I truly love Montana (or, as we sometimes refer to it with great affection, Montucky). However, there are still things I miss about Michigan. Here is my list:
1. The Big Lake. Lake Michigan for you non-Michganders. We spent so many summer days at the Grand Haven State Park, and at our friend’s condo in Holland. The water is warm, unlike any water in Montana. I used to say that I wouldn’t get into Lake Michigan until it was a least 70 degrees. If I waited that long in Montana, I would never swim. 55 degrees maybe? At best? The waves are big. The sunsets are spectacular. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have such immediate access to such an amazing body of water.
I don’t miss: when the alewives die off, and green, mucky seaweed in my bathing suit after a really wavy day.
2. In conjunction with #1, sand beaches. You should have seen my boys when they saw a sandy beach for the first time. We were at Sleeping Bear Dunes. The youngest kept stopping to dig holes in the paths. In Montana, you generally have to wear water shoes whenever you go into the water–rocks of various sorts, from gravel to boulders, decorate the shores. In Michigan, my feet were so nice and soft in the summers!
I don’t miss: sand in every crevice after playing the the beach or in the lake…especially that stray grain that gets in your teeth. Yikes.
3. Warm nights. I am one of those odd ducks who likes humidity. I don’t always like what it does to my hair, but I love going outside at 10 pm in shorts and a t-shirt, or going for a late night swim…in NW Montana, you bring a sweatshirt wherever you go. The dry air makes the temperature drop quickly after dark. Summer nights are usually in the 40s. Brrr.
I don’t miss: the mosquitos. In Montana, the mosquitos seem to go to bed at night. Not so in the Michigan of my memories.
4. Thunderstorms. Big, booming, thunderstorms with non-stop lightning. Nothing I’ve seen here even comes close. A few claps of the thunder…and it peters out. So sad. When I travel, all I ever really want to see is a really awesome thunderstorm. The storms must know I’m in town, because they stay away. Oh…and warm rain. If it rains in Montana, it is cold!
I don’t miss: actually, nothing. I love thunderstorms.
5. Ann Arbor. Missoula is an Ann Arbor in the making, but it just doesn’t have the same vibrancy or size. Missoula is cool town, for sure…but you can’t beat the old university buildings, funky restaurants, art fair, Big House, etc.
I don’t miss: Ann Arbor traffic
6. Places from my youth: Camp Henry, Manistee, Beaver Island, Traverse City, Ludington, Birmingham, Mackinac Island. Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Holland. Cascade, Ada, Forest Hills. Pine Ridge Elementary. Fallasburg Park (Reggae!). 4 mile. Freddie’s house.
I don’t miss: Traffic. Expressways. East Lansing. The Beltline and 28th Street.
7. Fall colors. Everything in Montana either turns yellow or remains green. It is definitely pretty…but nothing beats the colors of a Midwestern autumn.
I don’t miss: raking oak leaves
Last but not least, I miss:
8. My cousins and extended family and close friends from high school. They are so far away. Or I am, I guess.
My next Michigan/Montana post will be about why I love Montana so much. Stay tuned!
Michiganders, what do you love most about the Mitten?
Non-Michiganders, what do you miss about your respective home states?
Those who know me know I love extreme weather. Not the type of extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy, where people lose their lives and homes, but rather loud crashing thunderstorms or big snow. Highs in the 90s. Big waves. (I desperately miss Midwest thunderstorms…but that is for another post)
So I was excited to move to Montana and experience huge winters–after all, the year before I moved here, there was record snowfall. Snow at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park was still “sign-high” by the 4th of July! I imagined blizzards and being cut off from society for a few days, tunneling out the front door, losing power for a day or two, carrying supplies behind me on a sled and camping out by the wood stove–you know, like the Laura Ingalls during The Long Winter. Making button candles from wagon wheel grease and logs from hay…okay…not that far.
There has just always been something that appeals to me about being briefly isolated from society…living in the log cabin in the woods with nothing to rely on but our wits. We do live in a log cabin. There are a lot of Douglas Fir trees around our house…but the grocery store is just two blocks away, and I could holler from an open window across the street to my neighbor.
Nevertheless, I get so terribly excited when a winter weather advisory is posted, when meteorologist Mark Heyka puts up yellow and rarely, red, in the weather tracker as opposed to boring green. Invariably, the snow fizzles out over the Idaho panhandle, drops south to the Bitterroot, or is swallowed by the Cabinet Mountains. We have had a few good snows since I’ve lived here, but nothing even close to what I experienced in Michigan. Heck, I had more snow days in 2 years working in Grand Haven, MI than in all 15 years in Montana. Schools never close unless wind accompanies the snow (there has to be “emergency travel only”). Where is my wild, wonderful west? I am rather disappointed.
