Five weeks ago, I was featured on MTV’s latest, True Life: I’m a Hoax. I woke up in a panic at 4:56am for my 6am flight to Portland (alarm clock time forever burned into my mind), having slept through three alarms that I did not set to be loud or intrusive enough to be heard above two box fans and a thunder storm, and rushed to the airport, arriving by 5:30, but because Frontier is also a hoax nobody was at their check-in desk, I missed my flight. I will spare you the painful (read: expensive) details, but thanks to Kyle who sat with me and helped me find another flight and my wonderful parents who assured me that they wouldn’t disown me yet, I managed to stay mostly calm and find another flight that had me arriving in Portland only an hour later than I was supposed to be there. I called the JVCNW office in Portland to let them know of my travel plan changes, but since it was only 3am there I had to take off hoping I would manage to make it to orientation on my own. As a last-ditch attempt, I texted a phone number from an email JVCNW had sent about travel logistics, and was very kindly reassured by Amy (whom once I met in person I would be obsessed with) that they would figure something out for me. When I arrived in Portland, still not having heard what that “something” was, I was incredibly surprised/grateful/embarrassed to be greeted by the two JVCNW staff who had stuck around to take me to camp. I cannot overstate how much this meant to me after such a stressful day, and how reassured I felt in deciding to be a part of JVCNW. I arrived at Camp Adams (orientation site just outside of Portland) just as the other incoming JVs were heading to dinner, took a deep breath, and joined them. Could I have asked for a more exciting day to start this adventure of mine?
Throughout the week, I got to know my new community mates for the next year, and couldn’t help feeling like I lucked out – they are awesome. I could probably already write a novel about them, but as I think you’ll get to know them throughout these posts, for now it will suffice to say they are fantastic, and we’ve hardly stopped laughing since day one.
Four weeks ago, on the follow-up episode of True Life, I was midway through a 20-hour Greyhound bus from Portland to Billings in the middle of the night sitting next to a stranger who told me he had just witnessed an attempted homicide and was now, “by no connection,” on his way to Georgia to “visit his mom” (quotations because I’m getting suspicious at this point). At one stop, he got off for a smoke, then rushed back on, grabbed his stuff, leaving his wheat thins for me (thanks but no thanks), and said he had to switch buses…despite the ticket he showed me three times definitely having him going through Billings. Anyways, not important to my story but nonetheless unnervingly humorous, and a few hours later, I stumbled off the bus in Billings at 5am to kind strangers (JVC support people) welcoming us to our new home. We arrived shortly at our very Shack-esque home:
In a matter of minutes, the house was full of the life’s belongings of three communities (Ashland and St. Xavier were staying with us until the afternoon when their ride would take them a bit further East to their respective homes). Without much discussion, we each found the nearest place to fit our bodies semi-comfortably and promptly passed out. After a few hours of sleep, I ventured out into the city for my first run, during which, despite the efforts of the original city planners to promote navigability by making grid-numbered streets, I still got lost. Navigating has never been my forte.
We spent that week settling in and getting acquainted with Billings: walking 1.5 miles to the grocery store, trying to figure out finances and making way too many trips to the credit union, getting library cards, fixing up a few of the house bikes, and rallying for coal reform (lolz sorry roomies for dragging you into that one). We were invited to dinner by two of our JV support people, Erica and Brian, both of whom are former JVs themselves, now married, and enjoyed a dinner with them, their two kids, and two other of our support people, Bill and Sarah. It is really awesome that JVCNW makes sure these support systems are in place for us, they have been wonderfully kind and welcoming! Carol and MK, the two who are commuting to Pryor (a small town on the Crow Reservation nearby) everyday to serve at St. Charles Mission School as math/reading clinicians, spent the greater part of the week in Ashland for teacher training (#SepAnx). They missed a carbon monoxide scare in which our alarm went off and we called the fire department. If we wanted a chance to say “Hello, we’re new here!” to the south side, that 11pm fire truck did just the trick.
I also started work this week! I won’t be saying too much more about work in this post, because so far I’ve done a lot of orientation and learning the lay of the land sort of stuff, but I will say I am super excited about the work that my org does, and have felt very welcomed here. Really looking forward to the year ahead!
