Place Where You Live:

Townsend, Montana

When I was younger, and still going to school in Montana, every spring my family and I would help with the sheep shearing at the Ingles Ranch. During shearing we would take three days off from school to help herd the flocks out of the mountains, over the highway bridge, through town, and back out in the lowland summer pastures where shearing began. The next two days would be spent in the sheep barns and around the ranch lunch table where all the hands ate together. Every day we would end with hoof-shaped bruises on our feet and hands smelling strongly of Lanolin.

One spring, about a month before sheep shearing, my family set out on a short trip up to Freeze Out Lake to see the migratory birds that were supposed to be arriving in droves. The weekend was harshly cold but clear so we sent up a single tent (only one because we had forgotten the rest) and then headed to the water. We found maybe ten lonely birds. No squawking, no thunder of wings, no air filled with flocks of different species. Only the wind picking up and the snow arriving like a thousand tiny bullets flinging themselves into our faces. I remember all of us kids crawling into the tent with Mom and watching as she cooked one dinner at the time, youngest to oldest, on the whisper light. Eventually we surrendered, and all slept shivering in the van, two children to every row.

Montana wind was never very mindful of our tents. One day, six years ago we set up all our tents in the beginning of the summer to make sure they were working. That evening we drove into Helena for groceries and while away the wind picked up and upon our return there was not a tent left standing. A couple had blow over the fence and were plastered to our neighbors’ house. Broken poles and ripped rain flies littered the lawn. That was the summer that I saw a comet…because there was no longer anything hiding me from the stars.