Locked Heels

skiski

This new mama has her heels locked. For you non-skiers, this means I’ve put away my telemark skis (free heel) in our basement ski room and brought out the alpine boards. While my lifelong love affair with skiing began before I was three years old, telemark skiing was a fairly recent endeavor for me. I learned to tele in 2008 and committed myself thoroughly to lunging down the mountain, and a year later, learned how to race telemark. In 2010, while training for the US National Championships, held at Whitefish Mountain Resort, I met Cole. And in the following years, we fell in love, raced around the world, got married, and raced some more. I suffered multiple injuries during my tele race career, from a partial shoulder dislocation to a season-ending neck injury in Steamboat Springs. Then the winter following, after I decided to stop racing, I broke my arm.

I gave up my skinny race skis in 2013 after said neck injury, shifting my focus from red and blue gates to building a brewery. But I didn’t give up telemark skiing, and instead of training gates, Cole and I ventured into the backcountry, skied powder, and even participated in a local ski mountaineering race where the objective is to be the fasted person climbing up the mountain. I’ve been racing the clock down a slope since a child, so racing uphill was completely foreign to me. While I enjoy the leg burn exercise of skinning, I’m no ski mountaineer racer. I’ll go down fast, but not up.

When I found out I was pregnant last winter, I quickly decided that given my damned accident prone luck combined with the balance needed to telemark, it’d be in the best interest for all parties involved for me to switch back to alpine skis. I didn’t ski much last year, even after shifting back to alpine skis, fearing the worst with the growing “Figgy” inside of me. I stuck to safer activities like cross-country skiing and dashing through the snow. Oh wait, nope, no dashing. Just walking and trying not to succumb to the exhaustion and nausea of the first trimester.

This winter, after giving birth to Charlie, I realized, for many reasons that it’d be best to give my tele skis another winter off and on the few precious days I got to ski, stick to alpine. For one, I’m not in the best shape and am quite certain my post-childbirth body needs to regain strength and balance before I unlock the heel. Also, I’m a mom now. Which means I’m responsible for this bright little light in my life, and any injury would be devastating. Can you imagine trying to breastfeed with a broken arm? Or carry an infant around with a torn ACL? When I ride up the chairlift, knowing my ski time is limited to an hour and a half while Charlie hangs with dad at the base, I remind myself that the beautifully taut line between freedom and control, that intoxicating feeling I get sliding on snow, is one that I must maintain. No longer just for my health but also for Charlie. So I try and take it slower, am more careful on my lines and decisions I make in the trees and chutes. A not so little voice yanks on my ear as I navigate the socked in days atop Big Mountain, be careful. Be there for Charlie.

Those on the mountain who knew me as a tele skier give me a fair bit of grief when they see my on my alpine gear. I explain the whole: I-just-gave-birth-and-am-not-strong-yet spiel, plus I add that to telemark ski and love it, one must be able to practice it frequently. The truth is, alpine skiing is much easier. Especially for this new mom who maybe gets to ski one day per week, and average just for four to six runs. With locked heels, I can make the most of my precious skis runs, from flexing the skis and carving turns on groomers to hop turning through North Bowl Chute into an apron of fluffy powder and still feel like a badass.

See, here’s the thing with skiing and me: since I was a little girl the physicality of the sport has given me confidence. Confidence in my body’s strength and power, especially as someone built with large thighs. Pure joy: in the connection between body and nature, the rush and exhilaration of speed and turn. And in some of life’s low moments, skiing is what keeps me buoyant and happy. Motherhood is a domain where my confidence hasn’t always been stable. I don’t know how many 3am Google searches I’ve logged, typing “is this normal for an infant to…?” The countless texts to my mom, asking questions. The long walks with my friend Jen, a new mother herself, and our endless discussions about how our bodies are healing, diaper changes, crying, nursing and more. Filled with so much damn love and joy, I’ve also encountered those many moments where mothering has left me shaken and raw, wondering if I can do it (nurse, soothe, put to sleep the “right” way, raise a child to not be an asshole, etc). Thankfully my life is surrounded my the many women, mothers, who offer their support, a good joke, and well-timed advice. And then, there’s skiing. A terrain where I feel a little more powerful, a little more settled with myself. Floating down the mountain in a body that’s a little heavier in weight than normal, that’s been stretched and pulled, and ultimately re-created in creation of itself, skiing has helped me embrace motherhood.

While I’m venturing into completely new territory as a mom, it feels damn good to return to my skiing roots.

