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Tag Archives: Montana

Journal Entries from Lake Como (Montana style)

I got back yesterday from an overnight excursion to Lake Como – the Montana version, not the one in Italy. Here are some of the (unedited) journal musings I penned while out on the water and camping in the woods.

Friday July 13th

Not yet 8pm. Shadows grow in the forest, as the sun wanes and the sky fades to pale blue, like an after-thought. Cowboy Junkies on the portable speaker prove the perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea and the creek beside me, small but surging mightily, just like me.

A bluebird day on the lake coats my skin and sits tangled in my long hair. And I’m the sort of tired that I remember from my youth, after a day spent sunbathing, running from ocean waves, and flirting with bronze-glazed boys thick with intrigue. A delicious tired, sugared with a communion with something bigger.

There’s a certain aliveness, in this flavor of winding down, following a day that leaves your face awash in the reds of summer. And I reckon I’ll sleep good tonight, rocked in lullaby arms by the song of the water making its way over rocks downstream.

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I breathe just a little bit deeper in the woods, befriended by my rooted brethren.

I breathe deeper when gazing at mountain peaks, as a witness to stellar beauty.

And I breathe deeper whenever I look up – at trees or buildings or sky – as it helps me to remind me that I am part of a whole big and wide open world.

_______

9:18pm

I feel asleep with my friend Ashly’s book manuscript on my stomach and just awoke. The forest is darkening to muted greens and flat tones of ash. I smell of insect repellent and sunscreen and solitude, a mixture I take solace in more than words can properly convey. Still finding my way venturing on solo overnights in the woods, an inner stirring of uneasiness arises, when I think of how the babbling creek would drown out the approach of ne’er-do-wells I try not to imagine are thrumming through the night on back roads, looking for a fresh target to mess with. (Added side note: For the record, ne’er-do-well is a word that I like the sound of far more than the dictionary definition of, as it means a worthless person, which I don’t at all subscribe to as being a possibility. I think of this word as referring to a person who is up to no good.)

In my evening cat nap, I think I may have dreamed in color, rich in the dalliances of friendships past and those I hope soon will come. Though, it’s hard to say for sure. Dreams are tricky that way. Sometimes they scoop me up and swallow me whole, rendering me awash in memory’s twilight. Other times, I become a false impression in their wake, stumbling around within myself for hope of grounding in a truth I can bite into and chew.

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My mind kicks up storm clouds, like the haze left behind on a dirt road in the heat of summer. And sometimes, despite my best efforts to redirect my focus, it is undeterred from its obsessions of thought.

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My Happy Place(s)

Lately, I’ve been reveling in the ability to thoroughly enjoy both staying at home and venturing out and about under the summer sun of Montana. In both instances, I am delighting in my own company. It’s a mark of inner contentment, I think, to feel at ease wherever we are. And I need not travel even one step to find where home is. I carry it within me. I am never without it.

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My Happy Place(s)

My happy place is on a motorcycle, cruising at 70 over a smooth ribbon of asphalt.
My happy place is on a SUP board, on any body of water that will have me.
My happy place is being perched in front of a blank sheet of paper, with a blue P-500 in my hand.

My HP is in the woods, surrounded by elder trees and ancient wisdom.
My HP is on my meditation cushion, cultivating ease and spaciousness.
My HP is in the kitchen, preparing food to feed my friends.
My HP is next to a campfire, with a cup of tea and a guitar.

My HP is being solo on the road, inhaling music through my pores and exhaling it through my lungs.
My HP is in the Mission Lookout Tower, intimately rekindling my love affair with the sun and moon.
My HP is behind a set of drums, allowing others the chance to get their African dance on.
My HP is my humble abode, in a town I adore, close to my people.

My HP is Deer Park Monastery.
My HP is Banff National Park.
My HP is anywhere I haven’t been.

My HP is in the here and now.

My HP is doing something silly.
My HP is playing with small children.
My HP is watching fireworks.

My HP is within me.

More HP pics:

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New Plan!

