Mario Villalobos

Endless Summer Dreams

  • Journal

The end of summer is soon, and while I’m looking forward to fall, I’m going to miss this summer. Five months ago to the day, I wrote an essay that laid the foundation for what became one of my best summers, a summer that changed my life. Even though it began with one of the darkest periods of my life, it ended with such beautiful memories and a reminder of who I am. Not who I wish I was, but who I am. I didn’t get everything I wanted—who does?—but I did get what I needed, and what I needed was to be reminded of how big and beautiful the world is, and that my role in it has yet to be written completely.

In that aforementioned post, I wrote that Montana, my home for the past ten years, didn’t feel like home. “It still feels like I’m passing through,” I wrote. What I wanted, what I had been dreaming about for the past few years, was to leave Montana and embark on a new adventure, to go somewhere else. Whether that was another 10 year adventure or something else, I didn’t say. I didn’t say because I didn’t know. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go, or how I wanted to go—I just knew I wanted to go. So I wrote my thoughts down, and after I published them on my website, I shared the link on Facebook. I wanted my friends to know what I was thinking and feeling, and on the whole, those that read my thoughts gave me encouraging words of support. And it even resonated beyond my friend group. I received more email feedback on that post than anything else I had ever written. Complete strangers emailed me to offer their own stories similar to mine, and this connection with others made me feel like I was on the right path.

Turned out, I wasn’t.

One of my great realizations this summer came in my notebook. Since the first of January, I have been writing journal entries in my notebook every morning, day in and day out, all year, and I’ve yet to miss a day. I made a deal with myself earlier this year, but instead of writing more posts for my website, I devoted all my energy writing in my notebooks. I’ve filled hundreds and hundreds of pages in my notebooks, and I see no signs of slowing down. Clearly, I’ve spent lots of time with my thoughts, exploring them, analyzing them, understanding them, and one of the thoughts that changed everything for me came after one of the darkest periods of my life.

In early June, I didn’t want to live anymore. At least, that’s how I felt. I felt like I was wasting space, like I wasted so much of my life doing nothing, being nothing. There were many days where I didn’t want to get out of bed. What was the point? I felt like I was going to waste the day anyway. I didn’t trust myself to live, and at that point, why bother waking up anymore? But I kept waking up anyway, I kept making my coffee, I kept sitting by my desk with my notebook and pen, and I kept writing. All I had was my writing, and quite literally, my writing saved my life. I had to convince myself to live, to keep waking up, to keep taking that first step, to keep breathing, and I did convince myself, and my writing was the motivating force behind it all. It’s hard to explain exactly what was going on in my life at that time, why I was feeling that then, but I did feel these things, and I remember how exhausted I felt by the end of each day, exhausted of living, of fighting through it all and making it to another bedtime.

“I didn’t want to get out of bed because I didn’t know what to do,” I wrote in my notebook back then. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to live. I’m tired of coming up with excuses. I’m just tired. I’m tired of not trusting myself to do the right thing, to do what’s right for me.” On another page, I wrote, “What do I want out of life? To not wake up sad every morning. To spend more time with the people I care about. To meet new people. To take risks. To not be afraid to live.” On another page, I asked myself, “Why don’t I know how to live?”

It was in the asking of these questions that I found my answer. What I learned is that no one knows how to live. Not really. We’re all just making it up as we go along, aren’t we? Human nature is the same for everyone but our experiences and lives are our own. They are unique to us, and that’s what makes life worth living, isn’t it? To live however we were built to live? And I wanted to live. I did, and I do. Each day is my chance to live well, and why would I want to give that up? Around mid-June, I decided that I was tired of coming up with excuses, and I decided to simply live, to spend more time with the people I care about; to meet new people; to take risks; to not be afraid to live anymore.

And it was here where I realized something, but I only realized it after I lived a little.

