Montana or Bust by Kelli Kozak
On Interstate 90, as I wended my way through Washington, then Idaho, I thought a lot about the scores of souls who made the journey across this landscape in covered wagons and stagecoaches. I thought about the definition of “mountain pass.” I thought about Lewis and Clark; about getting back to Stephen Ambrose’s history; and about the location of Dunrovin—Lolo, Montana—being so relevant to this country’s story. My truck was sure and steady. She’d been thoroughly gone over to ensure road-worthiness for the ten-hour drive from western Washington to Missoula. I’d traded my 1969 Honda SL90 for the labor. It was a good trade, as that little motorcycle, so very cool, only kinda-sorta ran. My bucket list includes learning how to work on a motorcycle, but that will have to wait.
My dogs were excellent traveling companions, as always. I stopped often, letting them do their business and stretch their legs. Aero rode shotgun, Inu preferred the right side of the rear bench seat, and Max was secure in a dog crate next to her. It was the same configuration as our trip from Colorado to Washington several years earlier. A computer, a guitar, a morin khuur—the Mongolian national instrument—and a backpack of hats, gloves, thermal socks, and toiletries was stuffed on the floor. Trail mix and bottled water were within arm’s reach. Sunglasses and reading glasses were on the dashboard. Strapped down in the truck bed were the rest of my essentials: boots, jeans, books, and art.
Vagaries in radio reception were a constant companion, as well. The music and talk were clear and comprehensible one minute, and the next, lost to raw static. I never reached over to change the station; instead, I let the radio waves find me. Fading from one town to the next and sizzling into clarity came different songs in full-throated voice. Country and Christian and Classic Rock fought for my attention, a knock-down drag-out over airtime and my time. A variety of world views with which I might not agree now or ever, but I appreciated the education.
A static whiteness defined the landscape, too, its wild residents the melodies that caught my attention. A coyote stared into the distance from the highway’s snowy shoulder. A hawk did the same from a fence post. I would have stopped to take photographs, but it may have ruined their chance at a meal. As it was winter, there were no crops in the fields, but when the growing season starts, alfalfa, timothy, field corn, sweet corn, beans, and potatoes will be planted, grown, harvested, sold, and trucked to buyers on the very highway I drove.
I’m insatiably curious about nouns: about people, places, and things. I talk to strangers and ask a lot of questions. The young woman who made my breakfast sandwich at Subway is a schoolteacher who is soon moving to Tennessee to be with her new husband. He moved back home to care for his mother, who recently had a stroke. She wonders how the furniture she inherited from her grandfather will get there, and is momentarily speechless that all my belongings fit in the bed of my truck. The guy who was just getting off his shift at the convenience store next door, who graduates with a degree in economics next semester, was kind enough to point out the lids to the coffee cups. And so on.
After a brief rest in Missoula, SuzAnne generously allowed us the use of one of Dunrovin’s guest rooms while I get acquainted with the task of managing this very busy ranch. In this continuation of the peaceful white landscape, I feel gratitude that I’ve landed here, that I’ve been entrusted with the smooth sailing of this ship. It’s an exciting time. Lots of new beginnings and new connections. The return of the ospreys. The birth of a foal. I’ve even seen some green grass peeking through the snow… or is it just wishful thinking?
“When my experiences with dogs and other animals – and people – were fewer,
I used to think it silly for people to speak of dogs as “family” or other animals as “friends.”
Now I feel it’s silly not to. I’d overestimated the loyalty and staying power of humans
and underestimated the intelligence and sensitivity of other animals.
I think I understand both better. Their gifts overlap, though they are different gifts.”
—Carl Safina, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
For the past three years, I was the sole steward for a whole bunch of horses, cows, llamas, alpacas, turkeys, and chickens. I’d been diligent in their physical care, from using holistic vets and organic feed to installing the prized cow scratcher. I paid careful attention to their psychological well-being, too. I knew who wanted to live with whom, who missed whom, who was depressed and who was joyful. Leaving them behind was emotionally difficult, because I had a personal, real connection with each of them. I learned to take the time each day to look into their eyes, not at their eyes. Try it: Look deeply into the eyes of any animal and you’ll see someone—not something—looking back. Can we love them and they, us? Absolutely.
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known,
and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”
The best and the worst of me—a human in all her fallible glory—showed up for all those other animals every day. And they, similar in their fate, showed up for me. I think I got the better end of the deal.
I’m so looking forward to connecting with all the delightful equines who call Dunrovin home. From the webcams, you might see us having tete a tetes and getting to know one another. In time, I will know their names, their pasts, their strengths and their weaknesses. I guarantee they’ll come to know mine.