When we moved to the Nortth side of Bozeman in 1976, it felt rural. Our neighbor a block to the south had a horse stabled that he rode around the ‘hood. To the North a grey-headed couple brought their horse to their home every summer to mow the grass. Our house was little, log, handbuilt room by room. When we tore the old lineoleum off the floor, we found it had been insulated with newspapers from the 1920s.
Like so many others that have migrated to Montana from places like California, I had the Western dream. I wanted a log house. It helped of course that it was the only thing on the market we could afford though we later found it was grossly overpriced, and that the property line had been misrepresented. But those are other stories. And some things you really can wait out. Forty years in one place has meant that the house caught up with what we paid for it, what we have since invested in it, and surpassed those in value.
So as my daughter and I look at moving from this forty-year home, the Whoops of so long ago seems not so bad. For eighteen years I owned a downtown business and had a commute of 5 minutes; ten to fifteen on my bike. Now my BodyMind Spirit Healthcare office is 5 minutes away.
People are moving in to the heart of Bozeman for its walkability but frankly I have rarely walked to work. I am always in a hurry, leaving a little too late. And honestly, I want to walk somewhere out of town, somewhere a little bit rural, maybe even a little bit wild.
I have needed to be honest as I look at moving because we have been strongly invested in staying where we are, my daughter and I. Or I thought we were. Until we found that perhaps another neighborhood would also have gifts for us. In this case, perhaps it will be more of a neighborhood and less a collection of people who live on the same dead-end cul de sac. I have culpability in that disconnect between neighbors of course and though I have tried in recent years to shift that pattern, it turns out that no one else really wants to change things.
When we moved here, our neighbor to the East, bordering the stream, was a logger who started up his rig every morning early, early, early. Diesel smoke flooded our place. But he kept the road plowed in winter and as my daughter grew, she learned she could go to him for help with whatever confounded her at home when I was at work.
He smoked himself to death.
His wife listened to evangelical radio when working out in her garden. I often woke to that, powerless to shut out the sound. I am sure she delighted in sharing it, knowing I could hear.
One year my ex and I planted chokecherries along the east fence line. She was cat sitting for us, I think, while we went camping, or to see my parents in the San Francisco Bay Area, or something. When we came home, the chokecherries were gone. Neither of us spoke up. We tended to think of her as our landlord. She certainly pre-dated us on the street and proudly let us know that. Twenty-somethings when we moved there, it took a long, long while and a lot of conscious reprogramming to get that we OWNED our house.
The neighbor two doors down on the corner snarled at us when we walked by. His wife rarely ventured outside, though in later years she had a small daycare business and often sat out on the kitchen stoop, watching kids. Her husband hated dogs and I had large German Shepherd. But imagine what it must have been like for us to move in — young, I was hippish and stayed that way. Frank, though light-complected, a Crow Indian with blond braids.
OMG, the consternation we must have caused. The delicious indignation, gossip.
When his brother came to visit they would drum together and sing. With windows open, our house did not and could not contain the sound.
Frank did become friends with the woman across the street, Gracie. They understood each other some how. Both rural Montanans with a fine love of smoking. She was tough and he appreciated that. Later she worked at the Kwik Way, now Audrey’s Pizza, and he would go buy smokes and junk food and shoot the breeze.
One year when my brother in law was visiting he discovered the abandoned railroad tracks that have since become a well-used linear park. In those days, when we walked the tracks, we had them to ourselves. They lead to what is to become Bozeman’s new city park.
We loved what later was labeled as blight. I loved the funkiness of the North side, and really, the lack of people. Over by the abandoned railroad station, little of the neighborhood was in use and those who did live there, were either old timers or folks who delighted in being different, eccentric.
In the past few years, with a new coffee house and other trendy businesses, with new construction, the North side is on its way to become something else altogether, populated with progressive young professonals, with "creatives." It’s interesting to experience that, like visiting another place than the one I have lived in for so long. Sometimes it’s fun. But mostly, its not what I have loved (and not loved) about the North side, why we have endured here, and it’s time to let our place go, become a home for someone who thrills to what is becoming.
And yet, I am sad. For my home of so long. For the spirit of this place. Especially the trees and other plants that are such long-term friends. The five muscled spruces. The slowly dying grandma-apple that was here when we moved, that held my daughter’s swing and shaded her sandbox. My first cat, the amazing Ileeda, was killed by a neighbor’s dog under this beloved tree. She is buried there. And the trees we planted. The plum. Three apples. Apricots. Towering Aspen. The raspberry patch that is a little bit of paradise every summer. The flower garden I so struggled to establish.
Our friends. Our extended family.
It’s odd what becomes so essential, so core, when change comes, even chosen change. Though honestly, in some ways it’s doesn’t feel so chosen. I simply can’t keep up with that the North side has become. And as my daughter turns 36, we need more space, healthier space.
Still, I lie awake at night, overwhelmed by it all and grieving.