 

 

 

Love, Long Underwear and Now, Cloth Diapers

During the extensive hiatus of writing L + L, Kalispell Brewing Company opened its doors (June 2014) and about four months ago I gave birth to a son, Charles Fielding Schneider.  And now, with heavy yawns and a full heart (fuller than I could ever dare to imagine) I’ve needed to revive this special space, to once again thread the needle and weave — surely dropping a stitch or two, but, nonetheless, try to find the pattern of story.

Near our house is a bike path that runs below Woodland Drive, with a small creek and cattail lined ponds, and off in the distance the Swan Mountain stretch to the east. Aspens, cottonwoods and a few spruce line the west edge of the path, and a field with houses and junkyard cars lie to the east. The marshy area is home to lots of birds, and today, a warm and sunny January day the birds, mostly chickadees, flitted and sang between branches. Through the slop of snow and ice on the path, I pushed what I like to call Charlie’s Cadillac, a burley jogging stroller. We take a walk nearly every day, and have since we brought him home (me in the back seat of the car, holding onto his car seat, tearful and terrified to leave the hospital) at the end of September.

Today’s afternoon walk was a walk, of course, but also my third attempt at trying to get him to nap. He woke up early this morning, after sleeping poorly at night, and didn’t want to take a nap. Nursing didn’t help. Rocking was no use. Stories, and snuggles, and more nursing resulted in him drifting off for about twenty minutes before he’d wake, kicking his legs and beaming his giant smile. Charlie typically (and I’m realize, about four months into this whole mothering business that there’s not one thing that’s typical or predictable) falls asleep on long walks, bundled in his snowsuit, wrapped in his hand knit (one of many, courtesy of my mom) blanket. Today? He slept maybe, maybe 30 minutes. As I walked, I’d see his arm fly up or a leg kick. He’d whimper and sigh, and then I’d peer through the stroller cover, check to make sure he wasn’t either too warm or too cold and tell him to fall asleep. No such luck. He gave me a smirk, and I went back to steering and pushing.

I like our bike path and have thought of it as “our” bike path since last winter when I found out I was pregnant. Until September 26, I didn’t know Charlie was “Charlie” as we didn’t find out his gender until his grand entrance into our hearts and world. During my pregnancy, it was “Figgy” who I took on my walks on the bike path. During the first trimester, when I was nauseous and exhausted, I’d scuff along the bike path, willing myself exercise, and I really only felt the best while walking. When spring took hold — which was early last year as winter didn’t amount to much — I rejoiced in the blooms and blossoms and whistles of the red wing blackbirds. Energized during the second trimester, I’d walk and walk and walk. And wish and pray, and wish and pray. Pregnancy, and now motherhood, is just an unfolding book of magical thinking. If I do this, the baby will be OK. If I do this, the baby will sleep. As if.

Our corner of northwest Montana was on fire this past summer. Wildfires to the east and the west, and smoked clogged our little valley. I couldn’t even walk/waddle the 6 blocks to work at the brewery — the smoke was that bad for a few weeks. I was in my third trimester by late summer, and it was hot. I took to that bike path when I could, holding onto my giant belly and tried to find a stride that wouldn’t result in my thighs rubbing too much. By mid-September, the fires died down and the smoke cleared. I was just weeks away from my due date, and I resumed walking more and more and more, sometimes even twice a day. The path was lined with sunbaked and crisp flowers and weeds. Rosehips and mountain ash berries brightened the golden foilage. The fields nearby were dull straw. But it was fall, and a wisp of coolness refreshed the air and the light — oh the light during those last weeks before I gave birth–they were warm and rich.

I don’t know how many miles on “our” bike path I walked before Charlie was born, or how many deer I came across, or how many flickers I saw dart between trees. A month ago, two big bucks were wading through the newly fallen snow in the marshy section of the trail. I noticed their lush, thick tawny coats first, then their antlers.They picked their way through the brush on the hillside above us, and me, pushing the bright green stroller over the wet pavement. I whispered to Charlie, who was asleep: look now, there’s two bucks.

On today’s walk we didn’t see any deer, and if we did, this time he was awake to see them. Sometime soon I know he’ll see the deer along with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reunion

For the first time in more than five months, I’ve padded up the carpeted stairs to my office and settled into my chair and loaded the dashboard on this blog page.

Yes, five months. The last time I looked out the windows behind the computer screen the view was white: snow frosting the roof of our neighbor’s house across the street. Now, the lilacs are blooming, leaves full and bright on the trees and the grass grows fast in the recent cycle of sunshine followed by rain.

