Lookout Tower

My Sky Perch

I returned home yesterday afternoon, after spending a week long stint in a lookout tower outside of Swan Lake, Montana, which I reserved 6-months ago. It was, in short, a life-affirming solo saunter. My husband Mike came up on Friday night and stayed through the weekend but the four nights prior to his arrival, I was there on my own.

In large part, I spent my time: listening, writing, making tea, and reading Mary Oliver. It was glorious and chilly and sometimes frightening. It was all the things.

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 3 of 3)

The fortune cookie I got the night before I was set to head to the lookout

 

Thursday May 24th, 2018: Day 4

He was Montana-handsome, meaning he had nice facial scrub. I’d put him in his early 40’s, though it’s worth mentioning that I put most people in this age category as of late and I find that I’m right only about half of the time. Maybe 40%. I suppose my piling of everyone in this age bracket has something to do with the fact that I’m approaching this decade myself.

Given that it was 9:00am on a Thursday and Swan Lake would not be an impossible place to drive through and not realize it’s a town, I was the only customer in his establishment: OConnell’s Qwick Stop, which touts: Beer. Bait. Pizza. Groceries. on its sign. OConnell’s is located 8.1 miles from my home in the tower, an easy jog north on highway 83.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I hesitated to venture inside, as I knew I’d be the only customer and that equated to a certain amount of pressure. Pressure to: buy something, to engage in polite conversation, to field questions about where I was from and what I was doing in the area. All the things I really didn’t want to be doing. Before going in, I prepared to tell one of two accounts of my happenings, if I were asked, depending on whether it was a male or female doing the asking. If a male-person asked, I’d tell him I was just passing through, not wanting to tip my hand about my being a lone woman in the woods nearby. If a female-person asked, I’d tell her the truth, figuring she’d be far less likely to stalk and murder me in my sleep. When I entered, though, I realized there was a third demographic of people-folk I hadn’t considered, and therefor had not crafted a response for: close-in-age-Montana-handsome-dude-with-kid-in-tow. When he asked, as I knew he would, I told him the truth, too. I realize it’s not entirely sound reasoning but I give extra street cred and trust to guys sporting kids. I figure if the kid seems decent enough, then it stands to reason that its accompanying adult must be relatively okay. And its mother left the little one in their charge, so that was something.

There’s a standard and delightful mix of wares in OConnell’s, similar to that I’ve seen in many a one-store town in Montana. Jazzy printed aprons were the first thing to catch my eye. There were hand-knitted animals, organic eggs, ice cream bars, and canisters of bear spray you could wear around your waist. You can rent a SUP board for an hour or up to two days. You can order up a breakfast pizza or a regular pizza and you can fill up your gas tank out front for $2.95/gallon. I didn’t see the bait section, as was promised on the sign, but I’m not sure that’s something you put out on display. You can purchase a camping hammock, rain poncho, and collapsible canteen from the same wall of hanging camping gear. And, of course, junk food and beer were in high supply. I found it especially considerate that they had a small selection (no pun intended) of condoms, tucked in next to the nail clippers and ear plugs.

I left with a locally made Montana-styled t-shirt to give to my stepson and an 8-pack of crayons in which to leave in the tower, to go along with the Smokey the Bear kids activity books.

What I found most interesting about my store excursion, however, was that despite the fact that I was clearly in the store by myself, Montana-handsome guy saw fit to assume I was part of a pair, as in: “How long are you guys staying in the tower for?” and “If you guys come back down to town, you should check out our homemade pizza.”

Guys? I thought to myself. As in, plural? As in, more than just me? Who else would I bring along with me for pizza? Do I need to bring someone else along, and your large sign out front stating: “Any pizza can be a personal pizza if you believe in yourself,” is a rouse?!

I guess he’s just societally geared not to think of women as solo travelers. It’s really not an outlandish conclusion to make, when you think about it. There truly aren’t very many of us out there.

__________

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 2 of 3)

I’m back among the ground-dwellers. I awoke this morning around 3:30am, disappointed after a confusing moment that I wasn’t in the tower.

Prior to my solo sojourn, I’d given no thought to the effects of tree top living. I hadn’t considered how well I might take to it or the re-calibration period afterwards that I’m experiencing now.

Upon returning home on Saturday night, I stood on our wooden deck out back, located 19″ off the ground, wondering why I felt so strange. In short order, I realized it was due to having spent the week in high concentration of time on a wooden deck rocketed 40-feet up high in the air. The ground was just too oddly close from where my feet were settled.

I didn’t anticipate loving – and therefor now missing – the ritual of lighting the gas stove. A task I involved myself in more than the average person who is not an avid tea drinker.

I’d forgotten how in love I am with trees and sky and sun rises – and how sad I would be to leave them behind. While they surround me every day, of course, it’s not the same as paying the kind of close and unscripted attention to them that comes from dwelling directly in their midst.

Tuesday May 22nd: Day 2. 4:48am

I’m sitting here at the map table inside, guessing over which peak the sun will rise, based on the color patterns unfurling over the mountains. I’ve got it narrowed down to two. With how much light hangs in the sky this time of year, I will make little use of my headlamp, book light, and lantern I packed along. Perhaps an hour’s worth of artificial lighting in the morning is all I’ll need. A truly dark sky only lasts for around 6-hours, in the late springtime of Montana.

With the light, temperatures, and time of year, I think I’ve managed to stumble upon the very best time to situate myself here. It’s neither bug, fire, or tourist season just yet; the nights and mornings are tinged with just the right amount of cool to accompany tea drinking and a hoodie; and the days are warm and friendly to my skin. I see this place becoming an annual excursion, and I only just arrived yesterday. It’s simply brilliant here.

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 1 of 3)

Six months ago, on November 21st, 2017, I reserved to stay a full week at the Mission Lookout Tower starting on May 21st, located just a few miles from Swan Lake, Montana. With the exception of my husband and stepson coming up to spend the afternoon yesterday, I spent the week there solo. No power, no running water, no cell service.

It was deeply nourishing…ravishingly beautiful…heart-quenchingly filled with quietude…and luminous in every possible internal and external way.

I have scores of daily logging entries in my spiral-bound notebook, dozens of short creative writing snippets in my leather-bound catch-all, two freshly written spoken word pieces, over two hundred photos, and a multitude of video segments. It’s difficult to know how best to wrap up this past week, so I plan on crafting a 3-post series.

My 360-degree glass nest was perched 40-feet up high in the air atop a wooden tower, nestled in a thick of pine trees. Mission Mountains to the west. Swan Range to the east. I watched the sun rise every morning and the sun set every evening. I watched as the waxing moon made her way across the sky. Never before had I been so connected, engaged, and enthralled with the presence and pulsing movement of light.

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