Sometimes adventure is chosen, sometimes it's thrust upon you. In this episode of the Tell Us Something podcast, we delve into the journeys of four remarkable people: A mother and daughter in Belize work together to navigate the challenges of entering the country with an expired passport, a determined diver confronts the depths of the ocean swimming against sudden swells and learns some harrowing news the next day when she returns to the water. An artist wrestles with self-doubt and the meaning of success. And a woman on a wilderness adventure faces a grizzly bear encounter, wolves and swarming bees on her ordeal to get out and help with a family emergency.

Transcript : Close to the Edge - Part 1

Marc Moss: We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Going Home”. This event is a collaboration with Missoula Pride and we will favor folx in the LBGTQ+ community as we listen to story pitches. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected].


The pitch deadline is May 4th. I look forward to hearing from you.


Another important date is on the horizon, too. Missoula Gives & Bitterroot Gives, is an initiative of the Missoula Community Foundation, is a 26-hour celebration of the Missoula and Ravalli communities. It connects generous Missoulians and Bitterrooters with the causes they care about. Causes like Tell Us Something. It is a day to celebrate and support the role nonprofits and donors (like you) play in making our Missoula & Ravalli communities great. Mark your calendars for May 2nd and 3rd and tell your friends about this opportunity to support Tell Us Something during Missoula Gives. May 2nd and 3rd.


Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast. Tell Us Something is a nonprofit that helps people share their true personal stories around a theme live in person and without notes. I’m Marc Moss, your host and Executive Director of Tell Us Something! We acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional lands of the Salish, Pend Oreille, and Kalispel peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.

As spring unfolds its vibrant colors and rejuvenates the earth, we recognize the interconnectedness of all life, and the importance of honoring Indigenous knowledge and practices.

In this season of renewal, let us commit to fostering a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture and history. Take time to learn about the traditional ecological knowledge of the original inhabitants of this land, and incorporate sustainable practices into our daily lives.

Together, let us strive to be mindful stewards of the land, fostering harmony and respect for all beings who call this place home.

A tangible way that we can do this is to practice leave no trace principles when we are outside recreating. Pick up our dogs’ waste when we are out hiking — don’t “get it on the way back” from your hike, get it when it happens, and carry it with you. Pick up trash where you see it, observe wildlife from a distance and avoid feeding them. By practicing some of these leave no trace principles, we can be stewards of the land that we claim to love so much.

We take this moment to honor the land and its Native people, and the stories that they share with us.


Sometimes adventure is chosen, sometimes it’s thrust upon you. In this episode of the Tell Us Something podcast, we delve into the journeys of four remarkable people:


A mother and daughter in Belize work together to navigate the challenges of entering the country with an expired passport, a determined diver confronts the depths of the ocean swimming against sudden swells and learns some harrowing news the next day when she returns to the water. An artist wrestles with self-doubt and the meaning of success. And a woman on a wilderness adventure faces a grizzly bear encounter, wolves and swarming bees on her ordeal to get out and help with a family emergency.


Traci Sylte: He opens the door and said, you’ll need to go to the U. S. Embassy right away. And talk to the consulate.


Ren Parker: I fight like hell to get up. Everything starts going really fast. I’m breathing air out as fast as I can, and I’m moving and swimming as hard as I can to get to the surface.  When divers dive, they need to decompress as they go to the surface.


Mark Matthews: And I  admitted for the first time that I’d given up the thing I loved. I’m Because I thought I was a failure, because I couldn’t make a living from it.


Kat Werner: I enter Pain Cave. Which is really just  alright, like, suck it up. Full on autopilot,  and I just, you know, one paddle stroke and one step at a time  trying to make it out of there. 


Marc Moss: Four storytellers share their true personal story on the theme “Close to the Edge”. Our stories today were recorded live in person in front of a packed house on March 26, 2024 at The George and Jane Dennison Theatre.


Remember this: Tell Us Something stories sometimes have adult themes. Storytellers sometimes use adult language.


Our first storyteller is Traci Sylte. An expired passport throws mother-daughter vacation into chaos! Listen to their dramatic encounter with immigration and how they turned a mishap into an unforgettable experience. We call her story “The Trip of a Lifetime”. Thanks for listening.