If you’re an avid reader here, you may recall that one of my oft used life mottoes is: New plan! And the exclamation point is an important part of the motto, as it stipulates a certain energy that must get summoned alongside of the words, so that the spirit of the motto has the opportunity to arise. Just saying the words without evoking the spirit will sorely impact the motto’s efficacy rate.

Let’s say you’re waiting for a flight at the airport. While standing at the gate, an announcement is made that your flight has been delayed. You now have at least 2 options. You could grumble about it to your travel companion, or text someone or post your angst on social media if you’re flying solo. OR you could New plan! it. You could say New plan! and flow with the moment, determining what to do with the extra hang time you now have on your hands. New plan! is like a gear shifter, helping us to practice moving along with the moment as the landscape around us changes, verses getting stuck-tied to how something was “supposed” to be. I’ve found that it helps to say it out loud, too.

Yesterday, this motto accompanied me in especially strong accord. My original plan was to take my standup paddleboard, new camping hammock, and new/used Subaru and solo car camp overnight on the Clearwater river, about a 40-minute jaunt from town. I’d paddle around in the heat of day, swing in the hammock in between water excursions, write, drink tea, and maybe manage to write a letter to my friend Daniel. That was the plan. And I did do most of those things. I found a spot where I intended; paddled around on a lazy stretch of the Clearwater River; took a cat nap in the hammock; and even made some tea and did a bit of writing.

The place I was situated is a rare find in Montana. It’s a spot on the water that’s free and open for folks to camp just about anywhere they can nestle in. Now, there’s a ton of free camping in this lovely state, with all of the national forest land we have. You can drive up almost any ol’ dirt road and kick it for up to 14-days. But to camp for free on the water is a hard find. And the thing with paid camping on the water in the summertime of Montana, is that you either need to reserve your spot 9-months in advance or you need to time it right, in order to secure one of the first-come-first-serve spots. Cuz, guess who else wants to camp right on the water? EVERYONE.

The hitch in the giddy-up came about 2-hours in, after I had settled into my camp spot. There were other campers spread out along the stretch of river I was on but we were all giving each other the customary buffer of personal space. I had staked claim to a great little spot, where I could only just barely see the next campers down the way. I was enjoying a cup of freshly made tea when a group of about 6 adults came to hop in the water right by where I was stationed. They were camping somewhere nearby and my only guess was that I had secured one of the few good river access spots in the area. I mean, just because there’s a river doesn’t mean every spot along it lends itself well for hopping on in. I’m not sure why else they would’ve traveled down to where I was, as we were all camping beside the water.

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Creating Balance

I gave a talk at the Open Sky Sangha in Kalispell, Montana last night, Thursday June 14th. (Open Sky is one of the sister groups of my home sangha Be Here Now.) Below is what I wrote out ahead of time, to help me prepare for the talk. If you’d prefer to listen to the audio recording, vs. reading it, you can venture here:

http://www.openway.org/content/creating-balance-practice-talk-nicole-dunn

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Title: Creating Balance

Subtitle: Cultivating self-care while also staying active and engaged in the world

Last month, for the week leading up to and including Memorial Day weekend, I went on a solo sojourn and stayed in the Mission Lookout Tower, which is just outside of Swan Lake. So, for 5 nights and 6 days, I situated myself 40-feet up off the ground in a 15X15 glass nest perch in the pines, with a 2-3 foot wide wrap-around deck, which afforded me sweeping views of the Swan Range to the east and the Mission mountains to the west.

I reserved this recent solo stay at Mission Lookout back in November, because I knew that come mid-late May, I’d be in need of some time of restoration and refueling of my energy tanks – and boy was I right! Prior to heading to the tower, my energy was sorely waning and I was feeling over-extended and organizationally meetinged-out. I recorded my debut spoken word album and had a release party and performance in March; I was one of the directors of our statewide spring retreat in April; and was in charge of our big annual community yard sale fundraiser at our mindfulness center in Missoula two weeks after the retreat – on top of working part time as a nanny, being a weekly hospice volunteer, taking care of my family household, having a regular writing regiment, and so on. And this isn’t anything special or unique – we all have a myriad of things that we tend to on an ongoing basis.

