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After finishing up my Master’s degree in education this summer, the job prospects were bleak. I applied for several teaching jobs in Missoula, but it was discouraging when every person I talked to commented on how difficult it is to earn such a position without experience. I talked to a career counselor, who advised me to quit applying for these jobs in Missoula and focus on finishing my professional paper. I took her advice.

Goodbye, Missoula

After finishing up my Master’s degree in education this summer, the job prospects were bleak.

I applied for several teaching jobs in Missoula, but it was discouraging when every person I talked to commented on how difficult it is to earn such a position without experience. I talked to a career counselor, who advised me to quit applying for these jobs in Missoula and focus on finishing my professional paper. I took her advice.

Then, of course, some interesting jobs came up in parts of the country in which I wouldn’t mind living: Grand Canyon, Ariz.; Park City, Utah . . . and Weston, Colo.

I had never heard of Weston, and when I looked it up on a map (always my first action when deciding whether or not to apply for a job), it initially looked like it was in the eastern plains of southern Colorado. But when I looked harder, I realized Weston lies in the high alpine deserts of almost-northern New Mexico, a place I had always dreamed of living in.

Weston is on scenic Highway 12, about 20 miles from the border of New Mexico. The turnoff to Highway 12 is at Trinidad, which apparently is the sex change capital of the US, where the first sex change operation took place.

Weston is high up in the desert mountains, 6,890 feet above sea level. It’s crowded too—2.8 people per square mile. The South Fork of the Purgatoire River converges with the Main Purgatoire in Weston, which is surrounded by state wildlife areas, lakes, mountains and ski runs. How’s that for a sales pitch? Please come visit me!

The job offer came exactly one week before I had to pack up and leave Missoula, a place I had come to call home. But beggars can’t be slow packers, and I didn’t hesitate to take the position as a high school Spanish teacher.

As I spread the news to my Missoula family, almost everyone was happy for me, excited about my upcoming adventure. Everyone said that they knew that was how it went for teachers: you have to move somewhere to get experience, and then you could come back and try to teach in Missoula.

A few people asked me, though, “How can you leave the Center of the Universe? Where do people go when they leave Missoula? What do they do?”

Mostly, I just laughed, but I realize now, as I drive south in a U-Haul packed with my life’s possessions, these are really good questions.

Deep sadness got mixed up with excitement and apprehension as I packed up these last few days. I am leaving behind a man I love, his kids and family, my true and lifelong friends, a community of cyclists, runners, and boaters which I don’t think I will ever be able to replace, and a landscape of rivers and mountains that I have grown to know and love intimately.

In weak moments, I ask myself what the hell I am doing. I could stay in Missoula, clean houses, scrape together writing/waitressing/substitute teaching jobs like so many people do. But no, I know that I am not meant to do this; there is more in store for me.

The memories I have of Montana will carry me into this new phase of my life.

My last trip down the Alberton Gorge of the Clark Fork with nine hot, stylish, smart and compassionate women (and a few wonderful men as well). The Great Blue Herons that frequently fly overhead as I surf Brennan’s wave in downtown Missoula.

The Missoula County Fair and Rodeo, the mixture of urban and actual cowboys, the full moon looming over Pattee Canyon in the background, the nighthawk that flew overhead.

The farmer’s market, Thursday Night Throwdowns, early morning runs up Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo and Waterworks Hill, picking up my veggies at the PEAS farm . . . and above all, the community of friends who made all of these things come alive, that I have been so lucky to be a part of.

This last week, the amazing women in my life have showered me with love, help, and Missoula-made gifts, things that I will so miss being able to get on a moment’s notice.

Clark Fork River and the old Milwaukee Railroad Station in Missoula. Photo by Bitterroot, Flickr.

Clark Fork River and the old Milwaukee Railroad Station in Missoula. Photo by Bitterroot, Flickr.

Bija Body tea, made right in Missoula; handmade art; various accessories from Betty’s, one-eleven, and the Good Food Store. Most of all, the time people gave this week, to spend time with me, run, bike and boat with me, made me realize how awesome it is that our friendships are sustained by enjoying and appreciating the beauty in which we live.

I know that Weston will have people who find part of their identities in being in the outdoor landscape around them. And perhaps this is merely a romantic notion that I have about Missoula, but I don’t know that there exists another community of people who so truly and unpretentiously love their surroundings as much as Missoulians.