Traci Sylte: Descending from 30, 000 feet comes the following across the loudspeaker. Good afternoon. This is your main flight attendant speaking. Soon we will be coming through the aisles to pick up any unwanted items.


Please also have your, your custom form and your declarations formed, picked, filled out because we will be picking those up as well. Thank you for flying with us. We will be landing in Belize City in approximately 30 minutes. Beside me sat my daughter Becca, and it was just the two of us. She was 14 at [00:01:00] the time, and that was five years ago.


Old enough to begin filling out the customs form herself. And so I gave her her own form and she started filling it out. I began filling out the declaration form, making sure we had no, no unwanted fruits, no unwanted plant parts. Certainly nothing over 10, 000 in cash that we were bringing in. And then I started looking down at Becca and she was hesitating.


And, um, she’s sitting right here to the side of me and I’m, she’s, like, not filling out her form. And I look down and I said, Sweets, what’s wrong? And she says, Mom, my passport has expired. Yeah, right? And I say, that’s not true. Uh, let me see it. I look down, and sure enough, it had expired four months prior.


Four months prior, thirty minutes before we were to land in Belize City. Yeah. [00:02:00] And so I thought for a moment about like this, and I looked down at her, and I said, Okay, Becca, I need you to follow my lead. Can you do that, sweets? Just follow my lead. And she goes, Yeah, Mama, I can, I can do that. So we land, the customs line is long, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, because it was long enough for me to think about all the different things I could do to get us through this.


And it came down to one thing. I needed to be an actress, and I needed to be Meryl Streep. And I, oh, no, Jodie Foster. Jodie Foster is really hot right now, don’t you think? Yeah, Jodie Foster. So I had to be my best Jodie Foster. And so we are, we are coming up, and here’s the, up to the time where the, you see the official.


And I give the passports to her, and she looks at mine, asks me the questions, and then she hands it back, stamps it, and hands it back to me, and then she looks at Becca’s. And she looks at me and she says, Ma’am, her passport [00:03:00] is expired, did you know this? And I said, that can’t be. And, and I said, that’s just not possible.


And she says, it’s expired. And I said, that can’t be. Can I see it? So she hands it back to me, and I immediately start sobbing. And if, if, and I’m not an actress, but let me, and you guys probably like me watch movies, how do they do that? Let me say it’s possible you can, you can cry, you can cry. So I’m crying and I’m saying this is not true.


It can’t be, but it is. I don’t know how this has happened. Her dad just gave me the passport last night. We’re divorced. They went to, I didn’t think he’d laugh at that, that part, but yes. Okay. Yes. But yeah, we’re divorced. There’s, there’s clunky things, right? He, he handed me the passport last night. I’m telling the woman this.


And. They just went to Costa Rica last year. Passports don’t, they need to be renewed every ten years, right? And she’s not old enough. And she goes, ma’am, ma’am, [00:04:00] ma’am, calm down, calm down. Passport, and I’m crying, um, Passports need to be renewed for children under 18 years old every 5 years. And I said I didn’t know that.


And then she looks at me really sternly. And then she looks at Becca. And the interrogation begins. Who is this? This is my mama. What are you doing in Belize? We are in spring break. Where’s your dad? Why is your passport expired? Bang, bang, bang, bang. She asked Becca all these questions and Becca did not look up at me.


She just very calmly addressed this woman and after her interrogation the woman signals for another assistant to come and he comes and asks us the same exact freaking questions. Same thing, same response and I’m, I’m still trying to cry although the tears are starting to go away and Same thing, and Terry gets back, uh, and then he makes a phone call, [00:05:00] and he says, come with me.


And so we follow him down this long corridor, and then it turns, and I’m thinking all this time about spy movies and corrupt governments, and And cartels, drug cartels, and, and how vulnerable we are to these people at this time. And then we get to this door, and the door says, Director of Immigrations. And the door opens, he knocks, and the door opens, and this gentleman, let’s call him Raul, um, Raul, um, opens the door, and then he gestures for us to come in.


and sit down at these two chairs that were by his desk, and then he sits behind his desk and he looks at me, and I’m looking at him and I can see on the wall behind him, literally, no joke, there’s a picture of Jesus, and then on top of his file cabinets there are praying hands and I thought, I hope this works in my credit, or to my benefit, but drug cartels and corrupt governments, they’re religious too, so how is this going to work out?


