Legs bent and tucked underneath, hands flung skyward, he is captured in midair above the richly colored leaf pile below. His long, blond hair disheveled, cheeks aglow with the autumn chill, his smile can only be called that of childhood. He is the innocent barefoot boy, slipping into fall, begging to stay out after dinner despite the early darkness settling in. 

I posted this picture to my Facebook account last night after finally learning how to transfer the photos from my phone to my computer. There were several albums that I created actually. “Limekiln,” “Hay Bales,” and “the Pool.” After I uploaded all these pictures, I sat sipping a glass of wine, on my couch and examined them slowly, studying each detail. In them, my kids are happy, taking joy in the simple pleasures that I remember as a child. They are outdoors – at the pool, by the creek, on top of a hay bale, jumping into a pile of leaves, on the top of a mountain – in Mother Montana’s playground.

It wasn’t that long ago that I told them at the dinner table I had an important announcement. “What is it mom?” they asked, excitedly. “I have decided that we are not moving,” I replied. Before I could elaborate they were out of their seats, hugging me and expressing their agreement. Earlier in the summer my youngest had told me, “I want to die in this house.” After their long summer away with their father I’d had a lot of time to investigate my need to move. What I’d concluded was that the reasons for staying outweighed the reasons for leaving. I didn’t tell them any of this, of course, but their reaction only confirmed what my gut had been telling me.

We have a simple life. Our days are full of walks to the creek, hikes in the mountains, ice skating or swimming across the street, sledding on the nearby hills, fishing in the reservoirs, catching crawfish at the fish hatchery, and evening drives just to “get out.” Commerce occupies our lives only in our trips to the grocery store or our local discount store. The kids save their money and buy themselves little gifts at the Feed store or the Army/Navy store. The nearest mall is a blessed two hours away in either direction. We have one small movie theatre in town and have seen three movies there in four years. Come March, the T.V. is turned off until September. Our days become endless as spring stretches into summer and by the time fall arrives we’re excited to once again enjoy the distraction of television.

It is a life similar to the one my parents knew – slower, and richer than the one I knew as a child after we left Montana. Those childhood memories, my two brief years on the shore of a small lake in Northwest Montana, are what keep me here. I came here to give them this gift. This sense of place, of the rich passing of days marked by small things found mostly out-of-doors. There are other treasures too, like the deeply forged bonds of friendship that can only come from spending time and creating memories together. Mostly there is a sense of community, of being part of a larger group of hardy individuals that look out for one another and relish the same lifestyle.

The days of fall are marked and the leaf pile may last another week. After that, all bets are off as Old Man Winter has made it clear he’s on his way. I’m ready for his arrival. The hockey skates are sitting by the front door.

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