Montana: Full Circle

“Life should not be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke,
thoroughly used up, totally worn out,
and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

―Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I drove four-hundred and fifty miles today, from Casper, Wyoming, to Gallatin, Montana. I planned on stopping in Bozeman, but kept going, oddly, until I reached the Gallatin River Lodge, the same place where I stayed two years and two months ago, on the day after my house burned down. Believe it or not, I’m in the exact same room, with the same fireplace flickering in the corner, sitting at the same desk where I sat, two years ago, and wrote an email to my friends to let them know I was okay. I titled the email, “A River Runs Through It,” since they filmed that movie here on the Gallatin River. Little did I know what would follow from that one little note; emails from folks all over the world, starting this blog, being written up in the New York Times, and eventually, interest in turning Burning Down the House into a book. Amazing.

This lovely little inn sits in a huge meadow, and I have the window open, and can hear the roar of the Gallatin River nearby. We are surrounded by mountain ranges, and tonight as I pulled in, the sky was crimson and the peaks white with snow, and my dog Nellie leaped out of the car and raced across the meadow to the duck pond. “Montana!” she seemed to say, “I love Montana! And I remember this place! This is where it all started! Wag wag wag…”

When I arrived here two years ago, I was in shock. I remember I stood at the front door, a suitcase in one hand and Nellie in the other, and stared numbly at the woman behind the desk. She was ready for me – I had called and told them what happened – and she ran over and put her arm around me and said, “Oh, God we are all so, so sorry.” I mumbled something, and she guided me to my room – this room – and then asked me what I needed.

About a half hour later, a sweet young guy knocked on the door and brought me an amazing meal of steak and salad and soup and dessert, and I remember it was the best thing I had ever, ever tasted, and the next morning I noticed it wasn’t on my bill. When I pointed out the mistake, the manager just waved at me and said, “Oh, no, that’s the least we could do.” I remember I cried, right in front of him, so amazed at the kindness of strangers. It was the very beginning of what would become an amazing, tumultuous, and completely transforming journey.

This time when I arrived here, it was after a beautiful day, a day in which I drove across the Crow Indian Reservation, up and down the rolling, desert hills of Wyoming and into Montana, singing at the top of my lungs, reveling in the beauty of the empty highways and the clear, calm skies. When I walked in the door of the Lodge, there were no tears, there was no drama. The woman at the desk looked up and said, “Checking in?” and I smiled and said, “Yes,” and she showed me to my room- this room- and when she asked me how my day was, I said, laughing, “Wonderful!”

So here I am again, two years and two months later, and I have come full circle at last. A river still runs through it, and everything is different, and everything is the same, and I am so, so grateful. Tomorrow, I’m back on the road, and of course, I will keep you posted.

Sending you wishes for sweet dreams, and lots of love,

Andi and Nellie

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10 Responses to Montana: Full Circle

  1. Marian Thier says:

    How well you open and tie up at the same time.

  2. Part of what makes your story so moving is that we readers celebrate the small miracles that came to you after The Really Bad Thing. And part of what gives me hope is knowing—beyond the shadow of a doubt—that if some Really Bad Thing ever befalls me, there will be small miracles waiting in the form of kind-hearted people and empathetic animals. And that’s the best story of all.

  3. Gail Storey says:

    What a triumph, Andi, to have come full circle, and what a full circle it was and is!

  4. Carol Grever says:

    Andi, this message of peace and hope and joy was a tonic for me. Thanks for sharing the full circle of your journey. You’ve inspired me with your courage.

    Carol Grever

  5. Hilary says:

    Lovely post, Andi. I can just visualize your journey via your writing. And I’m lad you got to full circle in this way. You seem so happy now!

  6. And, Andi, I am so grateful for your indomitable spirit and your transparency.

    Continued blessings to you on your journey.

  7. Sue Lion says:

    I so love your essays, Andi – they are universally poignant and filled with the fire of hope. Thank you!

  8. Mary O'Conor Rosenfeld says:

    Dear Andi, What an incredible journey you and Nellie have made and shared with us, your family and friends. Congratulations and blessings to you both! Cousin Mary

  9. Barbara Stern says:


    I think of you often and so I really appreciated reading your story, once more. I’ve never been to Montana and will need to go there after that description. Two years and 2 months doesn’t sound like that long of time in the ” big picture” because I know the labor you to go went through over this time period. You are a brave woman!

  10. Thanks for taking us along on the trip Andi! We all may have to walk this route at some point and it’s great to know it’s not only survivable but that one can actually prosper from it. Way to bounce back!! You should learn to make ‘Riccochet Biscuits’! Love ya kiddo!

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