Rejuvenation in Montana By Michael...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

April 01, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Rejuvenation in Montana

By Michael Coursey

SPECIAL TO THE SUN As I sat in Caras Park on the banks of the Clark Fork River, in the smoky twilight of Missoula, Mont., I remembered my hesitation in coming here last summer, not knowing how it might affect my life. I came to study photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, and I went home to Baltimore with much more than images on film. I was in mid-life, starting over in a field I knew little about: art. The experience of living and studying in Missoula was like no other.

I told friends back home that living in Missoula was like going back in time. Watching the slower pace, the rhythm of life in this town of about 58,000 people, was like the life I remembered in Baltimore in the late '50s and early '60s.

Missoula has a commercial tourism side, with fast-food eateries, chain stores and Southgate Mall, all along a stretch of highway to the south and west of town. Near Interstate 90, in the northeast section of town, there are other commercial spots and a few hotels. But unlike some towns that travelers pass by, Missoula's roads force you to go through town. And it is the older center of town along Higgins Avenue that is the real treasure, with its many shops, galleries and the restored Wilma Theater.

My reason for being in Missoula was to study photography with 104 other students, mostly from the United States. My studies led me to visit Fort Missoula, southwest of town, and the Garnet Ghost Town, about 45 miles to the east. I also visited Mehmke's Antique Steam Engine Museum, three hours east of Missoula, just outside Great Falls.

While I enjoyed the old buildings in Fort Missoula and Garnet Ghost Town, as well as the machinery at Mehmke's, I appreciated the everyday life and friendly people of Missoula as much, if not more. Though the rising heat and dryness caused fires elsewhere, life in Missoula continued, with families gathering for evening walks to the Dairy Queen, or to the Caras Park carousel. I routinely walked into town at night, knowing I would face no danger as I photographed the sky or the many neon signs on display.

A fellow student said on our last meeting, "This summer you've become young again." And so I had.

Michael Coursey lives in Dundalk.

MY BEST SHOT

Sacred sights and sounds

Jeff Gray, Reisterstown

During a trip through China, where I saw the Great Wall and Tibet, I visited a Taoist temple in Xi'ao. This woman, who was some kind of leader, was doing a chant.

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Larry and Jackie Ey, Bel Air

"At Hopewell Rocks, in New Brunswick, you can walk on the ocean floor at low tide to see towering, free-standing stacks known as the flowerpot rocks. A large portion of these four-story structures are submerged in water at high tide in the Bay of Fundy."

Nantucket Island, Mass.

Pat Hershberger, Joppa

"You can escape to Nantucket Island by ferry or plane. Nestled in a picturesque little town, you will find beautiful historic homes, nice beaches and friendly people. My husband and I visited in August, when all the greens and flowers were in full bloom."

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