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Goodbye, Boston

by Ramona Flightner

@ramonaflightner

As I stole a few moments to rest before the movers arrived, I catalogued the sounds of my neighborhood. The realization that this would be the last time I’d be in my home in Boston slowly permeated my drowsy consciousness. I smiled as the mockingbird sang, as though gifting me with a goodbye serenade. I listened to the soft “whir” of the jet engines in nearby Logan airport and imagined the travelers excited for their upcoming travels. I heard my neighbor’s footsteps on the stairs as she descended to retrieve her newspaper. I grimaced as a car passed with the bass blaring “boom-boom-boom”, my china no longer rattling as it was packed away in boxes. I knew that in a not too distant day in the future, these would be memories I’d retrieve and recall, some with more fondness than they merited.

Soon, I was too busy talking with the movers, laughing, battling nerves, and bustling around to ensure that the correct items were packed, to notice anything but the chaos occurring in my condo. The sounds of my neighborhood faded into the background.

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Within a few hours, my house was packed up, cleaned, and I was ready to leave and never return. The word surreal doesn’t even suffice for how I was feeling. As I drove out of Boston, I kept staring at the familiar buildings, and I failed to have the understanding that I wouldn’t be back in a few days or weeks. I continue with the sense I’m on vacation rather than starting a new chapter in my life.

Our first stop was Tanglewood, and we heard a wonderful concert with Joshua Bell performing. I had thought I was too tired to attend, but thankfully I found the energy to attend.

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After a drive to Buffalo, we had a “day of rest” where we traveled around the Lake Chautauqua area, and then down to Limestone, NY where my great-grandmother was from and where she is buried. It was a gorgeous day, and I didn’t have to drive, so it was restful.

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The beautiful hotel at the Chautauqua Institute.

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A view from the porch (they had great rocking chairs), toward Lake Chautauqua.

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A poster advertising their book club. Should I join?

Thus, as you can see, my move to Montana is going well, and we are enjoying the journey so far. (I’m traveling with my aunt). If you’d like to follow along with my journey west, I’m posting pictures daily on Instagram. It’s the first time I’ve really used it and I find I really love it! http://www.instagram.com/rflightner/

I’ll try to blog again soon about the journey.

The beautiful lake with Trapper Peak in the background

The beautiful lake with Trapper Peak in the background

By As Anyone who reads my blog knows, I love to be outside in nature, especially in Montana. I love escaping crowds, disappearing into the woods, removed from civilization and my everyday worries. I always thought that people who were afraid of the woods would not venture into them. I was proven wrong this summer on my hike to a beautiful, mountain lake in the Bitterroots.

I sat at the lake, relishing peace and tranquility as I stared at the lake and Trapper Peak. I watched the crystal clear lake waters, seeing the fish zoom around as they searched for food. They would play with my fly, but wouldn’t strike, so I sat, giving thanks for such a moment.

A beautiful fish swimming in the lake

A beautiful fish swimming in the lake

The words “peace” and “tranquility” became distant memories as a family of four and their dog trampled up to the lake. One son screamed, “There’s people here!” and I glanced around to see who else he was referring to. I realized he meant me. Soon, the two young sons began screaming at each other, threatening to push each other into the frigid waters with their dad egging them on. Their voices echoed off the granite walls, drowning out all sounds of nature.

I gave my small, impersonal Montana smile – the one that says hello, but doesn’t encourage interaction – inwardly grimacing, and wondered how long they’d stay. At my smile, they wandered over and began to chat. I learned they were from the East, vacationing in Montana for a week and hoped to hike to the top of Trapper Peak that day.

As I tried to gently dissuade them of that notion, (it was already past 2 pm and they didn’t seem the most intrepid of hikers), I noticed the father carrying an automatic rifle. He informed me that he had not been able to buy a handgun due to state regulations, so he had bought the rifle instead to protect his dog against any wild animals that might attack. But not to worry – it wasn’t loaded. I wondered how he thought he would protect his family or dog while he loaded the gun. Then, I gave thanks that it was unloaded as I would hate for them to hear my brother and sister-in-law, who were further up the trail, in the woods and mistake them for wild animals.

Soon, they were peppering me with questions about my safety in the woods. What had I brought to stay safe? Wasn’t I afraid of bears? What would happen if the “bad” wolves attacked? Or a mountain lion?

I barely stifled a laugh as I answered their questions, although nothing I said alleviated their fears. They seemed dumbfounded that I had nothing. When I tried to explain to them that this was not grizzly territory, so I was not inclined to bring bear spray, the wife continued to talk about the “bad wolves.” Someone had done a good job of terrifying them and they would not feel safe without their rifle and two cans of bear spray. Unfortunately, the mom had mislaid one of the cans and would not relax until she had found it. She and a son went to look for it a ways down the trail, but the son wouldn’t go unless they carried the gun. I again wondered what good it would do since it wasn’t loaded.

