“You made your bed. So lie in it”.
My cousin, 20 years my senior, tells me this as we sit in his yard talking about my upcoming resignation. Surrounded by gold mining kitsch, gazing at the Bitterroot Mountains, he is matter of fact with a touch of reprimand.
The sky is vast here in Big Sky Country. A cliche but nonetheless an honest one. The mountain peaks are breathtakingly beautiful. Cast a sunset across those peaks and I can’t help but want every inch of my being to absorb the sky.
You can walk down the middle of the street at dusk in our tiny ancestral town because it’s that empty. A truck might drive by. A deer (or five) might cross the street, looking for peonies. But that’s about it. It’s quiet. It’s gorgeous. And the sky makes you feel like it’s a vessel for your breath.
But rude awakening…the sky is not the fucking limit.
For many in Montana getting by is no joke. Costs are increasing. Gentrification is encroaching. Environmentalism, though ultimately essential for our long term survival, is altering livelihoods entangled in their short sighted present. Options are expanding for some, doors are closing for others. Shit jobs are the key to stable healthcare. Their backs and their livers are shot. Obamacare saved a few of them, quite literally, but they still voted for the Republicans when they healed.
Food needs to be on the table. Land needs to be worked. Animals need to be tended to and sometimes shot. Do what needs to be done. They’ve got this beautiful sky, gold prospecting and courageous pioneering in their blood but they keep their boots on the ground and their dreams tucked somewhere inside their weather-worn trucks.
My complaints about Medicare, entitled metropolitan patients, and the hours spent documenting for DPH are responded to with minimal amounts of sympathy. These are individuals who would never chose to be chained to bureaucracy. But, with all due respect, they would never walk away from a salary like mine in order to spread their wings. Disclosing my resignation and my yet unchartered next steps felt like exposing myself as an emotionally pampered middle aged woman licking at some millennial’s dream. How much of that perception was projected from my own nagging mind? Probably more than none but certainly not all.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter. My choices and my options come from my own set of circumstances that I was both born into and that I built for myself. They affect nobody but me (except on some butterfly-wings-altering-the-pattern-of-the-wind type of scale). My political disengagement does, however, actually affect these folks. I need to reckon with that. How I vote and how I engage can alter these Americans’, these family members’, ability to adapt to a changing world, care for their land, and dream more freely.
The struggle is real. The fight is contentious. The American dream under our nation’s sky is a twisted narrative, to say the least. I’m blessed to be in a position to stretch out my arms under that big sky and vacation alongside grazing horses with my camera in hand and my children in my arms. I can’t squander this midlife recalibration. A google search last night about the logistics of starting a small business made me anxiously withdraw faster than a debate around the dinner table about Trump. For god’s sake I maneuver my way around apartment doors that don’t fully shut rather than figure out how to fix their goddamn broken doorknobs. Minor but symbolic. This is not what my family would do. They have worked hard to learn the ropes needed to survive. Ironically, it is them, not me, who have the tools to transform dreams into reality. But they have little time for the sky. I’m accustomed to bathing in my visions. But I’m not hard wired to survive. Nor have I had much practice. I’d be the one to wander into a gorgeous Montana meadow, picnic amidst wildflowers, and get mauled by a bobcat. But I too have pioneer in me. Deep in this slender frame.
Find it, my cousin means to say. Work it. Under that vast sky.