So, he starts interrogating me the same questions, and I answer all of [00:06:00] those, and I’m not crying at this point. And at the end of these questions, I add. I said, I know it seems really stupid. Her dad and I were reasonably smart people, we just made a mistake. And I can tell you this also. Look at all of the consent forms, look at, we’ve got everything in line, and I can tell you that on the customs form it says, it asks you for the date of issue.


Thank you. Not the date of expiration. I never looked at the date of expiration. Neither did her dad. So then he turns from me to Becca. And he starts interrogating her, literally, with all the same questions. Who is this? And, and, and, then it comes, they think that I’m trying to smuggle my daughter in. It’s like, I just want to go out on the island and be with the sun and the sand.


And, and, I look at her and I think. She’s, she’s not looking at me, and she’s answering his questions with such poise and such grace, and it’s like, wow. She’s doing better than I am. And when she’s done with her interrogation, he looks back at [00:07:00] me, and his eyes had changed. At that point, I thought, Or maybe I knew that I was looking into the eyes of a father or perhaps a grandfather.


He literally, he turned and he went to a stack of papers on his desk. Oh, I forgot to tell you, at this point he was on the corner of his desk and he was looking over his eyeglasses like this at me. But he turned and he grabbed this, this, this piece of paper. And he literally ripped, I’m not joking, he ripped off a quarter of that piece of paper and he said, and then he put some of Becca’s passport information on it, he signed it and then he stamped it.


He said, this is your 14 day visitor pass to Belize, don’t lose it.


Yeah, he opens the door and said, you’ll need to go to the U. S. Embassy right away. And talk to the consulate, and don’t lose that piece of paper. So, I [00:08:00] also have to say that in my defense, I had this trip choreographed to the hour. I had two days on the mainland before we went out on the five day island excursion, two days afterwards, and I had to cancel all of that.


All of the mainland excursions that we were going to go on. And in that time, we got the passport application renewal, we got passport pictures, which is not easy to find all this stuff in Belize City in a third world country. It took a little bit of time and it was great for Becca and I, we really got to experience Belize City trying to find these things.


We called, we called her father, um, and got the, um, the, her birth certificate. FedExed overnight, we got, we got out on the island, we had a lovely time out on the island, did a lot of things, Becca snorkeled, and then she learned to dive out there. And while we were in the dive shop, the host of the dive shop said to us, I’ve never heard of such a story.


I can’t believe you’re here. And he said, you are likely going to have trouble getting back into the country.


[00:09:00] And he said, and just know that you can demand with the U. S. Embassy a 24 hour emergency passport. Just remember that. So, fast forward, I don’t have time to tell you all the things about the U. S. Embassy, that would take another ten minutes or more, um, but it was about as daunting. There were long lines, there were glass doors that I swear were three to four inches thick, um, There was, at one point, we heard a gentleman yell and say, if somebody doesn’t do something, somebody’s gonna get shot.


And we are getting the full, full experience here, this 14 year old here listening to all of this. And I also have to tell you that I put my mama bear on, and I, I had to, and I asked for a supervisor and another supervisor, and I demanded that emergency passport, and we needed it. It was, it was daunting.


But I’m here to say that the, but, and we got a private, we had a private host that helped us getting back and forth between [00:10:00] the, the, um, the consulate or the American embassy in Belmopan, which is an hour and a half away from Belize City, and we had to go back and forth several times, but we got to go in caves and visit his family and experience things that we normally would never have experienced.


And we made it. To our boarding gate 30 minutes before departure. Now we got on the plane and then we fly back in and we’re getting back into Missoula. And a lot of you guys can probably attest to this. The smell and the clear, the clear, cool air of Missoula was just really welcoming. And on our drive home, we were talking and reminiscing about the trip.


And, and Becca said to me, she goes, mom, that was the best trip that we’d ever been on. And, and she said. I think it was probably the trip of a lifetime. And I said, well, it was for me. You’re only 14, but yes. [00:11:00] It was a trip of a lifetime. It was epic. And she said, Mom, I gotta tell you something. Can I tell you something and have you not get mad at me?


