End of an Era

Four years ago on an October afternoon, I was driving away from the Gallatin Field Airport in a purple P.T. Cruiser and into the curving gold of the Montana hills. I had a Montana highway map and a fat mug of airport coffee on the seat beside me, and my husband on the cell phone; he was following my route from his office back in North Carolina. The day was deepening, hills growing subtly darker, and as I drove the snow-capped Rockies began to engulf my little car. I felt free and fine as a bird in flight.

I started this blog because of that trip: I’d been awarded a full fellowship to the Montana Artist Refuge, an artists’ enclave in a tiny, former mining town in Southwestern Montana called Basin, and I wanted an easy way to keep family and friends posted while I was there.

The fellowship couldn’t have come at a better time. My husband and I had been married a little over three years, I was teaching as an adjunct English professor at a small, liberal arts college in Western North Carolina–a job I loved and poured my energies into, but one that took its toll on my writing (and our meager finances)–and I’d just begun to emotionally recover from a miscarriage that had occurred only four months before. An adventure was in order.

So many wonderful things came of my time at the Montana Artists Refuge, most of which are chronicled in my earliest blog posts from 2007 (see “Bring it On, Big Sky” to start). I wrote, and wrote; I slept alone for the first time in years. I hiked, and hiked, in some of the most incredibly stunning and patently visceral country I’ve seen in my life. And, I made a great friend. An essay I wrote about my time at MAR, “Deep Breathing Under Big Sky,” won Third Place in the Santa Fe Writers’ Project 2007 Literary Awards Program, judged by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. But so much more than this came of that one shining month.

I felt like a writer. Sitting in that sparse room at my laptop, away from my world at home; hiking through the snow; talking and laughing with other writers; driving my ridiculous car to places I’d only dreamt about, like mysterious Yellowstone National Park and the haunting Big Hole Battlefield; floating weightlessly in the Boulder Hot Springs, talking of life with a friend and watching mule deer venture forth from dusk-lit spruce; buying groceries like a local in Butte; giving a novel reading at the Helena Book Festival; and doing it all courtesy of a fellowship: this was something BIG. It gave me hope.

Virginia knew what she was talking about when she said that in order to write, “a woman must have … a room of her own.”

Sadly, the place and the people that gave me my first true room of my own are closing their doors. These brutal economic times are taking their toll, and many are suffering, including the Arts and the Montana Artists Refuge. I can never repay their generosity, their hope in me, with neither words nor money–though I’ve attempted with both.

When I left the Montana Artists Refuge there was snow on the ground. Yellowstone National Park had closed to motorized vehicles for the winter, the highways and roads in the high mountain passes were littered with gravel, and I felt, driving away from it all, certain that I’d return.

I was, just maybe, a writer.

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