I’ve enjoyed all of the places that I’ve lived and traveled to over the years. Each has its own unique charm—sometimes it’s the people, sometimes the food, sometimes the buildings, and sometimes it’s just the memories and feelings I have for a particular location.
Of all the places I’ve been, though, my favorite is still my home in Paradise Valley, Montana.
I grew up here, but I don’t just love it for sentimental reasons; it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world (there’s a reason that the explorers Lewis and Clark named it paradise). The landscape is spectacular, epic even, with soaring, knife-edged mountains that constantly change appearance as the light and the clouds shift about them. Sometimes the range looks paper-flat, like a pale cutout propped against the horizon, insubstantial as a bank of haze. Other times—usually in the evening—every foothill, every nook and cranny stands out, and the peaks seem carved out of bronze and copper.
The variation in the scenery provides a continuous source of inspiration, fascination, and entertainment. Even after living in Montana for over a couple decades, I never tire of it.
I might have still written fantasy if I had grown up in a city like New York or Los Angeles, and it might even have been the same kind of fantasy, but I doubt it would have been as good. My descriptions of nature would have been far poorer, and I would have had little idea what it is like to ride a horse, skin an animal, carve a nock in an arrow, or make my own knives.
As a child, I spent much of my days outside, roaming along the rocky banks of the Yellowstone River. Sometimes I would make up games with my sister, other times I would just sit in the dirt, alone, and listen to the chickadees whistling to each another in the branches of the junipers and cottonwoods.
Montana is a landscape made for stories, whether you’re in the prairies of the east or the crags of the west. Everything is so big—the sky, the mountains, the wind-swept flatlands—it sinks into you, it shapes your body and your dreams. Something as impossible as a dragon doesn’t seem quite so fantastical when the ground smokes with steam heated by molten rock just below your feet, as it does in nearby Yellowstone Park, and the bones of dinosaurs (including those of the mighty T-Rex) protrude from the sides of eroding hills.
The weather is an exercise in extremes. A day may start hot and sunny and end in snow. Or the reverse. Snow has fallen (in different years) in every single month of the year. And then there is the wind, a constant, howling companion that sweeps the land for weeks on end. Always the wind, as if the air itself is restless—constantly searching for new adventures in the wilds.The animals are equally impressive. Black bears. Grizzly bears. Deer, elk, moose. Mountain lions that can sneak up on you without you ever hearing. Bald eagles that chirp like tiny songbirds. Geese that perch in trees. Burrowing badgers, howling wolves, and the most annoying woodpeckers in the world. Go for a walk in the woods and you might see every creature I just listed . . . or none whatsoever.
Watching the animals interact is sometimes charming—such as when our dog would play with foxes—but for the most part it teaches you the basic law of nature, which is that everything wants to eat, but nothing wants to get eaten. One can only hold a romantic view of nature at a remove. Once you get up close to the actual workings of the world, you quickly realize how dangerous and terrifying it is. Majestic, yes. Awe-inspiring, yes. But still dangerous and still terrifying.
Along with everything else I’ve mentioned, the people in the area are—for the most part—kind, hard-working folks who help their own. And they tend to have the most interesting stories, if you just take the time to listen. The rancher who lives down the road? She’s a former editor for Vogue. The scruffy guy with the beat-up old truck? A world famous painter whose work sells for tens of thousands of dollars. The woman who sells eggs in the local store? As a teenager she bicycled across the U.S.A. The middle-aged couple who come into town to pick up their mail? Former members of an apocalyptic doomsday cult.
I love Paradise Valley. It’s been a great source of inspiration, and more importantly, a good home. And as long as the Yellowstone volcano doesn’t erupt and bury us all in fire and ash, I’ll be happy to keep living here.