She’s like, oh, here we go. She has a way of diffusing me before she even says something. And she said, Mom, I knew that the passport was expired before we left.


Thank you.


Marc Moss: Thanks, Traci.


Traci Sylte is a civil engineer and hydrologist who has worked for the U.S. Forest Service for nearly 34 years, and is currently the watershed program manager for the Lolo National Forest. She has a passion to maintain healthy watersheds, valley bottoms, rivers, streams, and wetlands. Traci is the product of two very loving parents.Her father taught her to operate a chainsaw and her mother facilitated dresses and piano lessons for her. The love of her life is her daughter, Becca, who is currently in her first year at the University of Washington. Traci continues to grow deeper in love with Missoula each year, because if one wants to learn to weave a basket with pink polka dots on a Tuesday, there’s someone probably doing it here. When Traci is not working, she is grounded by spending time with beloved family and friends, all things water, fly fishing, hiking, playing hockey with amazing Missoula women, fireside guitar serenades, sunrises, sunsets, all things music, and leaving things better than she found them.


In our next story, Ren Parker embarks on what was supposed to be a relaxing dive off Catalina Island that takes a terrifying turn. After fighting for survival in a desperate ascent, Ren knows that she must get back into the water the next day, and is met with devastating news upon surfacing. Ren calls her story “Deep Blue”. Thanks for listening.


Ren Parker: I am anchored on a small boat on the backside of Catalina Islands.  I’m getting ready to do a salvage dive with the two Johns.  And we’re standing there and looking around. It’s a beautiful sunshiny day.  Um, and we peer down the thing about the back side of Catalina Island is it’s open ocean. And for those of you who haven’t experienced open ocean, there’s nothing to stop the energy from the ocean.


When you are on the shore and you see a wave,  That is stopping all this force, but in the open ocean, it’s just there.  But everything seemed good for the dive that day, and we were about to drop down and get a lobster trap for a friend who had lost it during the lobster season.  As I slip into the ocean and slowly start ascending, descending into the depths, I look around and orient myself. 


On the backside of the island, there’s a shelf that’s about 120 feet.  There are these pinnacles that are about 60 feet that rise up like needles.  It’s very beautiful. If you look out the shelf, it drops down. And often when we speak of the depth, we use the word miles instead of feet. That’s how deep it is there.


You can see shadows moving and you never know what they are.  And as I go down, it gets a little darker and I touch the bottom of the ocean floor. It’s Sandy there.  We have only a few minutes to tie off the flotation device to get our lobster trap up. And, uh, that’s because the deeper you dive, the less time you have on the floor.


So we get that going and we, we, uh, light it up and it starts going up and up and then suddenly the surge hits.  I’m thrown 30 feet back and forth. I’m dodging pinnacles. I’m trying not to get smashed with rocks. I’m completely absorbed in the moment of trying to right myself and find some sense of balance.


For those of you that are unfamiliar with surge.  It’s like an underwater  river, but it goes back and forth and it’s very hard to swim against it. And this one was extremely strong.  By the time I had my wits about me and I’m trying to move around, I realized I’ve been breathing much heavier than I normally would.


And I’m starting to run out of air.  So I look around, I see the Johns. We all make the sign. We need to get out of here. And we start ascending up.  But it’s been really hard to swim and I’m exhausted and I look and I still have quite a ways to go and I’m almost out of air.  I look five minutes, five. Five, four, three, two,  and it’s gone. 


I fight like hell to get up. Everything starts going really fast. I’m breathing air out as fast as I can, and I’m moving and swimming as hard as I can to get to the surface.  When divers dive, they need to decompress as they go to the surface.  Air expands and gases expand in your system as you start going up. 


And if you don’t have enough time to off gas it out of your system, the ones that are stored in your tissue and your lungs, then it can create bubbles in your bloodstream and in your arteries and affect your organs.  I knew all this because I had worked at the hyperbaric chamber. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, it is a capsule that you go in when you get, um, decompression sickness from going up too fast or not fully getting the gases out of your system. 


And they put you back in pressure at depth so they can slowly bring you back up and you can off gas it the way you’re supposed to.  Um, I, this is in my mind, I break the surface  and there is foam and waves and I’m getting thrashed everywhere and I just keep dipping down and there’s no air in the, my vest and my BC.


