When I moved to Montana I thought I was discovering a place where technology would disrupt our lives a little less and mother nature would reign. When I saw Northwest Montana all that consumed me was the breathtaking views, roads less traveled and the excitement of hardships unknown. I wanted to know how tough I was; so I moved to a remote location and bought a little cabin by myself in the West Kootenai. The West Kootenai was primarily founded by the Amish who still reside here today. Montana is not for the faint of heart. In this rugged landscape you will meet some of the best people left in this world and you will meet some of the worst. Like most tourists all I could see was natural beauty. What I failed to see was what I call ‘The Montana Poverty Project”. I couldn’t see the locals who have limited access to education, healthcare and jobs. I didn’t think about the elderly in this place who can barely walk, let alone chop enough wood to stay warm or see good enough to drive down the mountain to buy groceries in the winter. I didn’t grasp the effect of the rich and famous buying up Montana at prices that locals could never afford. I didn’t realize the dilapidated trailer park on the way out of town would be where my hardworking CNA’s have to raise their kids. Doctors, Nurses, and CNA’s alike are making the lowest 10% of wages in this country. The rumor is that this is the ‘quality of life’ tax. How can the view of a mountain increase you’re quality of life?
As a nurse I am taking care of the unwanted. Of course not all of our elderly are unwanted, but in the quiet moments of life and death I feel that they were discarded because they were inconvenient. Changing diapers on your Grandma is somehow too much of a chore even though when you were little she was changing yours. Montana has given me lots of time for contemplation. I contemplate we as American’s are in a whole world of trouble. We stick our kids on tablets, iphones and computers and shove our elderly into nursing homes because we are too busy. That my friends is the price of progress. America was built on the back of a horse, families were once fed by their own chickens and cows. Now we buy everything on Amazon and at the store because it’s easier. We have lost touch with what it means to be a family, to be a part of a community. Agricultural labor gave us a pastoral connection with our surroundings. Children used to understand that we had to milk cows and collect eggs before school. Now they pour their milk without any appreciation of the work it took for 1 cup of milk. Now chores are punishment rather than a natural part of the day. My Amish friends are dedicated to limiting the impact of progress on their way of life. I respect that even though their community suffers greatly in other ways.
If you are interested in the self-sufficient, off-grid, minimalist lifestyle then my advice to you is to make some Amish friends. They have been doing this long before it was trendy.
I live in a frontier state in a health professional shortage area.
“The term ‘frontier health professional shortage area’ means an area —
“(A) with a population density less than 6 persons per square mile within the service area; and
“(B) with respect to which the distance or time for the population to access care is excessive.”
At first I saw this as an opportunity and in some ways it is. RN’s are in high demand here, but I am now making what I made the day I graduated with 7 years experience. I thought I was moving to Montana to ‘get away’. I saw the population density relative to acres but what I failed to see was the small percentage of private land for sale. Since the government owns most of Northwest Montana the resident’s are all smashed together and because more people want to ‘get away’ the parcels keep dividing smaller and smaller which is making privacy a thing of the past. When I lived in Nebraska my 15 acres was the only homestead in a square mile. I never had a single complaint about my Great Pyrenees chasing coyotes or my goats eating weeds on the side of the road. I have been in the local newspaper countless times for my Great Pyrenees ‘disturbing wildlife’, been threatened with hefty fines and recently someone ‘shot to kill’ my 6 month old pyrenees puppy for being in their yard. If you move to Montana be prepared to feel like you are living in the city; you’re neighbors moved here to get away from other people too and are willing to defend their side of the fence with a ferocity unknown to the easy going folks of the plains. Montana sells the dream. ‘The Last Best Place’. ‘Seclusion’. ‘Get Away’. I am here to tell you with 100% accuracy that if you are moving to Montana to ‘Get Away’ that thousands of other people already thought of that. You will pay both the price of progress and the price of the lack of progress.
It may sound like I am disillusioned with Montana and that is true; but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in being here. When the illusion lifts and reality sets in you can start making good decisions. You can start asking the right questions and start making a difference.
I am well-traveled, educated, hard-working and ambitious. Montana has taught me to appreciate what I do have. I have learned to love our elderly more deeply; my resident’s have taught me to see past the wrinkles and see the lifetime of vibrance and hard work behind them. Their deaths have taught me that in those final moments we don’t call out for big homes or big bank accounts, we call out for each other.
Montana has given me the love of my life and the experience of his children. Montana has given me the best crew of Nurses and staff in this country. I feel bound to both the resident’s and the people who care for them. We are here struggling to give love and life in the frontier; in a place paying wages most educated folks would scoff at.
Northwest Montana is still one of the last wild places left. To experience it is important, to make it work is a challenge.