In the meantime, the dad stood leaning against a rock slapping his leg every few seconds as the horseflies nibbled on him. I offered him my bug spray, but he declined. “You know, that’s how the Viet Cong smelled the Americans in ‘Nam,” he said. What that had to do with the Bitterroots in 2013, I don’t know, but I just nodded, thankful the horseflies had decided on him for lunch rather than me.

Finally, they packed up to continue their hike. As they were leaving, the mom exclaimed about there being a clothesline hanging from one of the trees. I shook my head at her ignorance, but had given up trying to explain things. It was a rope to hang your food from at night out of reach of the bears, away from a campsite.

I wished them a good hike, hopeful they were not foolish enough to attempt the hike to Trapper Peak. After they circled the lake and disappeared, their voices slowly faded and I could again hear the birds calling, appreciate the gentle wind on my face, and hear the sound as a fish rose. I sighed, marveling at their fortitude to venture into a wilderness that terrified them. Then I frowned as I mentally reprimanded the Montanan who had enjoyed scaring them and making money off of their foolishness.

Finally, I laughed, because they were memorable and unexpected visitors as I sat contemplating the beauty of the lake.

After the family left, a bit more cloudy

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While home in Montana for a visit, I went fly fishing a few times. I love to fly fish. Being on the river brings me tremendous peace and even if I do not catch a fish, watching nature around me is reward enough. This year, as I was standing knee deep in rippling water, I realized how much fishing has taught me about writing.

1. I have learned that with both writing and fly fishing, a great amount of patience is required. As I fish, I know that I am fortunate to induce a fish to strike while I am out on the river. With writing, I have learned that I must set aside my work in progress, give it a few months to rest, before I return to it with fresh eyes so that I can edit it more clearly. Flaws in the story line or prose that were not evident before I set it aside become clear and the editing is easier. When I first started writing, I remember reading the advice to set aside my work for a period of time. That seemed impossible. I was eager to share my work, naively confident I did not need more editing. But with time comes patience and a better understanding of craft. My writing and work in progress have only improved due to my patience.

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2. As with fly fishing, writing takes a lot of practice. Learning how to cast well and learning how to choose the correct fly takes time and a tremendous amount of repetition and practice. The more I write, the more I have learned the craft and the less editing I need to do. I look back on the heavy editing I did with my first book and I realize how far I have come. As with anything, the more I continue to write (or fish), the better I become.

3. Unless it is very early or late in the season, I believe that real men (and women) don’t wear waders. I don a thin pair of pants I do not care if I get wet, a pair of Keens or Teva’s and wade into the river, often up to mid thigh. For me, waders impede my ability to feel like I am a part of the environment. There is a sensual delight in wading in rushing river waters and getting wet. For me it is an integral part of fishing. I feel more in tune with nature and I feel like I have had an authentic experience. With writing, this means immersing myself in the experience. Taking a blacksmithing class and learning what it feels like to strike hard pieces of iron and forging them into something beautiful. Or taking a mining tour, going down a mining shaft, smelling the dank air, and envisioning the hours in near absolute darkness. I am the type of writer who needs hands-on-experience, who cannot surmise all that is needed to describe and envision my character’s lives by reading descriptions in a book. I need to immerse myself as much as possible in the experiences they had in 1900.

4. When I fly fish, I make some dreadful casts. Sometimes I laugh at myself because they are truly awful, other times I look around, hoping my brother or friend was not paying attention to see my cast. Not every cast can be pretty or go exactly where I want it to go. However, I know that I can recast and, even if it takes a few tries, I will eventually reach the riffle I want. In writing, not every word is perfect, especially in the first draft. I have learned that the first draft is to capture my ideas as my muse speaks to me. If I can not think of a word at that moment, I leave an X, an indication to myself that a perfect word exists, but I don’t know what it is at that time and I do not want to spend that moment searching for it. I did not like editing at first, but now I have grown to like it. I enjoy watching my story change and grow and become more polished.

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5. As I stand in the river, watching my fly float down the current, I love observing nature. I love studying the new hatches of flies that come out, hoping that the fly I have tied on is similar to the ones I see flying around me. I love watching the osprey fly overhead or hearing the kingfisher give it’s rattling call before it swoops by. I become more observant. Writing has also made me more observant. I now notice the different types of architecture. When I enter rooms I look all around to see if there is period detailing such as a beautiful ceiling or an oak bar. I study people: how they walk, talk, and interact with each other. I am fascinated by the world around me. Fishing brings me peace, centers me, allows me to breathe deeply and makes the world outside of the river and canyon fade away. I forget my worries as the warm breeze soughs through the trees, the pine scented wind caressing me as it journeys down the canyon. Writing makes my soul sing, and as I sit immersed in a world I have created, I realize it is like fishing for me. My concerns and doubts disappear and I am at peace as though I were thigh deep in river water. I hope that you, too, have such joy in whatever makes your soul sing.

