Jenna Caplette migrated from California to Montana in the early 1970s, first living on the Crow Indian reservation, then moving to Bozeman where she owned a downtown retail anchor for eighteen years. These days she owns Bozeman BodyTalk & Energetic Healthcare, hosts a monthly movie night, teaches and writes about many topics.
Traveling north along the Rocky Mountain front to Choteau, to experience the Snow Geese migration, my daughter sleeps in the passenger seat. As I drive, I listen to “Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks” through the Gates of the Mountains, Jeanne Jolly “Falling in Carolina” enroute to Augusta, the “Best of Judy Collins” until we arrive at Freeze Out Lake.
My choice of music may tell you something about my age.
I drive these roads north and want to keep going: Calgary, Edmonton, further. When we were a young family, we would stop in Choteau on our way to Canada for summer vacation. Somehow we never had enough time, or money, to go far enough north to satisfy me.
My daughter received her first and only bee sting when we camped at Choteau’s community campground on our way home from Canada one August. I don’t remember the year. Her dad and I packed the sting with mud from the stream that runs through the campground, a remedy his grandmother taught him -- his grandmother who was related to the Crow Chief Plenty Coup.
The mud worked. I’ve used it since as a remedy on stings and bites, skin irritations.
I first came to Montana to join a Sierra Club clean-up trip in the Bob Marshall. There was a station wagon load of us, college students from the San Francisco Bay Area. Always when I travel through Augusta, I remember that first trip, the turning left toward the mountains, all of us half-asleep from the long drive. The town doesn’t seem that different now then it did then, but really we just drove right on through, anxious to arrive at the trail head.
I’ve never been back in the Bob Marshall, but I’ve lived in Montana closer to forty than the thirty-two years I have been willing to admit to myself.
I do the math while driving, surprised, adding backwards and then forward again to be sure. How did it get to be so long ago?
Driving north it feels like I know the curve of the earth, the sky opening, my heart opening. My daughter wakes up as we arrive in Fairfield, is awake when we come around a curve and see Snow Geese, their black-tipped white wings brilliant with reflected sunset, contrasted against grey cloud.
I assume these are just an appetizer for what is to come, but the truth is that though two days ago there were 45,000 geese here, these that fly in front of us as we arrive are the only ones we see that evening.
What I realize the next morning when I pull myself early from bed and my dog and I head out for sunrise and birds, is that it’s less about seeing Geese and truly more about the sound, the excitement, their compulsion to fly, to migrate, to yield to the pull of the north.
I stand, my dog rooting around in the brush for voles, and watch scores of swans rise up off the water, chattering, trumpeting. They gain altitude, circle, fly off. I watch as they disappear in the distance, feeling abandoned, left behind. Again.
That afternoon, home to Bozeman. My daughter asleep in the passenger seat. I drive South, like surfing a receding wave, as I have done, we have done, so many, many times before. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell: Fly silly seabird, No dreams can possess you, No voices can blame you, For sun on your wings . . . My dreams with the seagulls fly, Out of reach out of cry . . .
The sky darkens. Home.