Finding Happiness in Big Sky Country

Finding Happiness in Big Sky Country - Glacier National Park

I’m lucky to be spending the week in Big Sky Country. Here in Montana, in the land of wide open fields and ranches at the foot of snow-capped mountains, where tall husky men with thick beards, wool hats and plaid flannel frequent the dark bars, and where the men outnumber the women, I’m visiting my sister Margaret for five days.

It’s beautiful here. The air is brisk right now, with temperatures between 20 and 40 degrees most days, and yet I lucked out and came when it happens to be even colder in the Northeast (it was negative seven degrees a few days ago in Western Massachusetts, where my parents live). I missed a snow storm in New York, too.

I have always had a knack for missing the coldest weather of winter by flying somewhere warmer, and I managed this even while visiting Montana, which is definitely cold and snowy in the winters.

Luckily Whitefish, Montana, right near where my sister lives, seems to have an abundance of fireplaces and wood-stoves in bars and restaurants. It’s pretty easy to stay cozy even in the chilly weather.

People are used to it, and almost everyone wears flannel, warm hats, down coats, and hiking boots as a kind of Montana uniform. Being warm is more important than being a fashion plate, and this attitude is also reflected in people’s down-to-earth and warm personalities.

Everyone here is excited to meet me, and most give me a big hug right away. My sister is very popular in Whitefish, having worked in several different jobs in town in this tight-knit community where everyone seems to know each other.

We can’t walk or drive down the street in downtown Whitefish without Margaret bumping into someone. Her friends joke that she is the informal mayor of Whitefish.

On the Farm

My sister lives and works on Purple Frog Gardens farm, located just minutes outside of Whitefish. It’s a natural farm run by a couple, Mike and Pam, who decided that growing food is the most honest way to make a living while honoring the earth.

Finding Happiness in Big Sky Country - Mike at Purple Frog Farms

Here’s more about Purple Frog Gardens:

Purple Frog Gardens is the most local farm in Whitefish, mere miles from downtown.   We have been growing food for 20 years and do not use any Genetically Modified seeds or spray synthetic pesticides or herbicides.  We farm the old fashion way, naturally.   We compost and spend lots of time outdoors tending to the crops and chickens.  The secret to growing good food is good soil.

During warmer months we grow a lot of vegetables, berries and fruit.   Here’s a short list but we grow many varieties of any given crop.   Take for instance Kale, we grow Lacinato or Dino, Red Russian, Rainbow and Camden.   All subtly different and all great eating.

We grow: Arugula, Baby Bok Choy, Basil, Beet greens, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Chard, Chinese cabbage, Chives, Collard greens, Dandelion, Endive, Garlic, Green Onions, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Mint, Mizuna, Mustard, Onions, Orache, Oregano, Peas, Radish, Rhubarb, Sage, Salad, Shallots, Sorrel, Spinach, Tatsoi, Tomatoes.

With berries we grow a dozen varieties of currants, a couple different kind of raspberries, seaberries, and gooseberries.

We also grow apples like Sweet Sixteen and Macintosh.   Then there are the pears which are simply delicious.  Plus a bunch more.

Thanks for supporting local agriculture.  

Last year, I got to work a shift on the farm with Margaret. This year, the active farming season has ended, and Margaret is just doing abbreviated winter shifts and living on the farm.

She also has a full-time job with a seed company in Whitefish. I love it that my sister is completely living her passion of working in sustainable agriculture.

Her other jobs over the past two years have included serving as a baker at Montana Coffee Traders; being a vegan chef at a tea house that has since closed; working at a local health food store in order to get the discount.

Right now, she has a pretty ideal work/life balance, working about 30 hours a week at her main job, up to four hours a week on the farm and then just spending time with her fun active group of friends.

Most have relocated here from the Northeast. Some came for the skiing and snowboarding at Big Mountain, just down the road from Whitefish.

Some came to live in a beautiful, small community that is down-to-earth, full of very authentic and welcoming people. Some, like Margaret, came to live and work on a farm and to support local agriculture.

Most of Margaret’s closest group of friends are originally from the Northeast. Some tired of the big cities where they lived, and the fast and exhausting pace of life.

Life feels more relaxed here. It’s a cowboy’s pace, leisurely, kept by those who appreciate the great outdoors, the lakes, the rivers, the mountains.

It’s a town populated by many who love skiing, rafting, fishing, snowboarding, hunting.

I was blown away by the number of people at the Kalispell airport who were picking up guns from the baggage claim carousel. I wouldn’t have known that the big rectangular cases were for rifles, but someone else from my flight who works in security pointed out his cases of guns, and I noticed that there were dozens more of these on the baggage carousel.

It’s such a different world out here!

Enjoying the Local Flavor

Margaret and her friends make a point of taking me out to some local bars where I can see some Montana “mountain men,” as they call them. The men here do indeed seem to be, in general, bigger, taller and with more and shaggier facial hair than the men I’m used to seeing in the Northeast.

Plaid flannel is a uniform. I love it that it’s so easy for my sister to just pick up warm clothes and boots at thrift shops now and then, and she has a ready-to-wear Montana wardrobe.

I’m also impressed that some of the bars where we eat, including the Craggy Range, have a pretty extensive selection of vegetarian and gluten-free options.

We are definitely eating more french fries, bread and cheese than I normally do, but this is vacation, after all!

Today we drove into Glacier National Park, stopping to take pictures of the spectacular lake views with snow-capped mountains behind them, and banks of low-hanging clouds that wrap around the mountain tops like fog.

We will be going to see a movie at a local wine bar tonight as part of a double feature. Crush Wine Bar shows movies on once a week, and tonight’s selections are National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation followed by The Big Lebowski.

Finding Happiness in Big Sky Country - Quote by Elisabeth Gilbert on Happiness with Whitefish Montana

Tomorrow we’ll hike on the Whitefish Trails. Apparently hiking out to a glacier takes about eight hours, so we’ll save that for another time during the summer months.

A friend down the street from Margaret has also offered up her outdoor hot tub for us to use. And the farm where Margaret is staying has a sauna. We may do that as well before I head back to New York on Wednesday.

We’ll have time for a few more Montana adventures before I go.

I am loving being in Big Sky Country! And I think everyone should add Glacier National Park to their bucket list of spectacular places to visit.

Come here for the mountain views, the outdoor sports, and the warm, genuine down-to-earth people. It’s a beautiful place to visit, and a magical place for my sister to call home.

Lisa

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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  • I love Montana. My father spent part of his life there (in Butte), but I know Whitefish very well. Glacier National Park is so breathtaking. I think Montana is heaven on earth. How wonderful to spend a week in its graces.