I have not wanted to plop down in this chair, switch on the lamp and spread my elbows wide on the glass topped desk. I’ve even ignored the rows and rows of books lining the shelves, forgetting how much I loved this little nook on our second story, grateful that the previous owner, George, known as the “Judge” in our neighborhood built one fine office. In my neglect, the dust has accumulated and paperwork is scattered about.

I left this space, a space I felt to be sacred to me and my writing and my memories and my longings for stories and Lake Huron because I broke my arm on February 2nd and for many weeks, couldn’t type or write or think clearly due to the painkillers. Yes, another injury from skiing. Just as I was recovering from last year’s crash in Steamboat Springs. Right arm casted I spent my time on the first floor of our home, drowning my pain (there was a lot of pain, and for a long time) and frustration and despair with hours of television, pain pills and junk food. I didn’t seek solace in a book — I was so depressed that I wanted nothing to do with the objects that give me such joy. How could I have broken my arm?

The broken arm was not the only thing that gave me trouble. It compounded another issue I’d been grappling with since December. How to complete school and open a brewery? With my arm in a cast for more than two months and the ability to type greatly reduced, the answer seemed clear but no less heartbreaking.

So, I’m admitting this for the first time in the public/social sphere. Perhaps this is another reason why I haven’t posted since I visited my family before Christmas, believing it would be the last time I’d see my stepfather Vince alive.

I quit school.

Two years into the master’s program I adored, two years into a writing life I felt, on most days, so happy to have created, I had to let it go. Physically, I could not keep up with school with my injury. And as the work required to open the brewery mounted and mounted and I realized that we’d probably open in summer I couldn’t imagine trying to attend residency with the tasting room in operations.

I cried, a lot. I cried on the phone with RWW’s new program director, Rick Barot. It was our first introduction, this call. I told him about my arm, the brewery, that my stepdad had been given six months to live. I then talked with Stan Rubin, the program’s founder and outgoing director. I cried more. I sobbed to friends and family alike. It was one of the most difficult, heart wrenching decisions to make.

Tonight, now that the sky darkens, pregnant with storm clouds rarely seen outside of the Midwest, I will spare the details on dropping out of RWW. Essentially, I could not commit to the program with my current life situation.

And after a week of tears and Game of Thrones marathons, I decided that I couldn’t live two lives: one of the brewery and one of writing. It simply wasn’t possible to do both and do both well. The brewery has fully consumed Cole and me so there’s little time for continued reflection on my decision to leave school. I’m either dealing with various departments in the government to get the brewery’s required approvals and permits or loading pallets of grain or power washing floors or interviewing candidates for jobs or folding tshirts. What I’m doing is not writing. What I’m doing is another dream and passion of mine: opening a brewery.

So, I have yet to find a regret. But again, I haven’t had the time or more honestly, given myself the time. And I’m only up in my office to write checks for insurance and scour drawers for any folders related to the brewery I may have forgotten now that we’ve moved into our tiny shared office in the brewery. But I was drawn, compelled to do the thing I haven’t done whatsoever since the start of 2014, and that is to write. And here I am, back at my computer, writing.

As Rick told me, I have a lot going on right now. And that RWW will always be there for me. Perhaps it’s not the best time for my life. I hope that’s all true. And Stan told me, which made me sink to the floor, that I really am a writer and no matter what I was a part of the program and that matters. I hope that is true as well. For now, I am happy that on this June evening just after I took the dogs for a walk before the oncoming storm, I sat down and wrote the words I’d been avoiding for months now.

So, I’m a graduate school drop out. That’s just one part of this whole entire story…

How Many Snowflakes Heal a Heart?

105 could make it lighten, rise up and out from the heavy body, flutter above the gray clouds and believe that while November may be the cruelest month, winter is on its way.

3 landing on a nose, then melted with cupped hands and a full breath.

2007: enough to call it powder? Enough to slide on skis?

Or just enough to make it a weak layer on the mountain side?

And slide, there goes the snow.

It happens so quickly.

Like death. Like a heart shattering, splintering and fracturing (does ice come to mind? a spiderweb of frozen water? Yes, that’s what I see, after the glacier has bulldozed me to the ground).

Avalanche.

Or, now for something kinder, like a snowman. 1.2 billion flakes, rolled and packed and punched and shaped. Three roundish globes to make a body, smoothed by hands damp in their woolen mittens. Don’t forget the eyes. Or the carrot for a nose.