Three weeks ago we packed our bags and drove to Crow Fair for the weekend, a huge annual cultural fair for the entire Crow Tribe and some of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. We were staying at the camp of a family involved in the St. Labre school system where a lot of the Big Sky JVs are serving, who were incredibly welcoming and generous from the moment we arrived. They helped us build a teepee (what took a pack of 15 young and able JVs an hour supposedly takes the Crow women 20 minutes). When completed, though, the teepee could hardly be differentiated from the hundreds of other teepees set up around us. We spent Friday night through Sunday afternoon observing colorful powwows, cooling off in the river with all the kids, attending a huge rodeo, watching more powwows, trying new foods (i.e., cow tongue and stomach), being amazed by this huge and rich culture which had heretofore been pretty unknown to me (there’s a problem with that, more on this later), and finishing the weekend with an incredible sunrise. My roommate, Ellen, took some amazing pictures that weekend, so check out her blog. Also, as you continue to read on (for those who are still going strong), you should do yourself a favor and listen to this. It’s what all the kids on the rez are listening to, apparently!
That week, although Carol and MK were gone again for training, the remaining three of us were invited to dinner with Chuck, Alice, Becky, and Jeff, four former JVs from the 70s, and like Brian and Erica, now happily married couples (something about JVC, man <3). After the most delicious meal I’d had in weeks, they showed us a giant binder full of all of the stuff the Billings JVs have been up to in the past several decades, from parties to news articles to recipes. Super cool! We had really interesting discussions about how things have changed since they were JVs, and how it is difficult for JVs today to make this year different because of how connected we always are. Something to think about.
By this point, maybe even sooner, I had already successfully passed on almost every single Chateau catchphrase of the last semester or so (Shooshee; You could be wrong; Hoax; Ladies, Ladies, Ladies; God Bless America; and let’s not forget A-ding-ding-ding). My Billings babes have taken it all like champs, and my Chateau biddies would be proud.
Two weeks ago, it became particularly clear that I wasn’t “in Kansas anymore.” Saturday morning, a coworker picked me up to attend a seminar on Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s recently released encyclical on the environment. After a presentation from the Bishop and from a representative from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, comment/discussion time began and things escalated quickly. As an environmental studies major, and as a UM student in general, I have been surrounded by relatively like-minded people for the past four years. I knew this, but after hearing some of the comments along the lines of (1) climate change is a hoax/conspiracy, (2) “fossil fuels are a gift from God and are there for us to use,” and (3) “climate change is natural and there’s no way humans could have contributed,” I was now much more acutely aware of the sociopolitical culture I had entered. After all, this is coal country. I was really glad I went to this event, though, as I think it’s really important for me to be aware of as I spend my year working in environmental advocacy and organizing.
After this ended, I got a ride to the public library (which is amazing, by the way) to meet the rest of my roommates for the Native American Race and Healing Symposium. I missed the first session, stayed for the second, and decided I had had enough culture shock to process for one day so headed home for the rest of the day. Sunday morning I set an early alarm and set off for a long run, which was the most blissful and euphoric long run I’ve ever had, clocking 18 miles along the Yellowstone River. We spent the rest of that day cleaning up the empty lot next to our house that we are responsible for and building a compost box out of some wooden pallets that had been laying out in our yard. Yay!
After our first “spirituality night,” we began a one week social media fast as a community simple living challenge. One of the biggest challenges I’ve had thus far is in staying connected enough to keep in touch with friends and family while remaining disconnected enough to stay present to and process what I’m experiencing here. Staying connected takes time and energy, and my community and I have often felt overwhelmed by the “obligation” to keep everyone in our lives informed as our culture demands. After a long day of work and a community dinner, we often find ourselves spending our only free hours making phone calls (expertly coordinated to consider time zone differences), writing blog posts, and sending letters. Even without wifi in the house, there is hardly ever an opportunity to really unplug. Before we know it, the day has come and gone in the blink of an eye. So, in an effort to begin to unplug and disconnect, we began the social media fast, which for me, has been a liberating (albeit occasionally difficult) experience of no longer feeling obligated to tell the world what we’re doing and know what it’s doing in return. I am still struggling to find the sweet spot of a non-overwhelming amount of phone calls and other communication, but I trust that in due time I will.
