The Rattlesnake

We loved our place on Third Street, not only because of its location, but it was a newly remodeled half of a duplex with a beautifully landscaped lawn in front and a private back yard enclosed by a high cedar fence with charming wooden gates. The back lawn was surrounded by a stone patio with an umbrella covered table where we would eat many of our meals in late spring, summer and early fall. To one side was a studio apartment with a covered area that had out door furniture where we could escape the rare rain storm and the more common hot summer sun and drink shandies during happy hour.

Catie, the young woman who owned the place treated us like we were her parents. She kept the landscaping plants in top shape and the lawns mowed. She made sure that the windows, inside and out, were washed each spring and the carpets were cleaned at least once a year. She and her new husband, Johnnie, always took time to talk with us, making sure that we were comfortable. We became quite close to them.

But, even though at our age we should have known, nothing lasts forever. We kidded ourselves into thinking that our blissful life on third street could go on indefinitely. After almost five years at that address, Catie had to sell the place. She’d moved to the East Coast to be closer to her family, and managing a property from long distance was too difficult, plus she and Johnnie were looking to buy a new property in which they could live.

In the real estate boom of 2021, the complex was grabbed up immediately. We’d thought of buying the place for ourselves, but the skyrocketing market quickly punched a hole in that idea. A realtor friend advised us not to invest now, as did our financial advisor. 

The new owner, before closing, made an appointment to inspect our half of the duplex for 7:30 in the evening. The hour came and went as did another hour. We fully expected that she’d gotten tied up and would schedule another time to look at our place, but a bit after 9:00 there was a knock at the back door. Without waiting for our answer, she walked in. 

I said that we’d been expecting her much earlier. Her reply was “Oh, we just got to talking to a neighbor.” She did not engage us in conversation nor did she introduce the man that came in with her. She just walked around, taking photos with her cell phone. Her friend at least complimented us on our art. She barely spoke.

The next morning, after the chilly and rude visit, we agreed that we’d better start looking in earnest for another place to live. We were even more uncomfortable when we found a key lock box attached to our front porch. 

Sheila then found an AirB&B link that was already advertising the unit next to us and the studio in back. The new owner named the place Hip Strip Suites after a popular area that was three blocks away. Soon our private backyard was invaded by strangers and the landscaping was almost entirely ignored. Our lease was not to expire until the next May, but home did not feel much like a home anymore.

During this period, Sheila was recovering from a total knee replacement. So, in order to get her out of the house, we took to going out each afternoon at about 4:00 to cruise the city, looking for areas that we might like. In the course of a couple of weeks, we became rather discouraged. We found no neighborhood that could compare to our Third Street location. We also were “impressed” with the number of trailer parks in and around Missoula.

We engaged a realtor and had family and friends looking for us. It began to look grim, and I began to wonder if we might have to move out of Missoula, maybe even Montana. But then it became obvious that this rapidly inflating housing market was not just local or even in the state. It was happening all over the country.

Whilst I was wringing my hands with despair, Sheila was working hard, looking at different links on the Internet for rentals and possibly something for sale in which we would not have to empty our entire equity.  She found a place in the neighborhood, a tiny house on a narrow lot. The back of the house faced a sketchy looking alley, and the rear gate was secured by a heavy chain as well as an industrial grade padlock. There was also a tiny building that might have served as a garage, but the door was blocked by trash and dried mud. 

The interior of the house smelled of mold with a hint of urine. There was a small room to the right of the entry that held a double bed and an old, beat up guitar that hung on a nail driven into the pasty, yellow wall. Cracks covered the ceiling as well as peeling, tan paint. There was no furniture in the room as the bed took up most of the area. 

The rest of the house got worse as we walked toward the back. Needless to say, we spent little time exploring the rest of the place. 

The situation was becoming depressing. An old town house looked for a few days as if it might become available. It was a vacation rental, but the owner was rumored to becoming weary of cleaning up the place after each guest departed. But, then she decided that it was much more profitable to continue the short term rental rather than having a tenant even on a month-to-month basis. As it was, the home would not have been large enough for half of our furniture.

