This began as a letter to my niece and nephew, but I soon realized that it’s really a letter to all children everywhere, with just a few specific details directed specifically at these particular kids. The relevant information is that they live in Baltimore, their parents work for Johns Hopkins University, and they have traveled more than most adults. Without further ado, here is the exact text (hyperlinks and pictures added) of my letter to them:
Dear I. & P.,
McKenzie and I are at the tail end of our road trip through Montana, and I am compelled to share some powerful thoughts from this experience with the young people in my life. So compelled that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on proper stationery, and I am writing on the only blank paper in my car — the back of my system notes with my bridge partner
Anyway, Montana is AWESOME. You are two of the most well-traveled kids I know, and I’ve seen a lot of the world myself. There are a lot of places I’ve loved and would love to visit over and over, but the unique thought that strikes me here in Montana is “This is where I should have spent my college years.” University of Montana in Missoula doesn’t have the reputation of an Ivy League institution or JHU or Stanford or whatever, but those are all fine places to go for a graduate degree, and I know, I know, you’re only 11 and 8, why am I yammering on about college? I’m just trying to plant the seed of an idea, and both of you are so gifted and intelligent that it won’t be long until college recruiters are beating down your doors anyhow.
Consider this: college is really the only time in your life that you will have such a wide open choice of where to live. After that, your choices are limited to where your careers take you, and I’m confident that you both will have ample choices and opportunities, but it’s still unlikely that Montana would have much to offer you beyond your 20′s. I’m not trying to say that U of M should definitely be your top choice — I don’t know enough about it to really make a strong recommendation, but I am saying that it’s worth strong consideration. If I could have my college years back, I would spend them here.
I love Portland and am settled into my life there, so I won’t be relocating to MT, but I am very lucky to have lots of opportunities to spend time in the gorgeous Treasure State. Maybe I’m totally off-base and you would hate it here, but I really doubt that. Maybe there’s a cool summer camp you could try to get a taste of MT. Or you could nag your parents to take a vacation here sometime.
McKenzie points out that for all my gushing, I’ve thus far failed to mention any specifics of why I love it so much. Here goes…
Things that Make Montana Wonderful
- Scarce population means so much of the area’s natural beauty is undisturbed and thriving
- cities like Bozeman, Billings, and Missoula are populated enough that there’s plenty to see and do, and yet small enough that you can walk or bike everywhere, and everyone is friendly and it’s very safe
- FANTASTIC outdoor activities. This morning, we hiked up to the M on the mountainside overlooking Missoula. A river runs through town, and canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and even river surfing (!!!) are popular. Tons of bike paths and trails, and lots of skiing nearby.
- amazing beer and wine (for when you turn 21:) )
- MT may be a red state, but the college towns are very progressive and blue
- proximity to two of my favorite parks — Yellowstone and Bannack State Park (and Glacier, which Z says will be my favorite once I’ve been)
- the geography is stunning. Mountains, rivers, plateaus, valleys, lakes…
If you check it out and decide Montana’s not for you, that’s cool and I understand. But I tell you all this because I sure wish someone had told me about Montana when I was younger. I hope you get the chance to check it out soon.
So that’s what I wrote. I should mention that I love Bozeman and the feel at MSU just as much as I do Missoula, and I guess I’m glad I don’t have to choose between them. I focused on Missoula in this letter because that’s where I was when I wrote it. Feel free to add to my list of things that make Montana wonderful — I’ll share your tips with I. & P.