Tracy Labors on His Birthday

The University of Montana 

I’m excited to be near Missoula, where I lived for two years getting an MA—which was not especially practical, but, damn, I had fun. All until the last three weeks.

Mom visiting me in Montana; she’s the same age then as I am now.

That’s when I learned a lesson that saved me from the wrong lifelong path. Although I love taking classes and researching and writing about literature, I learned in the nick of time that a career in academia is not for me.  In my last semester, I was poised to expand my thesis into a dissertation, when I was smacked in the face with a fact obvious to everyone else: that academia can be highly political (at least among feminists writing about literature).  Actually, “highly” is an understatement.

What happened is a long story involving my thesis chairman breaking her back, precious tickets to the Grateful Dead in Las Vegas, and me managing not to cry during my defense (which was the goal of the other two members on my committee, trying to deny tenure to my chair). After some shenanigans suggested by the department head, I skedaddled out of Montana with my degree and part of my integrity, and I didn’t go back. Until now.  

30 Years Later: Camping, Take One

Throughout our route in Montana, Tracy’s been searching maps for Forest Service roads with dispersed camping. He found that wooded elevated spot above Red Lodge, the one in the meadow near Monarch, and the cliff-side one near Helena. All with their own mountain charm. 

The road he picked near Missoula runs along Fish Creek, an offshoot of the gorgeous Clark Fork River, famous for its fly fishing. There just aren’t many pull-offs big enough for our rig, though, and we were hesitant to drive far down the road because we couldn’t tell from the satellite view where we could turn around.

So we took the first perfect spot we found! It’s perfect in that it’s right on Fish Creek, with plenty of room for us to spread out and only one spot near us that someone else might pull into. 

Here’s the view at sunset: can you see the guys fly fishing way in the distance?

As the sun lowered and the air from high in the mountains sank down to the river, fog formed and rolled across the top of the water toward us. The cold coming from the river was arresting. 

We spent one beautiful evening there, but during the night Tracy thought and thought about how we would pull out of the spot if someone pulled into the clearing across from us. And that’s what folks do here: they leave their camper in a prime fishing spot sometime during the week so they can come back on the weekend and have it reserved.  

If someone did that by our spot while we were in Missoula, we’d be screwed because, when we needed to pull out, they might not be around to move their trailer.  There are just two many trees, too many sharp turns, to pull out without using that other space.

So, at 6 am when I woke up and looked over at Tracy wide awake, clearly deep in thought, he said, “We need to move.”  It’s his birthday, and he deserves a break from all this packing and unpacking and hitching and driving and maneuvering, but he’s the one who knows what’s possible with the trailer, so, okay!  Let’s do it. 

Take Two

Right away, before someone could move into that spot, we packed up the tent and all other outside stuff into the truck bed, left the trailer parked there, and drove farther up the road to scout out a new site. 

There weren’t many.  One was right on the road; one had people camping nearby, one  looked so inviting surely people would; one wasn’t near the creek. The one we chose is entirely private (yay!) and on a short spur of the creek. 

We set up the tent to stake out the spot, then drove back and hitched the trailer, then very carefully maneuveredout of the many pines, then backed the trailer all the way to the road and drove to our new site.


Now the trailer is in a relatively uninteresting space in the woods, but a short walk down is that spur of the creek, which is super lovely.

So, we finally spend Tracy’s birthday in leisure.  

(Well, except for the hour when Tracy tried to run the generator just to keep it primed or lubricated or whatever needs to be done periodically, but it wasn’t pushing power to the batteries, which meant taking panels off the kitchen cabinets to trace the cords to ensure that the mouse we used to have [don’t ask] didn’t eat through any wires. Turned out to be a flipped breaker, maybe flipped manually by one of us by accident.) 

When we were done with that, Tracy napped in the hammock and I knitted in the river.  My squid squad enjoyed the cool soak. 

Ukulele Segment

Here once again I am learning a new song and don’t have it anywhere near down, but I wanted you to see the sunset and mist on the Clark Fork.  This was at site #1.  My apologies to anyone who turns on the sound (I advise against it).  It’s about a different river, but the chorus, “Only a river gonna make things right” suits perfectly. 

11 thoughts to “Tracy Labors on His Birthday”

  1. Whew! Tracy gets a do-over for the birthday relaxation that passed him by today! Happy belated…

  2. It would have been fun to watch the tinydesk-style ukelele concert 🙂 Belated happy birthday to Tracy!

  3. Happy belated birthday Tracy from Guy and Patti. You guys are really making us want to go back to Montana. It’s so beautiful there. Shelly, your segment on Banjo was so touching. What a beautiful bond.

    1. So glad you guys are still reading! Tracy says thanks for the wishes, and Banjo send her love.