The Mountains Are Calling

The mug on the shelf in the kitchen of our Air BnB bore John Muir’s famous words, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” None of us drank out of that mug during our stay at Big Sky, Montana, but it sat there on the shelf, and I read the words each day. “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I thought about this draw throughout our stay. Did I feel this way, too - a certain pull to the mountains?
A calling? An inexplicable desire that had to be satiated so I could survive?

The first person I met after deplaning in Bozeman had heard and answered the call. She worked at the convenience store in the airport, right across from baggage claim. It was February, and she had moved to Montana from Illinois in October. She told me she couldn’t wait for the summer, when she heard she’d be able to zipline and hike and whitewater raft. She told me about “what looks like a little creek now that apparently swells to a river in the spring and summer, complete with rapids.” Snow melt, I guessed. She helped me mail my postcards back home to Virginia, the seashell stamps she pulled from a drawer behind the counter incongruous with the images of cowboys and mountains and fields of wild flowers running to snowcapped peaks.

The second person I met in Bozeman worked at the airport Yellowstone Park Store, a few storefronts down from the convenience store. Originally from Massachusetts, she, too, had heard and answered the mountains’ call, gladly leaving behind the venerable towns of New England for Montana State University. But she broke her back sledding one winter, forcing her to finish school in Connecticut before once again heeding the mountains’ call, and returning to Montana, leaving her boyfriend behind in New England. No match for the call of the mountains, he ended up following her to Montana, and now they’re married—to each other and the mountains.

The day after our arrival, my sister, who had visited the area four years prior, our friend, and I left the warmth of our Air BnB to explore the mountains. We were lost most of the time, but not lost enough to feel afraid. After two or three miles of essentially aimless trekking and a particularly arduous uphill climb in knee-deep snow, my sister convinced us to lay down in the powder. As I laid there on the ground, I noted the gentle sway of the power lines that swept across the sky above me. The whir of wind in the pines. The occasional, muted rumble of tires on snow from the road above. The tip-tops of snow-laden pines—made closer to us by the depth of the snow. I noted the smell of cold and snow. Clean. Fresh. I felt the cold seeping through the back of my coat, and became conscious of the sound of my own breathing, and the Memory Foam feel of feet of snow packed beneath my body. Really, we were laying in the tree tops, suspended by feet of snow.

I could hear the call of the mountains.

The next day, to thaw the cold of a nine-mile hike out of our bodies, the three of us indulged in massages, the spa and a gym tucked neatly in with some shops at the base of the mountains, looking like a Christmas card or a painting by Thomas Kinkade. “None of this was here last time we visited,” my sister said, referring to her Christmastime trip four years prior. “This is all new. A lot is different, actually.” Resting under a light sheet atop a heated massage table, I asked my massage therapist if she were “from here.”

“Here?” she said. “Not really. I mean, I’m from Montana—but not here. I came because I had to live in the mountains.”

This call of the mountains, which everyone seemed to heed, grew louder, more insistent, on the final day of our stay, as we snowshoed up and down rocky ravines; across valleys surrounded by towering mountains, sentinels in the snow; beside a cobalt blue stream singing its wintry song beneath the ice and snow. The trees we passed, sometimes clinging to their trunks for balance, wore crystallized amber and lime green moss like jewelry. I told myself if I lived here, I would run all summer and snowshoe all winter.

That night at dinner, in a restaurant my brother-in-law commented hadn’t existed just four years before, last time he visited, while I still savored the trip, my sister, my husband, and our friends lamented its end, and started planning our next visit out west.

Before sunup the next morning, I found myself on a flight home, and after nearly a week in Montana, finally met my first Bozeman native. “We tell everyone,” she said, “they should visit--and then go home. By all means, visit—but don’t stay. The area is changing too fast for its own good. And the developers don’t care what they’re doing—to the towns, to the people, to the wildlife. All they see is a profit.”  I sat silently in my seat, craning my neck around my husband to catch a glimpse of the mountains out the window as the plane mounted thin air, the peaks growing further and further away. I remembered my sister and her husband commenting on all the change, all the new businesses. I remembered the people I’d met—all transplants. I said a silent goodbye to the mountains. “The mountains are calling…and I must go home,” I thought.  

Submitted by Amanda Creasey.