Perhaps to some, like me, we lose count after the thousands and lose sight of each individual flake, lacy and intricate and well, frankly, magical. I see snow as the accumulation – much like the accumulation of life (or death, which seems to be happening a lot lately. Either suddenly or the “six months to live” rigmarole) but it’s all too convenient for someone like me, a skier, a worshiper of mountains, to make such metaphors from snow. Is it true or is it a myth that the Eskimos have many words for snow and we, and who are “we” exactly, have so few?

Do we need those many words? Yes, I know there are types of snow, names for a particular kind or shape or form. But do we really need to dig deep and unearth all these terms for snow?

Or could it be that snow is a word I’m using in place for pain?

Pain will do, won’t it?

When life is either suffering or not, does it matter what kind of snow or what kind of pain it is? What good does it do to find the different meanings, to take up the microscope and look deeper, closer?

It’s either cold.

Or it hurts.

Yet, it only takes one. Flake that is.

To make me smile when the world turns dark and closes in (almost pain, but not quite. I try to not let it sink into my bones. Let me be shaped by mittens, rolled and packed. The snowman has no heart, just a nose made from a carrot.).

Hope, is what I feel. One flake is all it takes.

No Internet Here: Ben Rover

Ben Rover Cabin, Polebridge, Montana
Ben Rover Cabin, Polebridge, Montana

I went to the cabin and I wrote.

That’s the simplest way to explain my four day retreat to the Ben Rover cabin near Polebridge. Of course, there’s more to it than that. But stripped of conveniences and crutches of ‘modern’ living like electricity, the Internet and regular work duties and responsibilities, simple works.

Is it easy, this simplicity? Hardly.

Stripped is essentially what it is: layers pealed off, nerves exposed, vulnerability.

And, essentially, good for writing. Not easy, but good. Exhausting and exhilarating.

A break in the clouds! Zee mountains!
A break in the clouds! Zee mountains!

Certainly not easy on the hands either–who knows how long, or if ever, it’s been since I’ve written that much by hand? My hands would cramp and I must have gripped the pen a bit too hard because purple bruises bloomed beneath my fingernails. Writing with pen and paper became physical. No longer would I drift off, thoughts rushing fast and aimlessly cast on a blinking computer screen. Without the computer and keyboard, I was more careful with my thoughts, with language. The engagement of my whole body was a new experience–I was no longer filtering my words through the screen of a computer, distracted by the scores of possibilities presented when connected to the Internet. Can’t remember the name of a channel in the Les Cheneaux Islands? Well, Google’s your friend. Looking for a better word or need clarity on nautical history of the Great Lakes? Your answer is one click away, or maybe two after you chase the rabbit down the next hole,  taking a brief pause to check status updates on Facebook.

Can’t let life pass you by, that’s what the Internet promises.

North Fork of the Flathead River
North Fork of the Flathead River

I went into the woods carrying bags and bags of self-doubt. Would I be able to write? Would I be able to keep the fire going (literally and metaphorically)? Would the loneliness build and I’d bury myself under the covers and weep away my retreat?

Self doubt be damned in the North Fork of the Flathead. Without the buzz of incoming text messages, the noise of the Internet, whatever baggage of uncertainty I carried dissipated. I reacquainted myself with the page. Alone with my thoughts, the only music I heard was the crack and pop of the woodstove. Clarity emerged through the darkness. I interrogated my assumptions, and devoted time to previously written work, examining it with such concentrated effort I couldn’t believe hours would pass and I was thinking and writing, writing and thinking. One night, I said aloud, much to my surprise, “I even like editing.” Who was this woman, clad in her flannel shirt flecked with bits of bark from hauling firewood from the shed into the cabin? Who was this woman who rose at 7, made too strong of coffee (didn’t think that was even possible) and opened to a blank page in her notebook and wrote through lunchtime?

While I know this to my core, but tend to forget: when we disconnect from the ‘world’, we connect with something greater. I went into the woods looking for the surly, down trodden writer who let herself interfere with her stories. There among the lined pages of a notebook, between the messy handwriting and margin notes, I found her.

No Google search needed.

A Remote Retreat for an Out Of Sorts Writer

To a cabin I go.

Tomorrow I leave for the Ben Rover Cabin in Polebridge, an outpost along Glacier’s remote western boundary. Ben Rover is a Forest Service cabin on the western banks of the North Fork of the Flathead River, and I will spend four days in the cabin, challenged with two direct tasks: reading and writing.

