Musings of an Ethnomusicologist on Unrelated Topics
I moved away from my home state of Montana at 18, spending most of the next fifteen years in Washington State with briefer stays in California, Arizona, and as an itinerant traveler in Guatemala and Mexico. I returned to Montana last August where my husband and I imagine we might stay for a good long time.
The state of distant familiarity hovers at my heels here. I catch a whiff, and know instantly to be concerned for fires, revel in new snow, expect thunderstorms. Intimately, primordially, I know which clouds cast the best sunset, where water will be warm enough to swim, where mosquitos fester, where to go slow on the highway in case of ice.
This knowledge lies beyond, at length of distance. For instance, when we first moved, the mountains seemed dwarfed by sky—as browned, low hills, almost, unspectacular. I notice they’ve grown over time, their size emerging piecemeal, striking me with awe every so often, brilliant and bursting with color. Individual trees emerge from carpets of green. Yet, at this nascent hour, they still feel like shadows. I strain to taste this landscape, to taste the patterned sky at dusk, to fill myself up with it. And yet I can only take in a few sips at once, like my recurring dream where I try to run, but can’t. I’m yet to reach that intimate moment of presence.
Here is only home to the limits of my interior memory. My family changed spectacularly when I left for Washington, my parents replenishing domestic absence with two new people, my adopted brother and sister. Coming home, living near my family, adopts me back for the first time into the regular, seasonal rhythms of this iteration of our nuclear relations, even while we children are all adults now. It requires my learning anew—to be sister, to be auntie, to be sister-in-law. I brought my husband along, too, and so we have the privilege of forging these family patterns, this relatedness and siblinghood, together. In that sense, and it is a fundamentally good sense, family is not homecoming. Family is change besot with gratitude.
Friends and acquaintances from younger years drifted, geographically or by depth of intimacy. By steps of small magnitude, this move has been like any other, in the small dramas of the trial and error of new relationships—the self-doubt, the self-deepening, the consequential small mistakes, the glorious instances of curiosity and connection, and the crucial changes we must make to our self-concept as people betray or surprise us. Neither are these homecoming, but process. Vocation, similar: a becoming with consistency, but fundamental change, from self-as-youth.
In the city, I learned to keep distance. After one year of daily crying through graduate school, I resolved to quietly limit my senses, to drink more shallowly of my body’s surroundings and the emotions produced in torrents. Retreating to Netflix or to Facebook succeeded in creating a haven from stimulation, a blot from eavesdropping on bus conversations, from inhaling the blessed dirtiness of the city, from the hundreds of curt transactional interactions lacking depth or possibility. As keys to my survival, these acted as management strategies, and allowed deepenings elsewhere. For these, I am grateful. But as I’ve carried these habits of distraction with me, I find they no longer serve. Any place requires blots, requires survival strategies, but immersion here feels, instead, the matter of survival.
My memory is faint and faded, but I recall imbibing of the hills and the light and the stars. I hold within me the delighted depth of that plunge into place, a fearlessness, eye sight sufficient to stare down distance, to hold it open-handedly, to pray with thanks for swaying grass or the dancing of light on earth. I recall the deep peace bordering emotional ecstasy, engorged on its inexplicable beauty. I know the wholeness of it. I hunger for it.
Recently, I’ve been to Seeley, to the Gallatin, to the Missouri, to Canyon Ferry, and in each, I dipped my toes, waded in, and sometimes grew brave enough to submerge my shoulders, to dip my hair into the water, to splash it on my face. I realized only today that I have yet to jump in, to wet my head, to be immersed in Montana’s waters. This seems important—it feels relevant.
Here I was born. Here seven generations of my family lie beneath the earth. For here I longed for years away. Yet here we are, and here we will be, perhaps until the earth eats our flesh and consumes us, too, into itself.
But now? We are only a year here, and not a year quite. At this juncture, I find myself deftly between times, at home for the knowledge of place contained within my body, yet foreign for the still-wanting totality of absorption.
I long to be home.