If you’d have asked a year ago where I was going to ring in 2016, I probably would have sighed dreamily and said “If I’m the luckiest, in Boise Idaho watching a giant potato drop dramatically from a crane in front of the capitol building,”…turns out I was right! MK’s flight back to Billings got cancelled, so Lo and Carol and I picked up our rental car, drove the 9ish hours down to Boise, and MK flew into Boise instead (Elle was staying back in Billings to hold down the fort with her partner, Nyre). There is a wonderful community of JVs in Boise (we had met most of them in Missoula earlier in December), and the Ashland JVs made the trip as well, plus a Missoula JV and a Boise-native JV who was home for the holidays. We had an awesome long weekend exploring downtown Boise and hanging with a bunch of other JVs. The midnight potato drop was, in my opinion, incredible. The potato was the size of a small car, and they had projected something like a Window’s 98 screensaver on it, with the time spinning around with the most dated effects. There was a fireworks show, and a band and dancing afterwords. Easily the most ridiculous NYE experience I’ve ever had, although an all-nighter on a beach in Brazil takes a close second! This trip was such a treat, because we undoubtedly would not have been able to go if not for generous Christmas cash donations (car rental + young renter fees –> poverty), so we all extra-appreciated the opportunity to get a mini-vacation outside of Billings. JSYK, Idaho is underrated and super beautiful (I already knew this circa Camp Davis field trips, but it was a good reminder).
We wanted to get home in time to hang out with Ellen and Nyre back in Billings, but also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by Craters of the Moon National Monument on the way home. I’d been there during a Camp Davis (geology field camp through U of M) field trip back in 2012, but that was during the summer, and a quick phone call to the Craters office had us ecstatic about snowshoeing Craters for just $5! We left at some ungodly hour, like…5am, heard JB’s “Sorry” at least 3 times before 7am, made it to the park before 9am, and had a wonderful hour or so snowshoeing through the park.
On the night Lucie was supposed to arrive for her weekend visit, her flight got cancelled due to snow in MN, which was super sad, although we knew she was going to be able to reschedule. That same day at work, though, I found out I was going to be going to Spokane for a rally and public comment hearing the next week! eMoTiOnS. The reason for the trip to Spokane was a proposed oil terminal in Washington state that would bring a whole bunch more Bakken oil trains through Montana and have pretty big health and safety implications for the rail communities in MT. So, starting with a few members in Billings, we picked up members (~30 in all) all along the way to Spokane, with us from Billings traveling 1000 miles round trip in a span of less than 48 hours. So amazed by the member dedication in protecting their communities! They did an awesome job testifying in front of the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council and demanding that Montana rail communities’ voices be heard. I also got to see a couple of the Spokane JVs who came to the hearing, joining about 300 others (talk about awesome public participation), 2/3 of which were there in solidarity against the terminal being built. Oh, I also got to crash at the Missoula JVs’ house for the night on our way back to Billings, so that was a treat to see them!
Later that weekend (Spokane was a quick trip), Elle and I went for a lovely mid-morning hike at Four Dances Natural Area, which consists of some trails on the Billings’ southern rims, affording us a different perspective than the usual Northern rims view. This time, we were a lot closer to the refineries in town, but also got some prettier views of the Yellowstone River Valley. Always wonderful to have one-on-one time with a babe, since we’re generally a package deal.
Our program coordinator, Matthew, came this month for his second area visit with us. He goes around and spends just under a week with each of the Big Sky communities to check in and support us in whatever way we need. We like to think we’re a pretty high-functioning group here in Billings, so we don’t need much damage control or anything of the like, but it’s always nice to have an opportunity with Matthew to re-center and figure out how we’re doing on the values of community, simple living, spirituality, and social/ecological justice. It also meant we got to order in King’s Hat ($1.50 burgers and tasty shakes on the southside whadddupp).
