The Roundup -

By lois 

Flatlander versus Mountain Woman


This big, beautiful state of Montana has so much to offer with its varied geography, open country, and landscapes that leave one amazed and humbled. The terrain certainly changes as one drives from one side of the state to the other. I have had the good fortune to live in eastern Montana on the glorious prairies and in southwestern Montana among the towering mountains. If I had to choose between plains and mountains, I'm not sure I could as both ends of the state have their own special beauty and unique attributes. Both have similarities as well as vast differences. Flat land and mountainous territory each have plenty to offer in beauty and simplicity, and both regions have provided me with a place to call home.

Moving from the east side of the state to western Montana has affected my life style in several different but equally satisfying ways. Eastern Montana has colder winters and hotter summers, on average, than does the western portion of the state. I remember weeks on end when temperatures did not rise above zero for the daily high temperature. Add a touch of wind of any strength, and wind chills plummeted to dangerous levels and stayed that way for days. I have experienced cold in western Montana as well, but it has never reached the extremes I've suffered through in eastern Montana.

Summers also arrive hotter and faster on the eastern side of the state than they do here in Virginia City. One particularly hot summer several years ago the temperature did not dip below 90 degrees for two weeks. Ninety degrees at night means enduring well over 110 during the daytime hours, which contributes to short tempers and people seeking shade and sipping iced drinks of any kind by 8 in the morning to try to beat the heat. I prefer the temperature fluctuations on the western side of the state to this sort of extremes.

However, I've had far more productive gardens in eastern Montana than I have had to date here in Virginia City. Eastern Montana has longer growing seasons than we enjoy here. I've had no problems growing cold weather crops such as peas and onions in Virginia City, but I'm still struggling to find warm season vegetable varieties that do well in this climate and that actually have time to produce a decent crop between the last frost in the spring and the first fall frost.

My exercise habits have changed slightly since moving to the mountains. I walked and biked an enormous amount in eastern Montana. The eastern side of the state does have hills and gradients, but nothing like we see here in the west. I used to bike for miles along the canal road, which afforded me excellent exercise without the hassle of traffic. Biking excursions began in the spring as soon as the snow melted and continued right through the fall or early winter, until the first snow or bitter cold forced me to park my wheels for the winter.

The same proved true for walking. Myriad places existed to walk, whether along the canal, down gravel roads, or across the prairie itself. Walking provided good exercise and I put miles on my shoes every day, rain or shine, hot or cold, 365 days of the year.

Since I moved to Virginia City, my biking has gone the way of the dinosaur. I have encountered serious issues with my wheeled expeditions, as I have yet to find a level road anywhere. Roads in this mountain village definitely run uphill or down, no getting around it. Tour de France hopefuls might enjoy biking around here, but not this little old lady.

I've decided that within the next few years, I will gift myself to an electric bicycle. That way I can experience the fun of riding a bike, but I will not have to expend the enormous amount of energy required to pedal a regular bike from one point to the next in this mountainous area.

However, walking has become a lot more challenging for me here in the mountains. The same terrain that halted my biking activities has provided me with a fantastic way to enhance my daily walks. Hiking up the mountain gives me more exercise and satisfaction than walking for miles on the flat prairie. I appreciate my excursions and they provide me with more enjoyment than they ever did in eastern Montana.

The one feature I truly miss by living in the mountains involves the big sky of Montana. On the prairie you see for miles. Straight ribbons of road run ahead into the horizon, and the wide open sky hovers above. People who live on the prairie get to see magnificent sunrises and sunsets, something that I don't see here in Virginia City. This town sits in a bowl, surrounded by mountains. I see very little sky compared to what I saw in eastern Montana. By the time the sun pops over the mountain here, any sunrise has long since passed and the morning is half over. In the evenings, the sun slides behind the mountain long before sunset, so we miss the gorgeous showing that the sun can provide as it slips beneath the horizon for the day.

I miss watching the harvest moon, the hunter moon, and actually all the full moons as I saw them on the prairie. On the eastern side of this state, the huge orange full moon sits bloated on the horizon. It looks so large and heavy one wonders how it can ever lift itself up off the horizon and start its trek across the night sky. When it slowly rises, it shines with a magnificence I haven't seen since I moved to the western part of the state. Here in Virginia City, by the time the moon climbs over the mountain, it looks like a regular full moon. Very nice, but not spectacular since the most wonderful part of a full moon is the moon rise itself as it peeks out from the horizon and ascends majestically into the night sky. We here in Virginia City see the moon after it climbs above the mountain peak. It still shines brightly, but it has nowhere near the luster of the full moon sitting on the horizon at twilight.

I love the prairie and I love the mountains, each with its own special attributes. I have found contentment in both places, and I am grateful that I could experience the prairie in all its glory as well as live among the stately mountains.


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