The first thing I did was to rediscover my courage. Somewhere over the past decade I grew used to living behind my walls, and because of that, I grew anxious whenever I left my home. I didn’t want to be seen, and because of that, I didn’t live the way I wanted to live. Fuck that, I remember thinking. I’m done. And I was. Again, I can’t really explain what exactly happened here, but it was like a light switch had been flicked on, and I could see clearly again. My mindset shift was a bit confrontational. See me, I remember thinking whenever I left my home. See me walk down the street. See me buy groceries. See me live.

Through this, everything else just… happened. I hung out with friends (and turtles), and I had a great time. I went exploring, and I had a great time. I went hiking, and I had a great time. I again hung out with friends (and cows), and I had a great time. I went on more hikes, and I had a great time. I even had lunch with a new friend, and I had a great time. I did what I wanted to do, and I had a great time. I put myself out there again, and I forgot what it felt like to be seen again. Whether it was just in my head or for real, this feeling of being seen again felt so good. Feels so good.

By simply living, I realized that where I lived didn’t matter. What mattered was me. What mattered was living. And I lived this summer. I lived like I hadn’t lived in a long, long time. And now, again, I don’t know what to do. What path should I be treading? Should I leave? Should I stay? Does it matter? It doesn’t because home is wherever I decide to be, and if I choose to be here, then I’m on the right path; if I choose to live there, then I’m on the right path. The right path is what I make it, and this was my great realization.

I don’t know what the future holds, and quite frankly, I don’t care. What I care about is right now, this moment, this breath. As long as I have moments to experience and breaths to breathe, I’m happy. As long as I have friends to hang out with, friends to worry about and who worry about me, I’m happy. As long as I’m being seen again and not scurrying behind my walls, I’m happy. And this summer was like a dream come true, a dream of beauty and hope and happiness, a dream I wish will never end.

So… don’t let it end, this endless summer dream…

  • Notes

My favorite little 3rd grader ran up to me after school and said, “Hi Mario.”

“Hey, how are you doing? How was your day?”

“Good.” She paused for a moment. “Is it okay if I call you Mario Man?”

“Mario Man?”


“Mario Man is AWESOME! Of course you can call me Mario Man.”

She smiled her big, toothy smile and said, “Okay!”

Kids these days.

  • Notes

Yesterday, I went on one last hike before the end of my summer.

  • Notes

Yesterday, I changed pipe for the first time, I drove an ATV for the first time, and I got to hang out with some cows for the first time. Now this definitely caps off my pretty good summer.

A Nice End to My Summer

  • Notes

I went on a solo hike yesterday, a hike I’m going to remember for a long time. It was a beautiful (yet very hot) day, and the entire experience was worth it. Unfortunately, I did not have my mountain legs under me, so I’m going to be feeling this one for a few days. For me, this hike caps off a really great summer, one of the better ones I’ve had in Montana. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.

  • Notes

Found this bat hanging outside my window this morning at work.

He hung out there all day. I enjoyed checking in on him here and there throughout the day.

I love bats.

  • Notes

Finally, some good news: the Earth isn’t likely to get flung off into deep space for at least 100,000 years.


  • Notes

My beautiful Saturday.

  • Notes

I had a lovely lunch with my friend today, and we had these amazing turtles for company the entire time. What a beautiful day.


  • Notes

On my way home, I drove past another deer carcass lying lifeless on the side of the road. I’ve driven past I don’t know how many over the years, and I haven’t developed the indifference or joy I feel most people I know have toward these animals. Many people feed their families with deer meat, making jerky or storing countless pounds in their freezers for months and months. Tribal members can hunt these animals without a permit, something my white friends often feel disdain toward, and these members can also load these deer carcasses on their vehicles and take them home to eat. Years ago, on my drive home after returning from a firefighting tour, I saw another deer carcass on the side of the road, but on this occasion, there was another deer, a living one, circling the carcass, bounding around it. I don’t know what this deer felt or who it was to the dead one, but I could imagine. I imagined that she was in mourning, that the dead deer was a relative or a friend, that she wanted it to jump back on its feet and rejoin her so they can continue on their journey to who knows where. But she didn’t. I drove around them and continued on my journey back home.

