I don’t often write a love letter to a city, given my love and preference for the outdoors and natural wonders, but I’m making an exception with this particular post.
Most people have a certain place that they visit from time to time that seems to get better with each visit. A place that seems to feel a special, even a little magical. For some in the northwest its somewhere like Leavenworth, WA, or Sandpoint, ID, or maybe Hood River, OR.
For me, that place is quickly becoming Missoula, MT.
Before Amber and I started dating nearly two years ago, I had never been to Missoula. I really hadn’t spent a whole lot of time in Montana at all for that matter, with the exception of visiting family in Thompson Falls from time to time, a one day-trip to Glacier National Park, a few camping trips to Noxon Reservoir, and then during our north Idaho camping trips on the St. Joe River in Idaho where we would often drop over Gold Pass into St. Regis to re-fuel and visit the gift shop. We visited Flathead Lake once, too. Basically, I’d spent some time in the same general vicinity of the state, without really venturing much beyond that.
Since beginning my relationship with Amber, though, we’ve visited Missoula several times to visit her family, and each time has been a great experience, with something exciting, or even amazing, seeming to happen with nearly every visit.
Once we visited and saw an insightful and eye-opening documentary about institutional segregation in the Detriot school system during the civil rights movement. That weekend we also went on a snowy and beautiful hike along the Clark Fork River with Amber’s family.
Another time we planned a special trip to see one of my own personal heroes, and the leader of the 2016 progressive political revolution, Senator Bernie Sanders stump for a senatorial candidate in western Montana. We even got to shake Bernie’s hand, and I got an autograph and picture with him as well. That weekend was also my first time hiking Mt. Sentinel, which is just one of the litany of mountains overlooking Missoula.
Last August we made a weekend visit – during peak fire season I might add, which was a sight to see in itself, as Montana, like most of the northwest, was ravaged by wildfires last summer – and Saturday morning decided to take a trip to the Missoula Farmer’s Market.
As we were leaving the market to head downtown, we happened to run into someone who I’ve looked up to for a very long time, writer and all-around life-coach Nate Green. I won’t go into too much detail on that here, since I already wrote a whole blog post about that last summer.
Nonetheless, it was another great visit. A couple weeks ago we made another trip to Missoula, and once again, it didn’t disappoint.
Shortly after arriving in town we met up with Amber’s parents and attended a movie. The movie was not some big blockbuster with lots of wow-factor and CGI and “ooo’s” and “ahh’s”. It was a documentary called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about Fred Rogers from the children’s show that everyone my age or older will remember, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
It was likely the best documentary I’ve ever watched, and made a huge impact on both Amber and myself, recalling memories of watching his show as children, and the happiness that it always left us with.
It was amazing to learn about the amount of thought and detail that went into the show, and the way Fred worked to help children process things that were happening in the world, and making them feel loved, important, and part of a community.
He was a truly incredible man, and the message behind his show of love and compassion was one that was desperately needed for many children who watched his show.
Walking around downtown Missoula is always a pleasure when Amber and I visit as well. There are so many unique small businesses with owners who are clearly passionate about what they do, and there is an artistic, intimate, welcoming, and (for lack of a better word) fun vibe to Missoula’s downtown business district.
There also seems to be a friendliness in Missoula that other areas don’t necessarily feature. For the most part, people seem very down to earth, quick to offer a smile, and there’s a lack of judgment in most people’s eyes.
When a city features a general friendliness among its citizens, there is an energy that comes along with that, and an equally negative energy in places where people don’t seem very friendly, or seem full of judgment. We got that feeling in downtown Coeur d’Alene a bit, where people seemed to be looking us up and down everywhere we went (although, don’t get us wrong, we still love Coeur d’Alene).
Anyways, back to our weekend there earlier this month. Saturday, the day after the Fred Rogers movie, we drove to the top of Lolo Pass with Amber’s Mom, Rayna, who ran a half marathon in a gorgeous setting, atop the mountains at the border of Idaho and Montana. Amber’s Dad, Jeremy, also joined us, albeit he chose to ride his bike for the 41 mile trip from Missoula to the top of Lolo Pass (we think he may be a little insane…), as part of the training for the half-Ironman he’ll be competing in later this year in Colorado.
We spent the rest of the day enjoying the town of Missoula, having some drinks and wonderful food, and topped it off sitting around a fire in Rayna and Jeremy’s backyard Saturday night.
For me, the following morning was an incredible conclusion to an incredible weekend. I decided to get up early and set out for Mt. Sentinel with Maizy around 7am for a morning hike.
We had hardly gone thirty yards on the trail when Maizy let me know we weren’t alone when she started whining. I looked down the hill to see five whitetail deer watching us curiously.
We said hello, and continued on up the trail.
The temperature was in the upper 50’s, the sun peeking through scattered rain clouds, and after getting my body warmed up with the climb up the mountain, I was neither hot nor cold. It was just about perfect for a hike.
It rained lightly a couple times, more of a mist than actual rainfall, and the moisture had a rejuvenating, refreshing effect on me without a doubt, and I believe it did for Maizy too, as her smile was as wide as her face the entire hike.
We didn’t go to the very top, but we went quite a bit past the famous concrete “M” that you can see from miles below, to a slab of rock reminiscent of Pride Rock in Lion King. I called Maizy to stand on the slab and snapped a few pictures of her.
As we made our descent, and it rain/misted a little more, I looked off over the city of Missoula and noticed the full rainbow that sat over the city like a color-wheel crown.
I haven’t seen many full rainbows from one end to the other, and this was probably the best rainbow I’d ever seen (with the exception of one we saw in Hawaii…but come on, that’s Hawaii). Naturally, I snapped some more pictures.
It was on our descent that I had the realization that I mentioned at the beginning of the article: Missoula is that place that has that something for me, that inexplicable magic.
That’s not to say that I don’t love where I live now, Moscow, and the argument can be made that the two towns have a lot in common. However, Missoula has come to have something of a mystical aura about it for me, and I look forward to each visit we take. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be calling Missoula home.
So here’s to you finding your Missoula Magic, and if you’ve already got a place like that, please share in the comments, and let me know what it is about that place that makes it magical to you.