We went to “Alive After 5”, a free outdoor summer concert series, for the second week in a row. Whereas last week was a cover band called the “Midlife Chryslers” (you can probably imagine the crowd this would draw), this week’s was a local favorite, a fun Latin dance band that drew a much younger, hipper crowd. We made a few friends (okay, two…), but that was still a milestone for us.
A week ago, we continued the search for free events and new friends. We went to watch a movie in Pioneer Park on Friday night (turn up), but not surprisingly we were the oldest non-parents in attendance. That did not stop me from becoming engrossed almost to the point of tears in Guardians of the Galaxy. I also found out that Baby Groot is my spirit animal, so that’s big news:
After the movie, the sprinklers started going off so we sprinted through a minefield of sprinklers back to the van (s/o to my post-Ricks/Skeeps sprinkler crew here, you know who you are). The next morning, we woke up early and made it to Trails End Park on the west end of town for a volunteer playground build day hosted by Billings Parks and Rec, Kiwanis, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, and Kaboom! While it was the free t-shirts that lured us in originally, this ended up being an awesome day, where we worked with ~170 volunteers from the community to build a playground in 5 hours. I was put on the mulch crew, and shoveled and hauled mulch the entire time while having interesting life chats with a stranger-turned-friend. We returned home dirty, tired, sore, and accomplished.
Saturday night, after relaxing for a few hours with the Ashland crew who had come to Billings to grocery shop, we ambitiously decided to venture out to check out the bar scene and enjoy a hard-earned beer. There are a ton of local breweries in town, but they’re generally only open 4pm-8pm, and we didn’t make it out in time for those. Instead, we decided to check out “Hooligan’s” which was a Lep-esque bar, seemingly cool enough but still not set up in a way conducive to mingling. We had a drink and then decided to migrate to another bar down the street, “Daisy Duke’s.” If this immediately brought any pre-conceived notions into your head about what this bar was like, they’re probably dead-on. All country music, dance floor exclusively for swing and line dancing, cowboys clad in flannel and cowboy hats, etc. It’s also apparently the place to be on the weekends, because it filled up quickly and the dance floor was packed. We had so much fun that by the end of the night, there was no doubt it was the new watering hole.
Although my body was a straight hoax in the morning from mulching and dancing, I managed to get myself out of bed and venture out for the 20 mile run that I had been planning to do all week. Let’s just say it was a bit farther from the “blissful and euphoric” end of the spectrum, but the views from along the river and atop the rims were enough to keep me going (I’ll have to venture up there with a camera soon). When I got to my turnaround point after several miles of running uphill to get on top of the rims, I approached a pavilion/restroom (but much to my dismay drinking-fountain-deficient) area, I stopped to enjoy the view for a moment, dying of thirst, but before I decided to head back down the rim defeated and parched, I asked some older women at the picnic table if they knew where I might find water nearby. No luck…but wait!…one of the women had several cases of water in her trunk! Glory Glory Hallelujah! I made it back home in one piece, barely, and spent the rest of the day recovering from the weekend.
Monday, thanks to a friend I met at the bar on Saturday, we were picked up and taken to an open swing dance session/social at Rocky Mountain College. It was a hoot and a half and we will certainly be back. We have already met some genuine precious angels.
All in all, it has been a fantastic first month. Hard to believe how fast it’s flown by. A year is simultaneously forever and the blink of an eye. (“It’s a whole year……but it’s only a year!!” – my roommates and me on the daily).
Stay tuned for the September recap, folks, exciting things are on the horizon:
- I found a Billings Pops Orchestra to join! It seems super low key and laid back (no auditions, once a week rehearsals, etc.), so I’m excited to check this out starting in early September.
- The Montana Marathon is on September 20th. I hear it’s a great, fast race, so I’m really looking forward to this.
- Possible camping trip to Yellowstone with the Big Sky JVs in late September!
- Many hoots and hoaxes still TBD.