So I just keep going under and I’m fighting to breathe and to get to the boat and somehow I do.  And I’m thinking about all these things and realize that I may be in some serious trouble.  But I wasn’t. I had done the emergency ascend apparently good enough that everything was okay. And, uh, I didn’t have to go into any sort of treatment.


And the next day, being a good cowgirl, I knew you gotta get back on that horse. And that’s how I was always raised. If something scares you, you go back and you try it again.  So I had decided I was going to go to the front side of the island where it was much calmer, where I had a lot more experience and just drop, drop down about 20 feet, just feel it and then drop back up and get the nervousness out of my system. 


So I walked from the back Harbor cat Harbor over to the front Carver. There’s a little isthmus there.  And as I’m walking there, I run into my friend, Linda.  There’s only about 40 of us that live on this part of the island year round. We’re all really tight. Linda was one of them. And was a good friend of mine.


She was witty and had this fierce sense of humor. She always had these beautiful long nails. Like, we were in the middle of nowhere and that girl looked fierce. Like, no matter what. And she would roll, she rolled the best joints with those long nails. She’d be like, oh, I got it. Just like, fabulous, you know.


I could never.  So I see her, and she’s looking fabulous, and she’s going, and she’s going to, um, get on her paddleboard, and we give, I give her a hug, I tell her what she’s doing, she’s all crazy girl, and I go.  So I get in my dinghy, and I motor out into this little lagoon,  drop the anchor, I have one of the johns in the boat to keep an eye out for me,  and I, I slowly go down into the water.


This area is about 25 feet, and it’s full of kelp, and it’s beautiful. And as you drop down, it’s the, the lighting becomes like a cathedral, or a redwood forest. It’s all dappled, it’s stunning.  And I get to the bottom, And the minute my feet touch the ground,  something is wrong.  I can feel it so deeply. It’s, it’s very upsetting.


So I immediately come back up and shake it off, you know, like I’m probably just still got the nerves.  And I come back and get back in the dinghy and we head to shore.  As I get to shore, I see the dock and.  I see my friend Lori running down it. She’s screaming and crying and she’s so upset. She keeps tripping and I had never seen anyone look like that before. 


So I quickly tied my boat up, walked up to her as fast as I could, and kind of caught her. And she was saying these things to me, but I, I didn’t understand what she was saying.  I kept repeating, what are you, what are you talking about? Finally, she said someone had died,  and I couldn’t understand the name, and finally she grabbed me, and she said, Rin, Linda has died. 


I had just seen her. 


Due to the  respect  I have for the,  for her life, I’m not going to go into details  of her passing, but one thing I will say, I worked in her ritual and I had to be a part of all of it.  So about 30 minutes later, everyone, all 40 of us were gathered  On the shoreline, in silence, nobody knew what to say, looking out at the ocean where we had lost our Linda. 


A woman started walking from the back. She was a local artist. She was slowly taking off her clothes to her bathing suit, and she had a handful of flowers. She started swimming out into the ocean and scattering them, and silently, we all started doing the same.  We got out there together.  And we all just swam in a circle  and spread flowers  and some people came from their boats and started pouring liquor into the water.


I’ve never heard silence like that before.  The next few weeks were a blur.  There was a lot of preparations and plans and trying to figure out this and contacting family and transportation.  I’ve always been the mother hen of everyone around me, and so I was just looking after, looking after, cooking for everyone, checking on everyone, but I had forgotten to check in with myself. 


And I got a call from my friend Chelsea. She had heard what happened,  and she said, Do you need to get out of that town? And I said, Yes. She said, Get on that ferry, and I did.  And she met me in Long Beach.  Got in her car and started driving up highway one up towards Big Sur. And slowly  I started my emotional decompression, which took a long time. 


And looking back, as I tell this story,  I realized that this was this moment, this critical moment in my life that took my trajectory and threw it into this chaotic space that I didn’t know was coming.  But when I look back, I see that that was the thing that brought me here. That was the thing that brought me  to many places within myself and in the planet. 


And I think that moments like that are only truly valued in retrospect.  And when I think back now to that time, what I remember  is how close we all were, how beautiful Linda was and how much we all love the sea. Thank you.


Marc Moss: Thanks, Ren.


