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What is it like to live in Montana?

A month does not go by that I am not asked this question. I talk about Montana often because I live here, so I have a lot of material to work with, and of course pictures.

Swan River in NW Montana | Photo by MK

What is it like to live in Montana? Ask one hundred people living here and you may get fifty different answers (some of us are bound to agree on what it's like).

For me, it's close to perfect—most of the time. But it's not for everyone.

Rainy June Day in Glacier | Photo by MK

Jewel Basin in NW Montana | Photo by MK

First, and I've said this before, but Montana is a really big state. Yes, it's obvious, but I'm surprised at how many people assume everywhere in Montana is the same, or similar. There are flat areas and mountainous areas. There are high desert regions and there are heavy forests that stretch for miles. It all depends on where you go. Generally speaking, east of the Continental Divide is drier than the western side of the divide. Summer and winter are both different - eastern tends to be warmer in summer and colder in winter. The eastern side of the divide also tends to get a lot more sun while the western side, especially in winter, has a lot of cloud cover. I happen to like the gloomy skies, but you prefer sun, winter in the northwest can be tough.

Both sides boast incredible beauty.

Not far outside of Ennis, Montana | Photo by MK

While I live in the northwest part of the state, not too far south from Glacier National Park, my Montana books are set in locations on either side of the divide. Always lush, always mountainous with valleys, but on both sides. The only time I had characters cross the vast Montana prairie (and wrote about it) was in Journey to Hawk's Peak when Amanda crossed over from Dakota Territory into Montana.

Flathead Lake Sunset in NW Montana | Photo by MK

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in Montana, or who has driven across it, already knows all of this. Most of it can be learned from maps and pictures. So why the fascination?

I remember during my visit to Scotland meeting a retired couple who had been through the western United States in their younger days. They had been particularly fond of Montana and Wyoming. When we got to speaking about what they remembered, I couldn't help but wish I had been there during those early years. He recalled men and women riding horses through some of the towns, rather than driving vehicles. Montana has changed a great deal even in the nearly twenty years since I have lived here.

I miss the old days.

Eagles on Flathead Lake in NW Montana | Photo by MK

Montana is breathtakingly beautiful and full of wild, open spaces. You can still get lost for days or weeks, and the wilderness can be very dangerous. I feel, though, at times that the "outside" world is encroaching far too quickly, and far too much. I cling to the history of Montana in my writing because I wish so very much that I could have seen it before.

“I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” —John Steinbeck

It's purported that Steinbeck's visit to Montana was not accurately depicted seeing as how he was not here long. Was it love at first sight? Did he speak with a writer's embellishment? Only Steinbeck knows for certain what he really felt, but that doesn't make the sentiment any less true for those who feel the same way.

It is not always easy to live here. Those who do tend to fall into one of a few categories (of course this all from my point of view):

  • They love it and can't imagine living anywhere else;

  • Or they want to leave but can't.

  • There is a third category of people who manage to leave and never return.

  • Then there is a fourth, and these are the people who leave and wish they hadn't.

  • And of course the fifth category, and that includes those who want to be here but haven't figured out how to be, or perhaps they only think they want to be here.

Confused yet?

Flathead Lake in Winter | Photo by MK

In my experience, a lot of people in the fifth category don't last too long. I've met enough of them who have come to Montana expecting it to be like the ideal picture that has been painted in movies and books, only to discover that it can be isolated, the winters are long and cold, jobs aren't always easy to come by, and many areas are expensive to live in compared to where they used to live. They make it a year, or two, and then find a way to move on or relocate to one of the larger cities (or what are considered cities in Montana).

Driving down "The Swan" | Photo by MK

A lot of people return from whence they came. Some stay and figure out how to make their life work—the Montana way. And that, I believe, is the trick to loving and living in Montana—love her, but leave her wild. Love her, but respect her. Love her, and don't try to change her.

Living in Montana is perfect for some, but it's not for everyone. I've come and gone a few times, no more than a year here or a few months there, but I always return. I listen to the stories of those who have lived here 40, 50, 70+ years, and wish so very much I could have seen it back then.

Glacier National Park | Photo by MK

For those who think they might want to live here, visit a few times first, in every season, and be certain. Montana can be unforgiving to the unprepared. For those who want to continue living the dream that is Montana, we have plenty of authors eager to share their stories—fiction or not—with those eager to experience the wonders of our state.

Have you visited or lived in #Montana? What is or was your experience? Do you dream of seeing it or are you happy enjoying it from afar (or in the pages of a book)?

Be well, be kind, and stay bookish!

~MK McClintock

Book Spotlight

Wild Montana Winds by MK McClintock

Genre: Historical Romantic Western

Type: Novel

Heat Level: 2 1/2

Language Level: 2

Violence Level: 3

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