We’ve been in Missoula almost a week. The people whose house we are going to rent (let’s call them R and ED) have been so generous with their time and energy even though they are in the midst of packing up and saying their goodbyes – the same process we just went through in London. I know how emotional and exhausting it is to pack up a house, clean it all, sort out final bills and leave one’s friends behind.
R and ED invited us over for a glass of wine on our third evening in Missoula. That was my first visit to the house I will be cooking, eating and sleeping in for the next year. I immediately noticed the copies of the Nation in the bathroom, the Rothko posters and the walls of books. I am at home here. As I left R and ED that night, I wished that they weren’t our landlords, but our neighbours. The conversation could have gone on for hours. On Friday they invited us to a reading of a book (‘Painted Horses’) by a first-time Missoulian novelist and to the after party which was in Lower Rattlesnake (an area of Missoula). Again, we were welcomed in the most gracious way. The hostess presented the author with a cake she had made which read: “He killed the Horse” which, judging by the gasps from the crowd, is a bit of a plot spoiler, and also very funny.
Earlier that day E ended up spending the morning with R and ED and their children while they packed, and J and I did a few errands. E loves the new house and thinks it is much ‘cooler’ than our tiny terraced house on Wellington Row. Saturday saw us invited yet again by R and ED who seem to be able to make time for us despite their crazy schedule to go ‘tubing’ down the river. No, I had no idea what this meant either. Basically you sit in an inner tube and float down the Clark Fork that runs through Missoula. E wanted to be with R and ED’s eight-year-old daughter whose tube was being tethered to her dad’s. So J and I left her to go down the river without us. After a few hours of floating under the famous Montana sky, we navigated ourselves to the shore with a weird sort of doggy paddle in order to avoid the final rapids which are a bit rough. Some of our party did them and afterwards the stories flew of previous trips down the rapids in which ED lost a shoe and various friends were tossed from their tubes. I was happy to have floated the baby rapids.
On the river we met more of R and ED’s friends. Despite never having been to Missoula before choosing to relocate us all here, I have somehow ended up amongst like-minded people who could be transplants from Columbia Road. It is great when one’s gut feelings prove to be worth following. Having said that, we have only been here a week, so we’ll see if Missoula continues to welcome and enchant us. First impressions can be deceiving.
After tubing down the river, J and E and I headed west into the neighbouring state of Idaho where we had been told of some hot springs by a guy in the Verizon shop who was happier telling us where we could go and strip down for a ‘soak’ than he was in telling us which SIM card to get. We stayed overnight at the Lochsa Lodge, the nearest bed to the Jerry Johnson hot springs, which is basically a bunch of log cabins in a forest.
The hike to the hot springs is only about half an hour and consists of walking through a pine-scented trail along the Lochsa River. Eventually you come to a series of rock pools lining the river. There are no signs, nothing to tell you where they are, you just have to kind of find them.
As it was a hot and sunny Sunday, there were a few others soaking in various states of undress. We found our own little spot and paddled and soaked. E loved testing which pools were hot and which were cold. When we got too hot in one, we dipped into the glacier-fed river.
There was not a ghetto blaster or iPad in sight. The quiet was astonishing with just the sound of gushing water and birdsong. So much for the cliché of the loud American.
We are back in Missoula now doing more errands: trying to get health insurance, car insurance, house insurance, utilities for the new house and also trying to transfer money from the UK to a bank account here. You would think with everything being ‘connected’ that it would all be very easy. It is not. Everything practical has been and continues to be a total nightmare and stupidly expensive, but not the stuff of blogs. I will spare you the details. Once we have managed to navigate through it all, we will be heading out once again into the wilderness. I am still freaked out by the prospect of bears and mountain lions. But part of being here is about confronting fear. Confidence will come with experience. I hope.