The plane made its descent through the clouds and the mountains peeked in and out until finally, there they were, like an old, familiar friend. The pilot came over the mic and gave the obligatory time and temp details. Then he said, “If you live here, welcome home.” My eyes filled with tears and I was overcome with emotion as it occurred to me that I was, in fact, home.
That was nearly 20 years ago on a return flight to Bozeman after a brief visit to my parents’ home in Illinois. I had been living in Montana for several months. I landed there literally that day and figuratively as a result of the decision to move there after having watched a random program on A&E. Months earlier, I had watched the program which followed a route from Nevada, through Idaho, and ultimately into Montana. I was captivated by the state’s beauty and the culture it seemed to embody.
Some would say that I was running from something in that move. I would argue that I was running to something. That something turned out to be untapped potential and strength I never knew that I had. In addition, that something was and is a breathtaking landscape and a vibrant sense of community. It’s a pervasive and deep appreciation for the beauty that presents itself at every turn. It’s staring at the same mountain you stared at yesterday and seeing it in a whole new light, appreciating it as though it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it. It’s an overwhelming sense of awe that leaves me feeling humbled. Mostly, that something is a connection and a sense of being grounded that feeds me in ways that no other place has ever done.
Home had always been something that just happened; my parents moved us here or there, I found a job somewhere, or a friend lived somewhere else. Montana was different. It was solely, uniquely, and deliberately mine. I had never been there nor did I even know anyone there, yet I packed everything I owned and drove. I felt powerful. That decision shaped me in many ways and continues to rank among the best I’ve ever made. Coming home that morning all those years ago was a first for me and the start of a love affair with the place, The Last Best Place, which endures to this day.
This morning as the plane banked to the right over the Gallatin River and with the Bridger Mountains guiding us into Bozeman (I swear they were smiling at me), I watched my son as he leaned from side to side, taking in the view from his window seat. He has come to love this place as I do. Once again, my eyes filled with tears and I felt that familiar sense of coming home. I’ve lived in many places and found beauty in them all but Montana has my heart. Like a first love, it was my first Home.
Written by Elizabeth Messner