By JEN SLAYDEN
I just returned from a whirlwind trip from the big trees in my backyard of Bonner to the flat, open spaces viewed high above Pompey’s Pillar east of Billings where Clark’s inscription is the last remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition. It was interesting– some of the conversations along the route with two of my three children in tow. I have driven I-90 so many times west to east and back again without analyzing the towns along the way, other than Butte being a little over halfway to Bozeman, and the high winds around Livingston being an indicator that I was getting closer to Billings.
But this time was different, with my eight year son’s inquiring mind. He wanted to know about Butte, about Bozeman, about Billings. It made me really start thinking about how diverse and huge Big Sky Country really is, and how in five hours you can go from mountains embracing you to harsh, dry, and wide open spaces, and that every place also has a different feeling as well as a different landscape.
With a touch of autumn I felt in the air each morning of our trip I began thinking of all my favorite pairs of jeans that I get back out of the closet during my favorite season of autumn that come in such different shapes and styles, each feeling a bit different to wear. Kind of like the styles of each of the town you travel going east and back again through the great state of Montana.
Billings: Boot cut. When the wind blows a certain way, you are certain to smell the many animals from the ranches around the open plains. The city is one long leg of shopping, churches and banks.
I love that I have family there, but the many strip malls being built make it seem like the town is trying to apologize to the consumer for the natural environment, as if it weren‘t enough. Billings was nicknamed the “magic city” in the 1800s because of its quick growth as railroads were built and it became a retail destination, which it remains.
Bozeman: Designer jeans. I grew up in Bozeman, in the Levis 501 era. We were comfortable wearing our jeans 5 days a week, with a different top of course! But the style has changed since my many years away, with excessive mansions sprinkling the open fields where I ran and played as a child. The mountains always remain constant and beautiful, but the Levis have become more obsolete. Someday I can imagine that Belgrade will simply be a suburb of the bigger, extravagant Bozeman that I no longer feel quite fits my life.
Butte: Washed denim. My son was particularly intrigued by the Lady of the Mountain. When explaining to him that Butte was very Catholic, he later became confused that a man named “Evel Knievel” would have lived there if he was Catholic.
I love the history of Butte, and remember fondly the rough and tumble Butte friends I had when Bozeman and Butte were high school rivals. It remains a town a little washed out from mining but trying to heal. I feel sympathy for Butte, as the environmental cleanup parallels the pollution left in my own company town of Bonner of the east side of Missoula.
Missoula: Relaxed fit. I realize it now, and every time I come home. Missoula is relaxed, and that is why I love living here. There is room enough to stretch, yet the mountains in and around our town protect us from overpopulation and create vast recreational opportunities. The people of Missoula embrace diversity and community and enjoy different opinions and lively conversations.
Yes, I am happy to be raising my kids with Missoula genes for them to remember growing up relaxed and free, yet supported and sturdy. I hope Missoula always will be like those favorite pair of jeans they go back to wearing, despite how many other styles they try on when they grow up and are out on their own.
(Oh, and by the way…In light of the spring and summer in Missoula, we could probably also be seen with our FLOOD JEANS in Orchard Homes and HOTPANTS in Bonner.)
PHOTOS: Clark’s signature at Pompey’s Pillar east of Billings, by Jennifer Slayden. Designer Jeans, by Carol Blodgett
Jen Slayden is a Missoulian who makes her home on the outskirts of town with three outdoorsy kids, a fly-fishing guide husband, and a outdoor loving black lab named Cody. She juggles her time teaching music, life coaching, playing music in her family bluegrass band and taking in all the great recreational and cultural activities that Missoula has to offer. Then she writes about it all on her own website: Find Your Harmony.