Oh Montana!

I returned to Big Sky, Montana after an 11 year hiatus. Lone Peak was there to greet me, as stoic and stunning as ever.

My first time there was during a family ski trip. It was mid March, and I’d never seen so much snow—or so few lift lines—in my life. A week of unmatched powder skiing followed. My 12-year-old daughter took her first ski lessons and had a blast.

Unsurprisingly, the past decade has brought growth to this spectacular mountain aerie. No fabulous ski destination ever stays “small” in the way one secretly hopes. Yet Big Sky seems to have a handle—at least for now—on not becoming an unsightly cluster of condos on top of chalets on top of midrise hotels.

The resort’s four main hotels, located at Mountain Village, are busy undergoing renovations in time for the 2021/2022 winter season. Just down the mountain at Big Sky Town Center is The Wilson, a mountain chic Marriott Residence Inn built in 2019. It offers 129 rooms along with a bar/restaurant, heated pool, fire pit and 6 electric vehicle chargers. The Wilson is walking distance to the town’s main cluster of shops, bars and restaurants.

Roxy’s Market at Town Center is the go to for groceries, while The Cave offers an impressive array of liquors, wines and cute mountain gifts. Each Wednesday during summer season, the Big Sky Farmers Market boasts more than 80 vendors. Music in the Mountains, the free summer concert series, entertains visitors and locals through September.

Big Sky’s world renowned fly fishing was the main reason for my trip. Happily, I got my perfect moment, hooking a fat rainbow trout after a few casting tips from my guide. Unfortunately, it slipped off my line right before the net arrived.

Truth be told, catching the fish wasn’t really the point. Just standing in the cool rushing water was enough of a treat for this Florida girl, eager to escape humidity and hurricane season. Thanks to Gallatin River Guides, I experienced A River Runs Through It with a patient instructor who didn’t mind untangling all my caught lines or waiting for me to catch my breath when we scrambled over boulders to the next fishing spot.

There were other perfect moments to be had at Big Sky. While driving to the fishing outfitter, I had to stop on the highway while a herd of bighorn sheep casually crossed to the other side. Seeing their big brown eyes and gnarly horns just inches from my windshield was a Nat Geo moment I won’t soon forget.

Nightly Perseid meteor showers, which peak in mid August, were another fun sideshow during my trip. After midnight, I watched multiple stars streak rapidly through the heavens from my condo balcony. It was an unexpected delight for a city girl who rarely gets to see the Milky Way.

Like many places, the downside of Montana’s mountain splendor is the very serious lack of affordable housing in Bozeman and Big Sky. Resort employees simply can’t afford to live close to their jobs. The problem is bad and getting worse.

In addition to hearing about the affordable housing shortage, I was also mindful of the negative effects of tourism in such a critically important wildlife area. Fly fishing guides in the Big Sky/West Yellowstone area practice catch and release, but rivers still get overfished during the peak summer season.

I look forward to a return trip to Big Sky—summer or winter—while hoping that too much of a good thing won’t destroy the amazing natural assets that lure people here from around the world. Like every other spectacular nature destination, it’s a wait and see, along with a silent prayer that humans keep themselves in check.

A few more tips and highlights from my recent visit to Big Sky:

Ousel Falls Hike: this short hike (1.6 miles) is perfect even on a hot day. The elevation and dense forest keep things cool while you wander over wooden bridges to see the falls. Stunning pines, gurgling streams, and little places to rest and take in the scenery.

Museum of the Rockies: located in Bozeman and worth a visit for Native American artifacts, dinosaurs, the planetarium and the authentic turn-of-the-century pioneer house located behind the museum.

Mountain Mama’s: this tiny breakfast cafe in West Yellowstone serves up gourmet coffee, killer burritos and huckleberry turnovers. Worth the 40-minute drive from Big Sky.

Yellowstone, the TV Show: You can’t help getting reeled in by this sizzling Western soap opera starring Kevin Costner as a Montana ranch king grappling with greedy developers and Native American casino interests.


A Trip and a Hip

  An amazingly wonderful trip to Colorado with my fiancé was cut short by my mother’s broken hip. 

This Rocky Mountain getaway of mine had two reasons behind it. First, to support my fiancé’s sister who is undergoing chemo and radiation for multiple cancers. Second, to get my fiancé away from care taking for a few days so he could relax and recharge his batteries.

I am now, officially, in my fifties. Middle age is serving as a daily reminder to ‘carpe diem’, to seize each moment of each day like it was your very last on this planet. As a cancer survivor who battled the disease in my early thirties, ocarpe diem has been my motto since being declared cancer free more than 16 years ago.

Literally, for me, every day IS Christmas. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I weep with happiness watching my teenage daughter receive school awards, take band trips to Washington, DC, and reach milestones like getting her drivers license and taking her SATs. I cry at the drop of a hat, mainly because I am so damned glad to be alive to see her enjoy (and struggle through) her adolescence. After multiple surgeries for cervical and colon cancer, I still cant believe I was lucky enough to watch Erin graduate from Kindergarten. And now her high school graduation is right around the corner. We’ve made plans to visit colleges over the summer. The world is her oyster right now.
Two weeks ago, I had my annual physical with my oncologist and scheduled my mammogram. Now, I am playing phone tag with the oncologist’s office, trying to return his voice mail message. I am wondering what the call is about. Is my cholesterol high? Are my triglycerides a tad too fatty? Or is it the Big C knocking on my door again?