The indirect tasks are many, including rediscovering the writer within I’ve recently banished to the corner while the many duties of starting a business take up all the rooms, even hiding in the attic, scurrying around the beams . But this is the point of the Outside Experience, a requirement for the second year of my graduate program. The Outside Experience is something, with a tally of 100 hours, that either enhances current work, like say a research project, encourages concentrated writing time, like a writer’s retreat, or explores new possibilities in writing, publishing and or teaching. True to my program’s independent style, there are really no strict boundaries on the experience, with the exception that it’s tailored to an individual’s needs and will be something different than the every day rituals of writing (and living and doing laundry). For some, it’s attending a writing conference or residency. Others have traveled across the globe for research or taken on solo wilderness treks.

For me, I’m breaking my Outside Experience into two parts. The first part is my upcoming solo retreat in a remote cabin in a place that leaves the trappings of civilization, like electricity and cellphone coverage, at the other end of a very long dusty and pothole-ridden road. The North Fork of the Flathead is a place I hold very near to my heart. I used to live a dozen or so miles south of Polebridge when I worked for the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center and the region has been home to some of my many adventures on foot and on water. I also need a bit of time away from my computer, the Internet and other responsibilities (like laundry) to refocus my creative efforts.

I hate to report it, but in the last month or so, I haven’t wanted much to do with school or writing. I’ve even contemplated quitting my MFA program but I know that I’m one who changes her mind often and know that although the brewery has garnered all of my attention, my graduate work and my writing is important, even if I never publish a book. Or even a damn essay, but that’s another story. Pun intended, even!

To fulfill the requirements of the Outside Experience, I plan to complete the required hours by attending the Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference in Homer, Alaska in June. I believe dividing my experience into two parts will serve the part of me that needs a solo, focused retreat coupled with a conference to meet and learn from and with other writers. Ever since Cole and I returned from our ski vacation to Alaska in 2012, I’ve wanted to return and this conference gives me every bit of incentive and authorization to do so since it’s for school.

However, as I draft my shopping list and plan my menu, having to take into consideration the only refrigerator at the cabin is the cooler I bring along with me, I’m uneasy with the prospect of my solo retreat. I have much work to accomplish with an upcoming deadline for school and have little to show for it. Also, I’m challenging myself to not bring my laptop: without the ability to recharge its battery after its died, what is the point? I will write by hand.  I need this shake up of routine, a routine that inevitably becomes distracted and disjointed when checking Facebook and tending to emails. The Outside Experience is designed to give a writer an opportunity and authorization to do something they don’t normally do. While it may not seem as bold as say traveling to Italy to research Venice’s canals for a novel or teaching poetry to prison inmates, I’m hoping that the small act of connecting pen to paper will help release me from whatever rut I’m in. It will hold me accountable. I have to write. I have to read. I can’t waste the solitude.

As someone who’s possessed by landscapes, I knew the only place (besides my family’s cabin on Marquette Island in Michigan where absolutely no work would be accomplished because I’d be surrounded, gladly, by family) to spend part of my Outside Experience is the North Fork. It is a landscape that challenged me mightily when I attempted to stay through the winter with only the company of my dog and cat, hunkered in my work cabin. At that time, which, unbelievably, was over five years ago, I believed-or tried to convince myself-that I was some hermit woodswoman badass who needed little company to carry her through the darkness of winter. I learned otherwise. And yet, the North Fork is a place of unparalleled beauty: a mighty river snakes through the prairie, bordered by the staggering peaks of Glacier to the east and the burned over mountains to the west. It’s easy to wax romantically about the inspiration the area around Polebridge commands and I know better now. But I also know something very true, when I’m stuck or feeling drained or even gasp, hating writing, I go to a place where rivers flow and mountains commune with the sky.

In many ways, this first part of my Outside Experience, is very much outside.

Thanks and Forgiveness

Blame it on the increasing darkness, the shortened days, the low ceiling of clouds that cling to the mountains, swallowing this valley in a blanket of gray. Or fault could lie with the simple change of the seasons, from the pulse of summer, with its brilliant long days and a perceptible fever to climb every mountain and float every river, to the slip into fall with its hunkering down effect as the leaves change colors and spin, like helicopters, down from the branches and to the ground. Whatever it is, this time of year I habitually do a few things, some that range from good for me (like stack firewood) to not-so good for me (like eat pastries and hunks of bread with such intensity it’s as if I’m entering hyperphagia) to the really not good for me (pour over every detail of my life and examine each and every flaw and dwell on my mistakes). With all of these hours of darkness, I slide into a state where I can’t get past myself, where I blame myself for every misdeed and mistake. I focus on the past and spend hours second guessing each and every choice I’ve made on this planet in my thirty-one years. It’s downright depressing to put the screws to oneself day in and day out.

