I was in Missoula just last week- in fact, I spent a day with Nici and the girls in the Lolo hot springs. Before the fire erupted it was just another warm summer day, arid but calm; we played and swam for hours and I took a lot of pictures of the girls as they floated about in a nearly hypnotic state of bliss, the kind reserved for little kids on summer break.
"So," asked Andy, coming in from the back porch and taking a seat next to me. "How long are you staying for?"
I'm completely guilty of this- showing up at friend's houses with two hours warning, hauling a huge backpack with no set in stone plan of departure. This family, in the midst of their own swirl of summer trips, just seem to roll with it.
"I don't know," I said, leaning back and adopting Andy's placid demeanor. "Probably just a few weeks."
"That's cool," he responded, "the guest room is all yours."
I was kidding, of course, but in that minute I actually considered it. Half an hour later, their friends came over for dinner, streaming through the door hauling ice cream and wine and a watermelon. With her typical, unbridled enthusiasm, Caroline tried to convince me to rent their spare apartment- "Cheap, gorgeous, pet friendly! Why not!"
And why not? I didn't say anything, but instead sunk deep into that moment, the untethered existence I'd brought about by dropping all my things off at Goodwill, kissing my best friends goodbye and just leaving.
I could. I could live in Missoula for a few weeks, or months, or the rest of my life, why not? I loved Missoula. I loved this evening, all of us around the table, these families I'd once known only through writing and photos.
A pretty, curly haired woman wrote a blog that I started reading years ago, when I was worked as a nanny in Seattle. When the perpetually cantankerous three year old slept, I'd lie on the living room floor, bored and agitated with my own life, and sink into the world of this woman in Montana with the toddler and the blue eyed baby, the big garden and the art gallery.
Now I'm sitting at their table, and the garden is even bigger than it was, the toddler and the baby are little kids running around, begging their mom to let them jump in bed with me at 6am. And now, over rounds of dangerously delicious homemade margaritas, they're inviting me to move next door.
And I could. I can't get over how funny life is.
***The next morning, I woke up in pink flowered sheets with two girls sneaking in. I put an arm around each one and sighed back to sleep. For a little while, they were content just to whisper into the dog's huge ears. I was grateful, as last night's margaritas had turned to beer, had turned to tea and telling stories on the couch that crept farther into the night than anyone had intended.
***I didn't stay for weeks, of course. Just a couple of days. Not long enough, but we all had things to do. I could always go back, it's mostly just one long stretch of 1-90 that separates me from Montana. I'd live there, I really would. But only if I ever wanted to leave Asheville, and only if the wildfires ever get tired of burning the world and extinguish themselves.