I keep getting the oncologist’s answering service. They close the office on Fridays. Besides, Ive been immersed in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and joyfully NOT focused on my phone messages, Facebook, or any of the other electronic intrusions that normally suck time out of my days at home in Miami.

But before I can even catch up with my own annual exam results, I get an emergency call from mom’s neighbor, who heard her screaming for help from her garage and rushed to her side. Apparently, she fell in the garage and broke her hip. Joe, our neighbor, waited with her while the paramedics came, and called me in Colorado with updates on which hospital she was being taken to and which police officers I needed to speak with while trying to find someone to come get my mother’s dog.

I watch Joe’s children play in their front yard each day. He has an adorable baby girl who started walking not long ago. But, as is typical of life in the big city, we’ve never actually met or spoken to each other. His wife and I have waved at each other. We’ve said hi to the children’s grandfather. Now, I am indebted to him for hearing my mother’s cries for help while I am on vacation 2,000 miles away.

This morning, I reach my mother by phone from the Denver airport. She’s groggy and in a lot of pain. She tells me she is scheduled for an operation. I tell her I am on my way home and will be at her bedside by dinner time.

I am an only child and my father died in 1985. I feel the weight on my shoulders to get home immediately, to figure out where to rent a hospital bed for her recovery, to be the caretaker she deserves. 

After driving down to Denver from the Rocky Mountain high country, it was back to reality last night with the neighbor’s phone call and the news of mom’s accident. This morning, it was back to reality saying goodbye to my fiancé’s sister, who has been given less than a year to live IF the chemo and radiation begin to work. I hope to see her at least one more time. I fear the weakened state I will find her in. She shaved her head bald last night rather than watch her hair fall out in tufts and handfuls. It was the only good tip I could give her: Cut it all off before it begins to itch. Have a moment of control over your cancer before it takes over every single aspect of your being.

I go to bed with the exasperated acceptance that this is the reality of midlife. Aging parents, aging siblings, dealing with assorted health crises the way we once dealt with pesky acne breakouts or boyfriends who didn’t call back. There is the daily awareness of your own limited time here on Mother Earth. There is faith, and the safety net of friends and family who keep us afloat during tough times. The best you can do is to keep plodding, and to return the kindnesses bestowed upon you during your own times of need.


Saying Goodbye to My Pirate

 After losing Danny, I was numb. The one person who had made me crawl out of the dark place following my divorce was now gone from my life.

I cried constantly. Everything was a reminder of him. The beautiful orchid plants he gave me for Valentines Day. The birthday card he’d given me just weeks before he had his accident. The last photos I’d taken of him at the sweet, impromptu birthday barbecue he’d thrown for me. He bought me gag gifts and laughed as I opened each one. We sat outside on the patio, looking over at the neighbor’s sour orange tree laden with fruit.

We ate ribs with his two roommates, who joked about the road trip to Montana we wanted to take together. His roommate Digger said, “I don’t think these two will make it to the state line, let alone Montana.” His other roommate, Ben, laughed and volunteered to go with me instead.

In the days and weeks following Danny’s death, I felt and saw signs from him. There were pennies (as in “pennies from heaven”) which turned up in odd places. There were numerous other signs that I’ve now forgotten but wished I had kept a list of. My grief was so deep that for some reason, most of these really poignant signs have somehow been blotted from my memory. I simply can’t recall them now, exactly a year after Danny’s death.

The signs served their purpose. They reached my heart at the deepest level. The point is, I knew he was still with me. I felt him talking to me constantly. I even understood that he was now, along with my grandmother, one of my spirit guides. Danny will be one of the first spirits to greet me in heaven. I’m certain of it.

Last June, there were many days when I just couldn’t get out of bed. The divorce had been so terribly painful. Now Danny’s death seemed like one more drastic, life changing event I just couldn’t cope with. Several friends made a point to call me every week. They gave me a lifeline by doing this. I really was drowning in grief at that point in time.

By July, Miami’s notorious summer heat was in full force. The days were too humid to sit on the porch. I kept hibernating indoors, putting fresh flowers in a bud vase I kept next to Danny’s picture. I read several novels, eager to escape reality for a little bit. I cried in the shower daily, and fell to my knees sobbing many times a day.

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. I didn’t yet know it, but my own personal sunrise was just around the corner. A childhood friend was coming to Miami for a visit. What happened while she was in town would be the start of a new life for me.


Guns & Moonshine


moonshine It’s been an adventure filled summer. I reunited with my old boyfriend (circa late 80s) and went on two great road trips Applesalong the east coast. A quick list of things I did this summer for the first time includes: shooting a gun, running moonshine, picking apples, standing behind a roaring waterfall in North Carolina, visiting a roadside goat attraction and attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game.