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Mr. BuLL and I have lived in Montana for four years. Outside of this stint, we have moved a few times, mostly in Midwestern areas. Pre-marriage, I moved many times as a kid and adult.
To this day, I buy shipping tape in bulk and reuse moving boxes.
The park ranger side effects include frequent moves from seasonal to seasonal gig until a permanent gig is captured. It’s an elusive beast that can take years to obtain.
Of all the heartbreaks and heartaches that have come with moving and the ranger lifestyle, it’s equal parts luck and preparation to end up in a western state.
Contrary to popular belief, Montana isn’t crammed with mountains and ponderosa pines. Only a quarter of the state holds the scenic mountain vistas that everyone drools over. Montana is mostly open-range land where water is scarce and precious.
One time, I was visiting family in LA, and I was chatting with a kind man as I waited for my ride. The gent asked where I was hailing from, and I responded with Montana. He seemed surprised and started peppering me with questions. The conversation drifted to water, and I told him how Mr. BuLL and I live in town because we didn’t want to be on a cistern (a personal water storage tank).
He seemed shocked that there were such places where water is a scarce commodity and that a home would require an onsite storage container.
I can appreciate that.
Before our Montana stay, I spent years in Wisconsin where water is plentiful, abundant, and piped directly into a house. When we moved west, our values had to shift like the gentle curves of a coulee.
We wanted to live near the mountains and the adjustment would include the reality of a finite resources up to and including water.
From hiking to camping, our household relishes the outdoors. Compared to other states, Montana has an abundance of public land. It’s a different flavor from the Midwest where state land is the majority. In western states, federal land is the most common public land.
As a federal employee, I prefer federal land with its larger tracks and recreation options where the possibilities are limited to the imagination.
The National Park Service has stricter land-use guidelines that cater to hiking and camping but with more amenities. Whereas, the US Forest Service has broader guidelines that cater to most recreationalists but have fewer facilities.
Mr. BuLL and I drift between the two agencies depending on our mood. If we want spiraling peaks with easy access, we visit Glacier National Park. If we want to escape the hustle, bustle, and parking frustrations, we take a long hike in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
It’s the western lifestyle gift; nature is abundant, beautiful, and only a couple of hours away.
There are cheaper states to live in with their lack of income tax but Montana has a few incentives that create geoarbitrage. Frogdancer Jones, the wit and wisdom behind Burning Desire for Fire, defines geoarbitrage as, “when a person geographically moves to an area that has a much lower cost of living.”
Montana doesn’t have sales tax. From big to small purchases, the taxes are taken somewhere else. It’s nice to go into a store and when the tag states .99 it stays .99. The savings are substantial for larger purchases like cars and appliances.
Also, we have quick access to recreation sites. Plus, housing and utility costs are cheaper.
I know that because I’m a gov employee. I get a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). There is a litany of places that have a high cost of living and get a higher amount because life is expensive in Alaska, Hawaii, and California. I fall into the “rest of the US” category. It’s one blatant way of saying, your cost of living is reasonable compared to other areas.
The Best of the West
Mr. BuLL and I wanted to move west.
We met in the Midwest but had lived in the west before we met. We knew we wanted to circle back to open spaces, clear skies, and unfiltered sunsets. It took a few years, but when an opportunity came up to move, we lunged at it like a cat on catnip.
We wanted to return to the land that reflected our best version of lean lifestyles, lengthy landscapes, and laidback livelihoods.