But I’m still a Montanan.
Illustration by Morgan Krieg
BY HEIDI LAUMAN
“S omehow in my search for ownership in this world, for land to plant roots, I tripped up and have lived the opposite of what I forever desired.
As I write this, I sit in my tiny studio apartment that has about 300 square feet of usable space. There are jars and vases full of late summer flowers on every available surface. It can be a small sort of heaven, but this studio is the 24th home I’ve lived in during my short, 40-something years on this earth. As time passes, I can’t help but wonder if my transience has become permanent. Even if I’m landless and rootless: I live here. I exist here.
I exist in Montana. There’s a flood of complicated emotions and realities that come with this. I’m proud to live here but I am fairly invisible. I work from home. I’m chronically ill. I’m one of the few who still masks and isolates for my health. I’m not the strong athlete on the mountain. I’m not the boss-babe embarking on a business venture. I own no land, no house. But even if you rarely see me, I am a Montanan.
I exist in Montana. There’s a flood of complicated emotions and realities that come with this.
I fell in love with Montana the moment I moved here in 1993. Everything felt possible under this big, wide sky. I was working toward the degree I wanted, I felt at home, I had the luxury, at the time, to roam freely in the wilderness while working toward a big future that lay ahead. When I eventually moved to the West Coast, I’d get a little spark if I spotted a Montana license plate. I loved any opportunity to brag about having lived here.
And then life happened. Doesn’t it always? Years later, I found myself moving back to Montana, where my parents had remained, for my health. Here, now, everything feels competitive. I find myself feeling protective of land I don’t own, selfishly not wanting anyone else to move here. I’m against unchecked growth but I could very well be seen as part of the problem. I write letters protesting new developments, yet I reside in one built within the last four years. Is this honesty or blatant hypocrisy? (Hint: it’s both.)
I’ve approximated a sense of land ownership in Montana by growing my flowers on the borrowed soil of my parents’ land and in a community garden. I do it for myself and no one else. Though I live in a tiny studio, I can cultivate an abundance of flowers every summer. When I am too unwell, my parents tend to my beloved dahlias and bells of Ireland in their back yard. And folks I’ve never met kept my community plot, bursting with marigolds, thriving this past summer.
My gardens truly breathe life into me, but honestly, my landless existence is scary. I want the peace of mind of feeling rooted, with enough land for my own garden, a fenced yard for my dog, and a house that is my house. I want to escape the specific misery of sharing paper-thin walls with neighbors I didn’t choose. Seemingly simple wishes yet currently impossible, when the cost for housing and land feels insurmountable.
I wish to own space to freely thrive here, not just survive here. I’m willing to wager that’s the same wish of every Montanan.
– Heidi Lauman, existing on Kootenai and Salish land.
Heidi’s is a proud alumna of the College of Art and Architecture at MSU, currently cultivating a quiet life here in the valley (with her little dog, too).
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