we were doing the right thing. Here we were, the proud, new Clampetts in the neighborhood with our newly tarped roof. When would it ever get done? Would we ever be able to move into our bedroom and get our bed out of the living room? What about this had been a good decision? In moments where we seriously considered leaving, we had to stop ourselves first and foremost, because we had to wait for our cat. She still was gone and we weren’t about to abandon our old friend. So we stayed. And because we loved the ranch house, with all of its issues, we stayed there too.

Our cat came back after a few days. She had gotten locked into the crawlspace under the house where she had been drawn in by a few hundred Montana mice. My husband heard her crying and unscrewed the floorboard and rescued her back to her preferred domestic lifestyle. I like to think, though, that if it hadn’t been for her, we might not have stayed here. And if we hadn’t stayed, I never would have seen that full moon last night. Especially if we hadn’t stayed in the ranch house, which did eventually get a real roof.

After talking to my friend last night, I knew I had to re-write this article. “Fresh Eyes” wasn’t just about first time experience for her or for me. There were a few bad days when I arrived here where it was challenging to see anything but the bad situation. My friend felt like she needed to see things in the way that she had remembered twelve years before as a new resident. But even in her humdrum, and even in my stress and bad mood, it was the land and its beauty that brought us both back to our vision, so to speak. It made me persevere to stay, (I need to give my cat Mena credit for that too) and it reminded my friend that she wanted the landscape to inspire her again.

Extremely nice people everywhere you go, cheap gas, easy to get around, great restaurants, outdoor sports, are all qualities that make the Bozeman life exceptional. I need to point out, especially as a new resident, that those things are hard to find in one place these days. When you combine that with the sublime landscape and wildlife everywhere, it creates this elusive thing. I would dare to call it an essence, like a medicine that can’t be found anywhere but here.   My husband and I couldn’t get enough of it when we visited on vacation. So we came here because we needed to live with it for a long time, hopefully permanently. And in our few months here, it has consistently overwhelmed the difficult situations, frustrations, an exposed roof, or a missing cat. Life is filled with bad days wherever you hang your hat, but even a bad day in Bozeman, is a pretty good one.

About the Author(s)

Lara Wisniewski

Lara Wisniewski is a professional editor of the written word and a longtime writer of fascinating life interests, art and culture. She is also currently at work on her first novel. She is an extremely happy, new resident of the Bozeman area and the proud, new mama of her rescue puppy Bettina.

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