DEAR CAITLIN

Dear Caitlin,

I had a dream about the river the other night. I don’t remember what it was about, if we were on the river or at the Two Bit or maybe on the deck of the Pig, but what I do remember was that everyone was there and I remember the feeling, so specific and clear, of being home.

It’s been a while since I woke up missing Montana. The first year after I got back, I woke up almost everyday feeling like there was a hole in my chest. I fell in love with living on a river and leaving Montana broke my heart clean in two.

In the six years since, I’ve had my heart broken by other rivers and guys and missed opportunities and fate and death and plain bad luck and probably half of those heartbreaks can be blamed on Montana. A friend from the boathouse, a few years ago, told me, “you talk about Montana like it’s the beginning. Like it changed you.”

I think I take for granted that, if I had never gone to Montana, the person I am now, with the experiences and the character traits (stubborn and reckless and confident) and the hobbies I have (paddling and hiking and climbing and traveling and adventuring), wouldn’t exist. And, of course, we never would’ve met and I would never have gotten to see you eat a whole jalapeno just to earn money for a tattoo.

Sometimes, it doesn’t seem real. Once I was riding home to Norm’s in the back of Jeremy’s truck and it was a full moon and, down in the valley, the river looked like a ribbon of cotton batting. It made me think of this child’s book where the blankets turn into hills and valleys and mountains, like the whole valley was a storybook.

I haven’t written much about the places that I’ve been, scenes about Montana or descriptions of Spain or even vignettes about Texas. I don’t know where I’d even begin. I do this with often; when I’m going through a bad spot, mentally, I hold onto that fact like a secret. I’ll sit with it–the highs and the lows and the anxiety and the panics, usually baby ones as small as hiccups–for a few weeks before I ever make a peep. I like to have a handle on it, even if it’s just a semblance of one, before I talk about it, otherwise I just stammer in circles. 

What do you miss most about Montana? If you’re ever out east, come visit my boathouse. The boats aren’t nearly as comfortable to sleep in as the rafts at the Pig but it’s home for now. Lots of open water to paddle on.

Much love,

Mad Dog

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