Then, in late November, just before my birthday, Sheila found a house for rent that had been advertised for only one day. It looked too good to be true. A two bedroom house with a rear, detached studio, plus a two car garage. The utilities were not included and the lawn upkeep was up to the tenant. It also was in a rather upscale neighborhood where the rent might be prohibitive. Nevertheless, we contacted the property manager and made an appointment to see the house the next day.

Devan, the manager met us on time and unlocked the door to the old, nineteen fifties sort of place. The kitchen looked brand new and there was a recently installed wood floor that continued into the very large living area. At the end of the room there was a huge stone fireplace and a large, thick wooden beam extended down the length of the ceiling to the kitchen. 

Aside from the kitchen, the rest of the house was built like an old lodge with built-in pine wooden drawers and obviously do it yourself closets. 

Mount Jumbo can be seen through the back windows of the house we’ve been in for over four months, and it has been covered with snow for most of that period. There are several hiking trails through the area, but no one is allowed on the paths during the winter. The slopes are protected so that the elk can move freely in their winter habitat. The animals are not visible every day, but one day there were at least eighty of them. They might not be apparent to those unfamiliar with the mountain, but if one is familiar with the broad white belly of the mountain, little brown dots might be discovered, and if one has binoculars, those dots turn into elk.

We now live in the area of Missoula referred to as the “Rattlesnake” named for the stream that runs next to our house. It is a parklike setting with woods, trails and a few wild animals. What it doesn’t have is a close, locally owned grocery store like Orange Street Food Farm which was just a couple of blocks from our old residence on Third Street. Nor is the ROXY, a community owned movie theater, within easy walking distance. The same goes for the two bakeries, the two pubs, the stationery shop or the independent book store. However there are no ambulances, fire trucks or police cars racing by at all hours. There are no Alaska, Delta or other airliners flying over our house. There are no smokers next door coughing their lungs out and no aid cars showing up to attend to those residents of the rehab center who need help getting their lungs back into their chests. There are no loud parties that last until three in the morning across the street.

We do have the following: bears that wander close to our bedroom window, deer that have worn a path through the snow on our lawn, owls that can be heard asking for our identification, ducks splashing in the creek, Bohemian waxwings flitting through the bushes. Half a mile from our house, just after we moved in, a mountain lion killed a deer. 

Sheila put out some bird feeders that hang from the roof of our porch as well as a bar of suet. We couldn’t have them at our old place and were looking forward to seeing chickadees, finches, and perhaps waxwings crowd around the feeders as the winter might make it hard to find natural food. The food stations were up for over a week, but the only thing that came was a cheeky brown squirrel that stretched its body down from the roof to feed on the suet. A couple of days later two chickadees investigated one of the feeder, but apparently the seed wasn’t good enough for the little bastards. We never saw them again.

Now, in late April, the snow has finally disappeared (I hope), and the lawn is turning green. Buds are starting to leaf out on the trees. We’ve been able to sit outside next to Rattlesnake Creek and enjoy our late afternoon drinks before starting dinner. Sheila just told me that a bear got into a garbage can a couple blocks away. Maybe we should be nervous, but we are rather excited about the possibility of seeing a bear. A mountain lion, not so much.

So, we are quite happy in our new home, but, hopefully we are aware that nothing lasts forever. Enjoy it while we can.

Welcome to our Home

1 thought on “The Rattlesnake

  1. Hey Guys,
    Sorry you got AirBnB’d out of your last abode but the new one sounds pretty nice and more of a true Montana experience rather than living a “Missoula” lifestyle near all the trendy folks and businesses. This real estate boom is sickening for so many reasons – the prime ones being the new home buyers that are now priced out of the market and the higher cost of housing knocking economically marginal folks out on the street. I could really care less if our real estate holdings are worth double and triple what we paid for them – unless we decide to retire and move to a third world country? Might have to consider that if another wack-job Republican gets elected to the White House next time! (No Sheila, I am STILL a conservative…)
    You guys have a great Spring!
    Steve (& Roz)


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