Rarely do you come across someone out on a mountain bike ride or trail run who doesn’t give you a big smile and a hello, who may even stop you to exclaim about an orchid that is blooming this year that hasn’t bloomed in years, or a fox or bear they just saw. I think this is exceptional in a mountain town; people can get territorial about their “secret stash” of trail/powder/stretch of river. But not in Missoula.

I also have to admit a not-insignificant amount of pretention that I am carrying about moving to Colorado. Although I am originally from Northern Idaho and went to high school in Seattle, I have lived in Montana for eight of my 32 years, and consider it home.

I have come across Montanans who talk about people from Colorado the same way that they talk about people from California . . . which is not entirely in a positive way. I will keep an open mind, though, and report back on what I find.

As I set off on this new adventure, to a place I have never been, toward a job I have never done and am scared out of my mind about, I am doing my best to stay positive, not to just be sad at what I will be missing.

Blogging regularly on NewWest will be my little way to stay connected to Missoula. I don’t have an address yet, have no idea where I’ll be living, but when I do, I will publish my address so that those of you who still like to write letters can practice this long-lost art with me.

I promise to write back. Keep in touch, Missoula.

Laurel Douglas has just moved from Missoula to Weston, Colo., to teach.

About Laurel Douglas

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5 comments

  1. Nicely done! Missoula bids you farewell, for now, and buena suerte!

  2. MakeItMissoula.com

    Many of us have had to move from Missoula–to experience all that life has to offer in other communities, make a decent living, and then be afforded the luxury of coming back. The Good News: You can always come “home”. And we hope you do. It often takes an out-of-market experience to come to a full appreciation of all that Missoula, MT has to offer.

    And when you come back (because we hope you do) you’ll be a more-rounded, better-for-the-experience-Missoulian than can give back in ways that you never could have without experiencing “the journey”.

    On a side note: how sad is it that Missoula loses its BEST and BRIGHTEST to cities/states that offer more than we do in the way of living-wage jobs. My hope and prayer is that Missoula and Montana figures out what it is we need to do to foster a new economic development strategy that empowers our “own” to stay put and make a difference; including our UM grads.

    Montana folks have some of the best work ethics and morals that can be found. Let’s all work to find a way to allow folks to work where we want to live”.

  3. Like you I am an economic refugee from Montana. Believe me if I could find a job in the state I would be home in an instant.

  4. DEAREST LAUREL:
    I SINCERELY HOPE U R NOT DISAPPOINTED, ESPECIALLY THE WAY U DESCRIBE MISSOULA AND THE LOVED ONES U R FORCED TO LEAVE BEHIND, I AM FROM MISSISSIPPI BUT FELL IN LOVE WITH THE BEAUTY OF THE COUNTYSIDE IN WESTON, I BOUGHT PROPERTY THERE 6 YRS OR SO BACK BUT HAVE HAD SOME LIFE CHANGES THAT HAVE PREVENTED ME FROM BUILDING THERE OR EVEN VISITING VERY MUCH, IT IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM LIFE HERE, VERY LAID BACK IS A TERM I WOULD USE, THE PEOPLE ARE VERY NICE THAT I HAVE HAD THE CHANCE TO MEET BUT MOST OF THEM LIKE U ARE NOT FROM COLORADO, THERE IS A BEAUTIFUL 800ACRE LAKE JUST UP THE RD AND IM TOLD VERY NICE FOR BOATING, ALSO THE ASPENS ARE BREATHTAKING DURING THAT TIME OF THE YEAR, I HAPPENED TO BE THERE FOR THE BLIZZARD OF THE CENTURY ON NEW YEARS OF 06, AND HAD NEVER SEEN REAL SNOW BEFORE MUCH LESS SHOVEL IT, IT WAS IMPRESSIVE BUT OVERALL LIFE SEEMED TO MOVE VERY SLOW, AND THE BODIES OF WATER ARE WHAT WE IN MISSISSIPPI CALL CREEKS B/C THEY ARE SO TINY, I HOPE TO MAKE THE 16HOUR TRIP AGAIN IN A FEW MONTHS, GOOD LUCK TO U
    APRIL

  5. I know what you are saying… I had to leave Missoula in late 2008 when business was drying up in the wood products industry… heading to the gas fields of the west slope of Colorado was a bigger culture shock than I expected. Financially great, politically not so much! I still gush about the best place I ever lived… but hope to return some day.