A few years ago I hit my first deer. It was pitch black, and I was coming home from a school board meeting. I wasn’t driving faster than the speed limit, and even with my brights on, I saw the deer sauntering onto the road too late. I thought about braking as hard as I could but the distance was too short for that to do much of anything but get me hurt. So I pointed my Jeep toward the deer and hit it directly. I saw the deer flip in the air and disappear in the darkness. I quickly stopped my car in the middle of the road and got out. I looked around for the deer but I couldn’t see it. I checked my car and noticed only that my license plate was bent in a few places and part of my front left headlight was dislodged from its housing. Otherwise, my car survived pretty much intact. I got back into my car and drove home, the adrenaline keeping me up for a few hours. The next day, I told this story to my friends and they were all surprised my car wasn’t damaged more. No one asked or cared about the deer because hitting deer is a sort of rite of passage for people in Montana. At the time, I understood how annoying deer can be, and I understood why I saw so many lying dead on the side of the road.

A week or so ago, a friend and I were talking about how awful the traffic had been lately, especially down in Missoula. She told me a story about how different it used to be. A decade or so ago, her and her friends would regularly drive the 50-60 minutes down to Missoula after work, buy groceries, go out to eat, and drive back and make it home at a very reasonable time. She laments how she can no longer do that because of the traffic. It takes her longer to do even the simplest things, and she now dreads driving to Missoula to do any of the things she used to enjoy doing. Montana surpassed a million people in the last census, enough to grant us another seat in the House of Representatives. This increase in population can be blamed for it for sure, but my friend has a few theories. Missoula and all the cities and towns around it weren’t designed for this many people. The main highway from here to Missoula is Highway 93, and for long stretches of it, it’s a simple two lane highway, one going north, the other south. For a long time, this was enough. But now?

“It’s because of the turtles,” she said.


Yes, turtles. The western painted turtle, to be exact. I’m not an expert on this, so I’m going to be as general as I can. During hatching season, many many turtles start migrating toward wet areas, and where I live, that includes the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge. Their path cuts right across the highway. Obviously, the shorter their trek across the road, the higher their chances for survival, and this is where my friend—and I’m sure many more people—have their problems. Adding more lanes to the highway will help with traffic but that won’t help the turtles. I’ve seen dead turtles with broken shells on the roadside, and that, to me, is more heartbreaking than seeing deer carcasses, than seeing the carcasses of skunks, birds, and even cats and dogs. I still feel awful at the memory of driving over my first (and only) turtle years ago. I didn’t see it in time to swerve around it, and I can still… I don’t want to think about it. It’s an awful memory.

There’s a very beautiful animal bridge down by Evaro. You have to drive through it if you’re headed south to Missoula or north up to Kalispell from Missoula. When I first visited Missoula a few years before I moved here, this bridge is the first memory I had of the place. It’s beautiful, and from all indications, it seems to work. Bears have been seen using it, as well as deer and other animals. So as I listened to my friend complain about the traffic, about the turtles, about the tribe (so many complains about the tribe), I started to research safe paths for turtles. Japan has a very cool solution using tunnels, but unfortunately, I don’t think that will be built here where I live. But so what?

Yesterday I wrote about gas prices and how I can help by not driving as much. Driving less will alleviate demand on gas and maybe help animals survive to see even more days, for sure, but I know this won’t happen all at once, including by me. I can’t. Montana is the fourth largest state by total area but only the 45th most populous state. That means things are spread out very far from other things. In Los Angeles or other cities, I can live in a spot where everything I would ever need is within walking distance. I would need to pack a tent and sleeping bag if I were to walk everywhere I would need to go here in Montana. A car is a necessity, for better and for worse.

So what’s the point of all this? I don’t know. I don’t think there is one. I was simply driving home from picking up my groceries earlier today and saw that lifeless deer lying on the side of the road, and I felt sad about it. I felt sad about it and I don’t know what to do about it except to write about it. I’m not going to stop driving and neither are other people. People are going to continue killing animals, both with their cars and their guns, and I can continue trying my best to drive less and to continue not eating animals. My best is all I got, and that’s what I have to focus on, so let’s keep at it.

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