My husband says if I went snowboarding with him I’d see big snow, but it isn’t quite what I have in mind. Again, in my imaginings, no one gets hurt and no one suffers from the storm. We just live inwardly for a few days, watching the power of nature and appreciating our solid home, stocked cupboard and forced family time. So bring it on, Montana. I’m waiting. Besides, the Midwest and East Coast could use a break.
I have lived in Montana since 1998. 15 years. Seems like a long time. Of course, to a native Montanan, it is nothing. In Montana, the first question you are asked when meeting a new person is, “How long have you lived here?” At first I thought it was just because so many of my friends are transplants–but I’ve since decided that the question is really asking, “Are you a real Montanan?” There is a lot of distrust here of “foreigners”. I’m just grateful that I’m not from California–being from the Midwest is a pitied and seemingly forgivable offense. Not so, if you are from California.
I consider myself a Montanan, even if my neighbors do not. I have lived here most of my adult life, and I reached that point where I couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else. I will never lose the Michigander part of me, however–though we definitely got lost in Michigan when we returned two summers ago for our 20th high school reunion.
Granted, my husband hadn’t been there in 11 years, and I hadn’t been there in 10. Still, you would think we would remember our way around Holland, considering the amount of time we spent there in high school and college. Holy mackerel, that place has grown! We drove in circles trying to remember how to get back to Grand Rapids…and then there is this enormous new highway. It didn’t help that it was raining in sheets. We just don’t get that kind of rain in Montana. You forget what it is like (especially to drive in). You’d also think, at our advanced age, we could figure out how to navigate one way streets to get to the Amway Grand Plaza. That took another few times around the block. Since we had spent the night before with high school friends at the Lake, acting like we were still in high school and college, we were not in any condition to be amused by our foibles.
Understand, driving in Montana really is very different from driving in Michigan. For one thing, there is only one interstate in the entire state, and it is 2 hours or so south of here. It is not considered a major trip to drive 5 hours to Spokane–you should see how far my students have to drive for sporting events! Speech and Debate had to drive 9 hours to Billings for the State tournament.
Two years ago I drove to Billings for the Montana Judicial Institute by myself, and realized it is actually the farthest I have ever driven by myself. I used to think it was a trek from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor. Around here, for some, that’s going to the grocery store! On thing that was the same though–when I left for Billings it was 80 degrees. When I drove hime 3 days later, it was snowing. That’s a very Michigan-like weather change.
I don’t have any tolerance for traffic any more. If I have to wait through two lights to turn onto the main drag off which I live, I’m annoyed (then silently apologize to the tourists I am mad at and thank them for spending money in our valley). The funny thing is, when I was 15 1/2, I learned to drive on the crazy busy 28th Street SE in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Then we had to get on the I-96 and drive to downtown Grand Rapids and navigate the one ways roads. My husband had the exact same Driver’s Training. I drove 28th Street, as my eleven year old says (ad nauseum) “like a boss”. I don’t even like to drive in Kalispell, these days. I am totally out of practice. When my family travels, we like to take the scenic backroads as much as possible anyway, so it is not helping us maintain our skills.
Another thing I had to get used to in Montana was the gravel they put on the roads in the winter. Very recently, the county began to spray a salt solution on the roads with the gravel, but before that it was just gravel. Whatever you do, don’t get attached to your windshield if you live/drive in Montana. You are bound to get a rock chip…I don’t know many people who don’t have one or a dozen.
(For those wondering, the state of Montana does have a speed limit now. When I moved here, there were certain areas posted “reasonable and prudent”. Those have all been done away with, thanks to the federal government’s power of the purse.)
We get to use studded tires here…and Michigan drivers should get to as well. It isn’t like the roads could get any worse either place. I don’t think that has likely changed–just the terminology: potholes in the Mitten and chuckholes in the West. People plug in their cars, although I bet there are some Yoopers who do that, too. In fact, the UP is very similar to Montana in many ways–the back roads (perhaps more paved in Michigan), the water falls (the color of Montana water wins), the number of trees (more deciduous and orderly in MI, and more coniferous in MT).
The fact is, I love both places. My home is in Montana, now, but a piece of my soul is still in Michigan.
This is the first of likely many articles comparing my experiences in Michigan and Montana. What should the next topic be?