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 Road Saunter

I’ve written before about the merits of not disobeying the call of the road when it summons thee. So this past weekend when it called, I went.

I’ve found that to satiate my “urge for going,” as Joni Mitchell once crafted into a song, I needn’t venture far. I live in Montana for pete’s sake, a truly uncompromisingly beautiful, wild state. And we’ve got a lotta land here, too. A person could spend lifetimes exploring here and never be able to see it all.

And not only do I not need to go far, I don’t need to spend a large swath of time either. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes venturing far and spending extended periods of time off and away from home is a lovely thing to do, but I’ve been finding that even weekend-long trips simply 2-4 hours from my doorstep are not only sufficient but immensely satisfying.

I wrote this on my writer’s Facebook page the night before setting out this past weekend:

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I want to sleep under the stars in unfamiliar terrain. I want to wake up in a fresh locale and navigate my early morning rituals in a locale where no one knows me. I want to sit in a coffee shop in a small town and write unobstructed by the comfortable air of home.

And perhaps some of this allure has a little something to do with the fact that I know full well – as clear as the sound of a bell – that I grow little, if at all, unless I edge outside of my comfort zone.

So, this past weekend, I went here:

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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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Perspective

quotes-about-perception

It’s funny how wildly different one person’s idea of a bad day can be from another’s. And by “funny” I mean tragic.

This morning I read a short travel story entitled: The Flight from Hell, amid a collection in the book I’m currently reading. It would take a pile of harrowing and painful occurrences for me to even consider branding a travel experience with that honorific stamp. I’m pretty sure those hanging oxygen bags said to drop down in the event the cabin loses air pressure would need to be deployed. It might even take an unscheduled water landing for me to start pondering the merits of later telling my friends and family that I had, in fact, had the “flight from hell.”

I can only assume that the fellow who penned the story had lived a charmed life before his fateful trip from Jamaica to L.A. And perhaps his perspective had been so incredibly skewed by having never encountered real suffering that he simply had no frame of reference. I kept waiting for the hellish part to present itself. Then the story ended, leaving me still waiting. His idea of a “flight from hell” was basically the equivalent of a minor paper cut.

I’m hoping that upon discovering that his travel story is sandwiched in-between accounts of other writers having been ping-ponged over middle-eastern borders and arrested promptly in each new country, swarmed by army ants and hand-sized tarantulas falling from the ceiling, stranded at sea off the Java coast surrounded by vomit, and rafting down a river full of sewage he came to realize that his “flight from hell”, which literally amounted to sitting on the tarmac for 90 minutes at LAX and then having to wait 10 minutes for his luggage to arrive, sorta paled in comparison.