No matter how glad we may be to invest our energy into all the different things that we do, there comes a time that in order to continue doing those things, we will need to find, create, and make important the art of resting and self-care, lest we become completely and utterly exhausted and kaput. So, developing a relationship with cultivating our own sense of balance between being active in the world and learning how to rest and replenish is not just something nice to do, it’s vitally important to our ability to continue beautifully into the future – to keep actively practicing in our spiritual mindfulness tradition and in all of the endeavors we participate in: work, school, family life, social life, home upkeep, traveling, volunteering, recreation, hobbies/interests, etc. We extend ourselves out and about in so many ways and we can liken ourselves to a car: our gas tank can only take us so far before we need to refuel. If we have more energy going out than that which is coming in, we will find ourselves eventually broken down and stranded on the side of the road. And this is a position that is all too commonplace in our culture. We are a nation of doers. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

The hitch in the giddy-up is that we are not well-acquainted with how to ongoingly restore ourselves. We don’t prioritize – alongside of: work, family, friends, and so on – the practices of stopping, resting, nourishing, and healing.

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Nose Rings & Moving West

 

This month – and spilling into early July – marks a couple of large milestones.

Written on June 5th, 2018:

On my fourteenth birthday, I got my nose pierced on South Street in Philly. It was the summer before I entered high school and I regarded the piercing as a symbol of my coming of age. I’m now a month away from turning 39-years-old.

This morning, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I took out my nose ring to clean it, just as I’ve done a million times before. Only, today something was different. I decided not to reinstate it back where it belonged. I’ve not spent a whole day without a stud in my left nostril in one month shy of 25 years. I don’t even see the piercing for the most part anymore when I look at myself. It has simply melded into my facial composition, becoming just as much a part of my appearance as my acne scars and eyebrows.

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Written on June 8th, 2018:

This morning, as I ran a towel over my face after showering, I instinctively made the allowance for my nose piercing, arching the towel around the left side of my nose, as as not to rip the earring out.

Then I remembered. There was no nose ring to make such necessary accommodations for anymore.

I took it out – and left it out – 3 mornings ago.

________

As an update: the nose ring is still out.

Switching.

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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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Soaking Wet & Still Smiling

Last night, my husband and I went to see Bon Iver at our local still newish outdoor amphitheater, located just outside of town in Bonner, Montana. It rained the whole…entire…time. Did I mention it was at an outdoor amphitheater? The last time I was that wet with my clothes on, I had volunteered at a mud run event and then chose to walk the course when my shift was over. I’d gotten moderately muddied up while traversing the course but my grand finale soaking-through came when swimming across a relatively deep muddy water pit at the end.

In comparing these two soaking-wet-with-clothes-on experiences, a notable distinction is that for one of them it was my choice and for the other it totally wasn’t. One was outside of my control. And that makes a HUGE difference, by the way. In terms of how we approach and energetically receive an experience, control has everything to do with it.

We arrived to the venue early. With grass seats and never having been to the amphitheater before, we wanted to stake out a good spot and do our best to ensure prime viewing. This meant, however, that we were soaked through well-before the concert was even set to start. In this semi-arid part of the country, it’s not often that we get a rain that lasts for hours on end without pause. But that’s sure what happened last night! The rain increased and decreased in heftiness and vigor, but it rained truly the whole time we were there. For three hours, we sat holed up in our Crazy Creek chairs atop small mats, raincoats, and blue tarp, slowly becoming more saturated as time went on. I read it was a sold out show. And with a capacity of 4,000, it meant we were in good company.

Since umbrellas weren’t allowed (as they would obstruct the view of those behind you), I enjoyed seeing what creative solutions people came up with to shield themselves from the wet weather. We were like a sea of huddled masses, ghosts, lagoon creatures, and woodland survivalists in our assortment of blankets, ponchos, rain gear, plastic sheeting, and cloaks. It was comforting, and somehow made the experience more tolerable, to feel the friendly camaraderie of being in it together, wrapped up in rain-shielding materials.

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