I know that this is the time of year for thanks and gratitude. To use the quiet of the fall to reflect and recall the joys of life. To appreciate hearth and kin. To bake pies and drink inordinate amount of beverages containing pumpkin.

For me, this is a time, especially as I write and have to examine my life and my choices, where I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Did you know that I still question my choice to attend DePauw University? That it’s apparently not enough for me to have graduated from a good school in the Midwest. Perhaps, in some ways, it wasn’t the best school for me and perhaps I would have preferred to go to college with a little less Greek and a little more topographic excitement. However, I chose DePauw, not anyone else. And I chose to stay there for four years. And if I stop kidding myself, I did make friends and have a good bit of fun. And it is where I fell in love with literature and writing. But there’s a part of my brain that triggers and begins the series of questions that ultimately leads to a path of self-doubt. What if I had gone to college in Montana? Would my life be better? Wouldn’t I have experienced more, gotten cooler jobs and been a better person?

Aha! That whole ” better” fallacy.  I cling to it like a life raft. What does better even mean? I don’t know. All I know is that I scrutinize my actions (like each and every bad relationship in my early 20s) and determine that if only I’d _______ I’d be a better person.  It’s not as if I have defined what “better” means, only that I’m not good enough.

Not good enough.

That’s a doozy, isn’t?

I know well and good that yes, I have made mistakes. Many. But this relentless examination of each and every misstep is self-defeating. And I’m becoming more and more aware of this nasty little habit of mine as I write. My essays and stories are about a girl who can’t forgive herself for a myriad of reasons, most of which are the simple lessons of growing up, discovering oneself, and trying out independence under the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. This relentless self-blame is defeating to the creative spirit. And, who wants to read about someone who puts her entire life under the microscope and blames herself for each and every deed? I’m like the ultimate Debbie Downer on the page.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I do have much to be thankful for. But I believe I can’t be truly grateful until I first forgive myself. For being a girl who left home at age 22 and moved west and doesn’t return as often as she should. For making a million mistakes in relationships. For not focusing on writing enough. For not saving money. For blah blah blah.

For being human.

Writing Rules: Obsessions and the Unknown

Save a few childhood stories, which have returned to me in recent months as my mom unearths the papery relics of my childhood and bundles report cards, newspaper clippings, poems and sends them from Michigan to Montana, I’ve been musing, writing, cursing, editing, crying, laughing, deleting, rewriting about one very specific place, Marquette Island. I’m beginning to think it’s a furious obsession.

In college creative writing classes, one of the many rules of workshop was “write what you know”. This piece of advice, however, was not delivered to my third and six grade classrooms where I imagined characters of different races and different cultures and had them step through a story, one page at a time. I didn’t know much about the business of television shows or life as a recent immigrant from Africa, other than what I gleaned from pop culture, as much as can possibly be learned when you wear braces and have an early bedtime. Point is, I didn’t know anything about the lives of my early characters and I hadn’t been told that I was supposed to know about what I wrote. What I did know was how to clack out stories on an old word processor and tackle blank pages with a battalion of markers and crayons.

Clearly, younger Maggie kicked that writing rule overboard.

As a child, I didn’t know certain topics were taboo or that there were cultural and ethnic sensitivities to consider when conjuring up worlds in Harlem ghettos or killing off an (ahem, my) entire family in a fiery airplane crash to star in a hit ‘90s sitcom. What kid knows these rules, some spoken, some not? And luckily for me, my parents didn’t squash my imaginative ruminations, didn’t tell me what I could or couldn’t write. I’m sure they thought the whole writing business was a phase similar to my “old fashioned” phase when I wore a bonnet and retrieved water from a spigot. It’s not like “Jesse Goes to Hollywood” or “Witnessing It All”, written and illustrated by yours truly will ever reach a greater audience than my parents, teachers and a few classmates. However I will say this: those two stories I wrote in elementary school are the only two that actually have a discernible plot. That’s kind of depressing…

Since my early explorations into sitcoms and gang life, my focus has been narrow: I’ve written about what I know. Marquette Island and my family’s allegiance to it. Sure, Montana pops up every now and again, but for over thirteen years, the discernable thread between stories, real or made up, has been a specific landscape. I’ve gnawed on themes about family and place. I’ve clung to these notions about writing rules, writing exactly what I know but still the work falls short.