I spent many hours in the latter half of December and virtually all of my hours in January (okay, not totally true) planning and preparing for the totem pole celebration that took place last Friday. I was the staff lead on the event, so I was in charge of everything from food to speakers to turnout, and everything in between. It was a solid learning experience for me, figuring out how to delegate tasks and coordinate volunteers and such. Close to 150 turned out to celebrate the raising of this Lummi-carved totem pole, a symbol of solidarity between members of the Lummi and Northern Cheyenne tribes against coal development in their ancestral homelands. It was a beautiful day (the warm weather hit Billings just as the east coast was getting slammed with snow), and so awesome to see all my work come to fruition. The totem pole and its story are too beautiful, and I’m so glad to have had a part in honoring it.
I also got to travel wayyy over to the east side of the state, practically North Dakota (AKA the middle of nowhere), and stayed with a member over there to do some rural electric co-op work. This member is particularly awesome, and built his own house as part of his political theory dissertation (see picture below). He’s a farmer/rancher who writes theory and books on the side – or maybe it’s the other way around. Like I said, our members are too cool. As always, grateful for the opportunities my job affords me to get out and see other parts of Montana. Sure is a beautiful state, even in the rare instance that it’s flat and there’s nothing around for miles and miles (okay, the latter part isn’t rare, but the former is). Oh, also, it’s dinosaur territory, so we made sure to stop in the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, where there’s an impressive display of fossil finds!
Something that has developed in the last couple months is our community outside of the JV house. It started with radical reading group – seeing a(n ever growing) group of friends regularly every week. It’s mostly Northern Plains/WORC people, with a few others friends and Americorps VISTAs scattered in. I’m feeling especially grateful for this community, which feels like the best Billings has to offer. We had two “hootenannies” this month, which consisted of a potluck, drinks, jam sessions, and dancing. So much fun. I had never jammed (improved) before on my viola like this, and I loved it; feeling grateful to have my viola out here, and amazed that I’m still finding new ways to appreciate it after all these years (something like 15 now? I’ve lost track). Anyways, looking forward to the months (spring/summer!!) ahead with these awesome people!
One night this month, a coworker and friend texted and asked me whether I was going to “the show” that night, about which I hadn’t the slightest clue. He said it was Hey Marseilles, who I had heard of (maybe), but never listened to. I was in my pajamas and had plans to be in bed by 9pm, so I tried to get out of it by saying I didn’t have money (a go-to [and very legitimate] JV excuse), to which he responded “I’ll buy your ticket. Because Americorps. Service to America *insert America emojis here*”…so, I sucked it up, put on MK’s leather jacket and some lipstick and rode my bike into the drizzly but uncharacteristically warm night to the Pub Station. Turns out, they’re awesome, and put on a super great show! It was a relatively small turnout (Sunday night in Billings, you can’t expect much), so we asked the band to come out to the bars with us after, and got all but the lead singer and violist (super sad about the latter) to join us at The Monte, where we ate string cheese (Pita Pit was closed), drank whiskey drinks, and played arcade games. A really fun night, and I’m glad I made it out of the house (special shout-out to Meredith who encouraged me via text message to get up and go).
After Lu’s original visit was cancelled, she booked another flight for later this month and decided to take Friday off as well, instead of just coming Friday night after work. So, after much anticipation and way too many months apart, my LuLu finally arrived on Thursday night around midnight. After an hour or so of much-needed catching up, we went to sleep, and were up early the next morning to head to Red Lodge. We went for an icy hike (Mt. Maurice), and then descended for coffee and to meet up with Jacqueline (one of Lu’s high school besties) for lunch, who is living an hour away in Cody, WY. After a giant lunch, we went for another hike with Jac’s pup (Dakota, I’m crying, so cute, so sweet, shoosh) along the Lake Fork Trail, which was snowy but flat, running along the partially-frozen Rock River. It was beautiful! We hiked for an hour or so out, trying to reach a frozen waterfall where some ice climbers we had encountered had just come from, but “about a mile ahead” was apparently one of those hikers’ exaggerations that I know all too well. The sun was starting to set, and it was snowing, so eventually we had to head back, defeated. Just kidding, it was an awesome hike.