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Hotel Meade at Bannack

Hotel Meade at Bannack

It was with a sinking heart that I read that the ghost town of Bannack had been damaged recently in a flash flood with up to 80% of all buildings suffering some form of damage. I dreaded looking at the photos and seeing the river of water rushing down the main street, destroying everything in its path. As I looked at the pictures, I feared that a part of Montana history had been lost. Bannack was Montana’s first territorial capital and the site of Montana’s first gold rush in 1862. Gold diggers and shopkeepers arrived and soon a small town had sprouted up with nearly 10,000 living in the narrow canyon in its heydey. Saloons, bakeries, blacksmiths and hotels vied for prosperity, although it proved fleeting. Infamy came in the form of its sheriff, Henry Plummer who ran a gang of thieves. He and a few of his men were hanged as an example, while others were advised to leave the territory and never return. The Plummer gang gave rise to the existence of the Vigilance Committee, a fancy word for the Montana Vigilantes. As a girl, I sat riveted as I listened to the stories of the early days of Montana history, imagining the wild towns and adventurous people who dared to travel and attempt to survive in such a place.

A view up Bannack's main street from the entrance

A view up Bannack’s main street from the entrance

I love Bannack. I remember going to Bannack as a girl, wandering the ghost town, letting my imagination run wild as I explored the preserved buildings. I imagined all sorts of fanciful tales, envisioning the doctor’s life, life at the saloon, the hotel, and the bakery. I know I never envisioned it accurately, always with a romantic tint, but my imagination was alive with what could have been. Now that I am older, and have visited again, I realize that Bannack was a wild enough place that real tales sufficed to entertain and fascinate. I remember stopping in for Bannack Days when my dad and I did a crazy Saturday drive around Southwest Montana, driving hundreds of miles for the fun of it. I was cramming for my anatomy and physiology final, frantically trying to memorize all the muscles in the body, and my dad sat next to me quizzing me as I drove. Bannack provided a wonderful respite and allowed my imagination to run wild again. I had not yet allowed myself to dream of writing, although my thirst for learning more about history and about Montana was ever present.

The schoolhouse at Bannack

The schoolhouse at Bannack

I will remember Bannack as I last saw it. We visited a few years ago when we drove from Ennis, Montana to Sula. I remember walking slowly up and down each side of the street, visiting the houses, the hotel, saloon, schoolhouse, doctor’s house. The jail intrigued me in a morbid way because its lone window looked toward the gallows. I stood outside the school, glancing up and down the street at the one and two story buildings. A gentle breeze blew, rustling the leaves of a few cottonwoods, the arid earth parched to a burnished gold, and I wondered how the townspeople had eked out a living here. I will hope that they can repair some of the damage. I will hope that my memories of Bannack will not have to suffice and that I will one day be able to explore it again.

by Birdfarm from Flickr

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

I love letters. Those old fashioned, hand-written letters that I used to write with some frequency to close friends. The letters that I still cherish and store in a box to re-read on rainy days.

This weekend while at my aunt’s house for Easter, my aunt told me she had found a letter written by my grandmother and she thought I would like it. I couldn’t wait to read it. My grandmother was a wonderful letter writer. She wrote very detailed letters, allowing the reader to feel like she were there with her.

As I sat down to read my grandma’s letter, I traced her handwriting. It is so familiar, and evokes a sense of well-being. I opened her letter, noting it was not dated. As I read the letter, I tried to piece together the clues and determine when the letter was written. Her descriptions of two days during her and my grandpa’s visit to Montana during Christmas time in the early 1980’s made me laugh and brought back so many memories. Memories of when all three of my grandparents were alive and we would have get-togethers at my house. Memories of sledding marathons with my brother. Memories of horrible winter storms, our cars sliding sideways on our steep driveway and then hours spent digging our cars out of our neighbor’s driveway. Simple, childhood memories, but all precious.

I called my mum, excited to talk with her about the letter and to try to piece together when the letter took place. I also wanted to see if she remembered the events of the letter. It was wonderful laughing and sharing with her, all due to a letter written long ago.

I know in this day and age of e-mail, texting, and twitter, that letters are old fashioned. We are accustomed to the instant update and the instant response. It takes time to write a letter and even longer to receive a response. And yet, there are some things that take more than 160 characters to express.

I wonder what will fill people’s treasure boxes 100 years from now. When we were cleaning out my grandfather’s things, some of his greatest treasures were letters. A precious letter from my great-great grandparents in Ireland nearly 100 years ago. Love letters from my great-great grandparents here in the U.S. 100 years ago. They were windows into the past and into my heritage. I learned about their concerns, their dreams, and politics from the time. I was able to feel a connection to people I had never met, yet had heard so much about. It is something that cannot be emulated in an email or a tweet.

I still write letters every once in a while. Sometimes, after a few paragraphs, I begin to express myself in ways I never would when typing. There is something freeing about writing cursive, as though I am able to tap into deeper emotions or thoughts. I wonder that the next generations will not have that option as cursive becomes more and more rare in the school curriculum.

Do you write letters? Do you have a treasure box of letters?

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