Self-doubt tends to settle in when I miss my mark and I wonder if my obsession has led me astray from my imagination. But if I knew exactly what I was writing about, don’t you think I’d be over this whole island thing like a fleeting crush? That’s what I have to tell myself, to reel my wandering and unforgiving mind when it wants to abandon ship and take quarter with the ballerinas and rappers.

If, after all this time, I was writing exactly and precisely what I know, than what would there be to tell? Would I be as possessed as I am now?

Perhaps I’ll never again compose a story about a young girl’s dream to star on television or what it’s like to witness a murder in some darkened alley in New York.  Those preoccupations had a short expiration date. My compulsion leads me back home, scrolling over maps of the Les Cheneaux Islands and pestering my mom and grandmother for details on how old the Whaler is and who cut the beams for the cabin. Books of the Great Lakes consume the shoreline of my desk and yellow sticky notes tattoo the stacks of papers and bills, serving as reminders and placeholders for those scraps of memory I’ve retrieved from the depths of my memory and also, yes, imagination.  I am writing about what I know, about a place and a family, but I’m learning, day by day, that there is so very much I don’t know. The unknown is slightly terrifying.

Writing what I know has led me, often kicking and screaming, other times deliriously, into what I don’t know.

I think the author of seminal works like “Jesse Goes to Hollywood” would approve. What did she know about “Full House” and Steven Spielberg and adoption issues before she gathered her notebooks and markers? Not much.

But, she wrote the story.

Building a Brewery Isn’t Like Drinking Beer

If only it were that easy.

First, I don’t know exactly when we’ll open. I wish. Oh how I wish we had the opening date set. In the future? In the year 2000? Bad Conan O’Brien reference for all you late night fans.  And I know, for all of our followers and fans out there on the social media channels, it has seemed like a long time to wait. Trust me, we’ve been working really hard to get the old and sorry building into shape (and into something that bears structural integrity, which is very important). If we could simply snap our fingers and be open with five flagship brews on tap, we’d do it.

We’ve stopped guessing on our opening because each time we do, like when we said summer or  fall, we’ve been off. Construction operates on its own time scale. Kinda like geology. That being said, we have an incredibly dedicated and talented crew of subcontractors who are working hard to get the building done. Things like the weather tends to make a difference in how fast or slow a project (like the roof) can be completed. Damn you, fickle and unpredictable weather.

But I don’t blame people for asking why it’s taking so long or when we’re opening. I’m thrilled by their enthusiasm. They want to see us open. They want their town to have a brewery. Right in downtown, especially at a time when the north side of Kalispell is being taken over by chains and box stores. It buoys our spirits to have strangers thank us for starting a brewery. Thank goodness Montanans love their beer–we rank third in the nation for  consumption.  We average 40 gallons of beer  for every man, woman and child!

It has been a long wait since the brewery was first announced last January. But remember people, it’s been over fifty years since the town has had a brewery of it’s very own. And we’re trying, day by day, brick by brick (which nearly all of the bricks had to be restored and rehabbed) to resurrect the city’s brewing legacy.

Did you know that in 1894 two German immigrant brothers opened Kalispell Malting and Brewing? Kalispell is no stranger to brewing beer.

Henry and Charles Lindlahr opened Kalispell Malting and Brewing Company on the corner of 5th Avenue West and Center Street. Today you can still see remnants of the old brewery. They also operated the Brewery Saloon, their original Main Street tasting room. The old saloon is now  Sassafras, an artist cooperative.

The Lindlahr brothers were also big promoters of locally brewed beer. In 1898, in response to Milwaukee based Schlitz Brewing Company’s $1,000 reward to anyone proving that their beer contained anything other than hops or malt, the brothers weren’t keen to be outdone. Henry and Charles upped the ante by offering a cool $1 million to anyone “who can prove it is better for the people of Flathead Valley to send money for beer to Milwaukee, when a better article is made at home by Flathead County taxpayers from their own barley, fuel, ice and labor.”  There’s no record of payment of $1 million to anyone disproving the Lindlahr challenge.

I agree with Henry and Charles. Beer is best when brewed in your hometown.

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A brewery with the title of the largest electric sign in the state? You go, Kalispell.

By 1910 the brewery  had a capacity of 12,000 barrels and survived Prohibition with a steady stream of ciders, sodas, and “near beers.”  Seeing a good investment, the founder of what would later become Pabst Brewing Co., Jacob Best, purchased stock in Kalispell Malting and Brewing Co for his nephew Christian Best.   Christian operated the brewery and established Best Beer Brand until 1913.  As Prohibition ended in 1933, Kalispell Malting and Brewing Co. reemerged, producing notable beers including Glacier Special Beer, Topper Beer, Topper Deluxe and the Glacier Bock.