We drove back to Billings, and although tired after a double-header hike, we rested a bit and then rallied with the babes and biked downtown to Hooligan’s and Daisy Duke’s to give Lu the authentic downtown Billings-on-a-budget bar experience. Per usual, we met some characters out at the bars, and got invited to after-parties, which are still mystifying and unappealing as ever, because all I want to do at 2am is be in my bed. People who can carry on into the night are marvels. The next morning, Lu and I slept in a bit, and went back to Hooligan’s (same waitress as the night before, that’s nice), for brunch (who knew?) and to watch some random UM-Penn State basketball game that was on. Trying to be sporty and school-spirited, you know, but mostly I just celebrated the eggs benedict I ate for the first time in 6+ months. Afterward, we went to Pictograph Cave State Park and looked at really old drawings on cave walls and marveled at cool rocks, and then went for a little walk into Four Dances to try and find the Will James cabin. What, you’ve never heard of Will James? You uncultured swine! Jkjkjk, I hadn’t either, but he’s an artist of writer of the American West who spent some of his later years in Billings! So there’s this tiny, one-room cabin, where legend has it, he used to come to sober up after rowdy nights in the Billings saloons. Not as historically romantic as I’d like, but it was a fun excursion.
The babes hosted the second hootenanny later that night, which was fantastic, and we got a whole ‘nother batch of awesome potluck food, good beer, and delightful music. There’s a fresh group of VISTAs in town, too, so I’m glad we were able to welcome them into this gang right off the bat! I even happened to know one of them from a distant acquaintance back at UM. Small world. Anyways, it was super fun to have all my friends meet my Biffle (Lu), and to have those two worlds collide for a night. Some people ended the night at the Loft, but unfortunately, I came down with a bad cold, and opted for bed instead. We ended Lu’s trip the next morning with a walk on the rims. So grateful she was able to visit ❤
Other than that, in my free time, I’ve basically been knitting or reading Harry Potter, borderline obsessively. I’ve knit two hats, the first was a hoax cuz I misread the needle size, so the second turned out much better. Working on finishing Deathly Hallows right now. It’s been a MARATHON to re-read the series, let me tell you. (Oh, speaking of, I just signed up for the Missoula Marathon in July, letsgooooo). Luckily, MK is going through the emotional ups and downs right there with me. We’ve been watching the movies as a house as MK and I finish each book, so it’s a family affair. It’s been fantastic, but I think it’s time for me to acknowledge my real life again soon and read something else. Next on my list is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (who wrote my recent favorite, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena).
It’s hard to believe, but the completion of January marks six months into my year in Billings, and what an incredible adventure it has been. I am living with four of the greatest girls I have ever met, with whom I get to share this experience in all its ups and downs and everywhere in between. Whether it’s a note left by my bed to encourage me on a busy day ahead, or a Hot-n-Ready when I’m heartbroken, they always know the best way to support me. There are few moments that we aren’t laughing (cackling) together. Moreover, we’ve found a community here that encourages and reinforces us in our JVCNW values and pushes us to learn more about ourselves (ENNEAGRAMS!) and the world around us, with lots of fun in between. I am working (serving) at an incredible organization, learning more than I could have ever imagined from a talented, passionate team of organizers and support staff. I have been taken down a path of learning and questioning in my faith and spirituality that has been surprisingly tough, but ultimately, life-giving. I am learning how to stay close and connected with my friends and family back home (and in their new homes), while staying present here. I’ve learned (the hard way) how to spend my money sparingly and intentionally, to humbly and graciously accept generosity when it is offered (and it often is), to ask for a favor if I need it, and to be generous with my time and abilities in return. I’ve learned to live without regular access to a car and without wifi in my house, but am still learning how to live simply and push back against a complex culture of constant consumption. I’ve come far, but there is still a ways to go, and I’m ready!
And, in case you were wondering…no, I don’t know what my plans for post-JVCNW are quite yet. I’m starting to think about it a little bit at a time, but want to remain present here in this sweet experience while it lasts, so I’m in no real rush to figure that out yet. Not grad school yet, that’s about all I know. In due time, mis queridos.
- Second Big Sky retreat of the year, in the Bozeman area, on social and ecological justice!
- Kyle visits at the end of the month, but most of that visit falls in March, sooo this won’t be in next month’s post but still, super exciting upcoming things
- A myriad of other things that either are unplanned or I can’t think of right now