After a long week of driving west, I arrive in Montana at my campsite for the next few months. Surrounded by distant mountains and nestled into a grassy valley, my Airstream looks small against the Big Sky. For two weeks, I’m in self-quarantine here.
Since I left what is now a “hot spot” county in Alabama, and traveled through several states, I’d quarantine in any event. Until June, however, Montana requires a two-week quarantine for out of state visitors. That restriction contributes, I’m sure, to the low number of cases of COVID-19 here. The wide open spaces and lack of population help too, besides being gorgeous.
As I work on blog posts from my travels in 2018-2019, my eyes turn to the snow frosted mountains that surround the campground. Like the southwest desert, the northern grassy plains contain an amazing variety of colors. Pale gold sheaves, red and brown bursts of wiry grass and the purple skeletons of last year’s wildflowers dot the landscape. Patches of shorn bright green grass spotted with yellow dandelions border the edges of the RV sites, blending into the more wild terrain past the mostly empty rows of gravel and picnic benches.
As I write this, I gaze at a small fishing pond nearby. I’ve parked at the end of a row far from the campstore and the few other rigs already here. If the campground fills up later, I’ll still keep an unimpeded view from my Airstream’s panoramic windows.
Within the campground, fishing is free, but if you catch one you pay by the fish. That works for me. I spent a month trying to catch fish in Alabama without success (except when others gave me theirs). I tend to day-dream and pray rather than focus on hooking the creatures that occasionally nibble at my lines! At Lake Guntersville, for example, my catches included eel grass and even a shirt reeled in from the mud of the lake bottom.
Unexpectedly, an enchanting variety of birds trill and sing here in Montana. One bird, a killdeer, pretends to be injured. With a piercing cry, she hops away from where she laid eggs on the rock-strewn path.
By contrast, sleek and shiny starlings soar and turn in the air as they battle the breezes. These little sharp winged birds with white bellies and iridescent heads dart about defending the small bird houses they occupy around the campground’s perimeter.
Later, I spot what might be some kind of brown cranes calling hoarsely in the distance. I should mention as well the black and white magpies and tiny golden finches that fly all over the campground. Yesterday, I even saw a magpie chase a small rabbit. The magpies have a distinctive cry and look beautiful in flight, with long tails and white splashes of feathers on their necks and wings. They fly singly while the finches congregate in groups, rising into the air like a shifting mosaic with bright yellow pieces.
When I walk along the roads to pray my Rosary, I encounter no humans but plenty of furry deer. Winters are harsh and the deers’ coats remind me of ponies in the early spring. Their large eyes and comically expressive ears make me smile, grateful to God for the unanticipated companions.
While this is not how I planned my summer, I will make good use of my retreat here. The magnificent sky and vistas inspire me to share with you more of the shrines and religious sites I’ve visited. Meanwhile, I’m praying for all your intentions and that the Holy Spirit will guide me to help you by revealing God’s beauty and love through pictures and prose on this pilgrimage.