In 1935, the Gustav Bischoff Jr. family purchased the brewery and produced Gus’ Topper beer. Brewing continued until 1955 when Kalispell Malting and Brewing Company closed with the title of the city’s oldest business.

Kalispell Brewing Company is proud to bring back a local tradition to the Flathead Valley. And we’re also breathing life into another significant Main Street business. Our building was the former Hendricksen Motors. The original dealership occupied the south side of the building and in 1955 the showroom was added to the north. The brewery production floor is the southern half of the building and the tasting room will reside in the former showroom. We were tickled when the old murals from the dealership were revealed during the demolition phase. They’re staying, by the way.

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Circa 50s ish? Pre-showroom addition. This wall is now an interior wall and divides the production floor from the tasting room.

To be honest, it would have been easier to construct a new building to house Kalispell Brewing. But when we saw the building on the corner of 4th and Main we knew it was the place to house our brewery and our dreams. It hasn’t been easy or cheap but we wanted more than just a building, we wanted to preserve history and be a part of the downtown, Main Street community.

Soon, folks, soon we’ll be drinking beer brewed right in Kalispell. And Cole and I’ll certainly need a few to get over the stress of the remodel.

Building a brewery hasn’t been easy, but it will be worth it. We’re going to be making beer: it could be a lot worse.

Snow In Them Hills

Goodbye summer and well, fall I hope you’re allowed a fighting chance because it looks like winter is on its way. There’s snow in them hills  and for once in my life, I’m wishing the wintry weather would stall. Me not wanting winter in early October? Sacrilege! Blasphemy!

But until the never-ending-brewery-in-progress gets buttoned up with a new roof, new windows, new parking lot and a million other new (new = expensive) things, I’m placing my pray for snow dance on the sidelines.

Winter, this year, is going to be different. For one, the damn brewery better be open or I might have to take a “rest” at some facility. Perhaps just as important is the completion and opening of Kalispell Brewing Co is the absence of telemark ski racing for both Cole and me. No US Telemark Ski team for us.

For me, I decided to take a year off from racing for three reasons: injury, brewery, and writing. It was not an easy decision. But I knew for my own physical health I had to take a year off. My neck is healed, but not strong. I had to rest for much of the spring and summer and even the weight of a backpack would cause it to ache. My body needs to be taken out of competition. And between the brewery and school, well, I don’t think I need to give explanations why I reached my decision. I’m realizing that I can’t say “yes” to everything no matter how exciting and how much it has meant to me in the past. Telemark racing was more than a sport or a hobby. It introduced me to Cole, the love of my life, and gave me the opportunity to race in the World Cup in Europe. The substance of dreams, even though I did routinely come in last or near-last place …but I was racing in Norway, come on! How utterly amazing.

But I can’t be a top ski racer, a committed writer and a kickass Beer Ambassador all at once. Something’s got to give. After many powwows with Cole, we decided that for this winter, our focus needed to narrow. The brewery and its success is one of our most important tasks and a dream we’ve harbored for many years. We owe it to our vision and to beer lovers everywhere.  Training for races gave me many excuses to put off writing. Long before I even knew how to telemark ski, I knew that I wanted my MFA in Writing. It’s all about honoring those dreams, those passions. And finding balance, which is a work in progress.

And something else: being okay with not being able to do it all. This summer, I hiked so little. I only climbed two peaks in Glacier National Park. I try to scale at least ten summits in a summer and spend countless hours humping up and down a trail in the wilderness. But this was the summer that wasn’t. It was a season of grief and mourning. Although I wished I would have spent more time in the mountains, I also have to recognize the outdoor activities I did do like teaching Cole how to kayak and spending our Fourth of July floating the North Fork of the Flathead River from Ford Cabin to Polebridge. A newly minted friendship was deepened after hours spent paddling on Whitefish Lake.  Seeing a new National Park: Olympic and hiking through a rain forest with my husband.  When I reflect back, I did play and I did work.

I’m becoming a grown up, reluctantly. And I’m realizing that it’s OK to take a year off from competition. It won’t make me any less of a person if I’m not on the team’s roster. It’s not like giving up racing means I’m giving up skiing. Instead of my usual whining about all the things I don’t do, it’s time, as the seasons change and cause me to pause and reflect, to remind myself of all the blissfully wonderful, adventurous and creative things I get to do. Isn’t this the season of Thanksgiving?

Plus, world, this is one winter where you won’t have to see my wearing a speed-suit. Sigh of relief.