"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cookie-Baking Commune?

During a dinner at Katie's in Whitefish, Montana, she casually mentioned a cookie-baking commune in the nearby wilderness where she bought the delicious mocha chip cookies we were eating for dessert.

"Whaaa?" I asked.  "A cookie-baking commune?"

"Well sort of.  It's not really a commune but this place where a bunch of people live together and they have awesome baked goods.  Actually, you would love it.  It's hard to explain so you should just go check it out."  She replied.

I took her advice and spent an hour and a half driving through the wilderness bordering Glacier on a rough road that tested my new all-wheel-drive more than it's ever been tested.  I drove through the sites of two old fires, the blackened trees sticking up like spindly arms of a Dr. Seuss character.  I drove and drove and drove until I was sure I had gone the wrong way or missed it somehow.  After a quick pee on the side of the road and a re-checking of my map, I knew I was in fact going the right way, and had just vastly underestimated how long the roads are around here!

Then, from the middle of the forest, out popped Polebridge.

The mercantile
I parked and went inside to look around.  There were a few shelves stocked with basic items like cans of soup, toilet paper, cough medicine, and pasta.  There were also too many home baked goods to list, and antiques lining the walls.  I could see a simple kitchen through the open door in the back, where a woman in a hand stitched apron was mixing some dough by hand.  There was a table in one corner where an old man and a young man sat laughing with coffee.

Inside the Polebridge mercantile
I approached the counter and asked the beautiful, freckled young woman with a nose ring and a tree necklace, "What is this place?"

She laughed and said, "Well, this is the merc.  You're in Polebridge."

"What is Polebridge?  My friend was trying to explain it to me.  Is it a community or something?"

"Well, yes.  But it's not an intentional community like you might be thinking.  We are unincorporated.  It is over 300 acres of land stretching up to the Canadian border.  It was founded 93 years ago.  About 250 people live here in the summers, and only about 40 in the winters.  We are all completely off the grid.  Some use solar energy, some only wood stoves."

"And you?  What's your story?" I asked.  "Do you live here?"

She laughed again, an easy laugh that let me know she'd been in these mountains long enough to appreciate the opportunity to relive the path that brought her here.  She set down her dish towel, leaned against the back counter, and looked up to the corner of the ceiling, thinking of how to reply.

"I grew up in Connecticut," she began.  "Went to college in Brooklyn and lived in New York for awhile.  I came out here to do some work for Americorp and just never left.  I lived here last summer and went down to the valley to spend the winter.  This will be my first winter here in Polebridge.  I'm really excited."  Her face lit up at this and she leaned forward.

"Wow," I said, "how courageous!  Are you nervous about spending the winter off the grid?"

"Not really.  I think it will be a great opportunity to really just enjoy survival, you know?  I have this romantic idea of being cozy in my log cabin, all by myself with the wood stove burning, watching the snow fall outside.  But in reality I know I'll be getting up at 2am to stoke the fire so I don't die!"  she laughed again, putting her hand up to her mouth to cover it.

"Nah," I replied.  "That's still romantic.  You'll have a great adventure."

I bought a mango pork sandwich, a coffee, and a dozen cookies, and went out to the porch to eat.  There was an old couple and a young, smelly backpacker already there.

"Mind if I join you?" I asked.

"Of course," the old woman said, "but we were actually just leaving.  We gave Nick, here, a ride," she nodded to the smelly backpacker, "and now we're going to be on our way."

Nick extended his hand in greeting and I shook it, introducing myself.  "I'll sit here with you," he said smiling.

We swapped stories while I ate the most delicious, moist, succulent pork sandwich I'd ever tasted.  Nick had just come out of an eight day backpacking trip through Glacier by himself.  And he smelled like it.  (Have I mentioned that yet?)  He is from Seattle, and was out here doing some bear tracking work for the summer.  When he was finished, he decided to stay and traipse around the trails.  (Seems like a common story around these parts.)

When I finished eating, I said goodbye and good luck to Nick and wandered around the property a bit more.

The fire truck for the community

View of the main communal area.
What a fun afternoon!  I really feel like I just can't avoid adventure.  It's around every turn.  Every new person I meet infuses my life with more excitement.  I have yet to meet one unfriendly face.  Traveling always reinforces the kindness, the generosity, the innate goodness of humanity for me.  Polebridge was just one more example.

To learn more, you can visit their site: http://www.polebridgemercantile.com/

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