Ren Parker is passionate about fostering a sense of community, and brings that enthusiasm to all of her endeavors. Ren grew up in Hawaii and lived on sailboats that she restored on the Pacific Ocean for seven years. She gave up her nomadic ways and moved back to Missoula to be close to family, and has been growing roots here ever since. Ren loves to dance and hike with her faithful dog, Poet, and spend time with her remarkable Missoula friends. She is a regular storyteller at the weekly storytelling event Word Dog, and hosts a weekly storytelling radio show on KFGM Community Radio where she is station manager. Her show is called Once Upon a Radio Wave.


Coming up after the break:


Mark Matthews: And I  admitted for the first time that I’d given up the thing I loved. I’m Because I thought I was a failure, because I couldn’t make a living from it.


Kat Werner: I enter Pain Cave. Which is really just  alright, like, suck it up. Full on autopilot,  and I just, you know, one paddle stroke and one step at a time  trying to make it out of there.


Marc Moss: An artist’s life takes a dramatic turn on a snowy night and a woman stranded in Alaska, grizzly bears on one side, a father in crisis on the other.


Stay with us.


Thank you to the Good Food Store who, as the Story Sponsor, helped us pay our storytellers. Learn more about them at Thanks to Spark Arts who provided childcare for the performance. You can learn more about Spark at Thanks to our Stewardship sponsor, Blackfoot Communications, who helped us to give away free tickets to underserved populations. Learn more about Blackfoot, celebrating 70 years, at


We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Going Home”. This event is a collaboration with Missoula Pride and we will favor folx in the LBGTQ+ community as we listen to story pitches. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected]. Learn more and get your tickets for the June 11th event at


The pitch deadline is May 4th. I look forward to hearing from you.


Another important date is on the horizon, too. Missoula Gives & Bitterroot Gives, a 26-hour celebration of the Missoula and Ravalli communities. Mark your calendars for May 2nd and 3rd and tell your friends about this opportunity to support Tell Us Something during Missoula Gives. May 2nd and 3rd.


You are listening to the Tell Us Something podcast where people share their true stories around a theme live in person without notes. I’m Marc Moss. Storytellers in this episode shared their stories in front of a full house on March 26, 2024 at The George and Jane Dennison Theatre in Missoula Montana.


Our next storyteller is Mark Matthews. Mark’s life takes a dramatic turn on a snowy night. He’s a struggling sculptor with seemingly nowhere to go. Listen to Mark’s story of passion, resilience, and rediscovery of the thing that he loves. Mark calls history “Thanks for This Wonderful Gift”.


Mark Matthews:

Um, on January 1st,  1992, I abandoned a career in art.  About a decade earlier, when I was 30 years old,  I started sculpting full time after quitting a job in Boston and moving to a small coastal village in Maine where everything was wicked good. 


I started my career carving wood, and I loved it. The entire process I would walk through the forest looking for broken limbs from trees or I would salvage a log that was destined for the firewood pile.  I carved many images of dancers. Ballet dancers, uh, dressed in, uh, tights and leotards. Modern and flamenco dances with, um, flowing skirts.


Couples doing a contradance swing or, um, the Cajun two step.  I also did musicians playing fiddles, violins, accordions, and guitars.  Sometimes I would liberate a figure from a single piece of wood, and over time I started constructing  sculptures. For instance, I would carve one leg, the torso, and the head out of one piece of wood, attach the arms in different attitudes, and the other leg could be jutting out in any angle. 


I had a lot of luck showing my work in galleries, and in fact, the gallery owner said,  your work entices people to come in.  And sometimes I witnessed that  after delivering a new piece, I would hang around talking to the director,  and people would come in the gallery and go from sculpture to sculpture saying, look at this, look at this.


And then they’d come up to the owner and they’d say,  We want to buy that painting, it fits the decor of a living room.  And I realized early on that not many people know how to live with sculpture.  But I made enough money, uh, to keep out of the starving artist, uh, category.  And many a day at the end of,  many times at the end of the work day,  I would just say thank you for this wonderful gift. 


In 1989,  I moved from Maine to Montana.  And, at that time, Missoula was a soft landing place for artists, writers, dancers, musicians. There weren’t many jobs, but the rent was cheap. For instance, you could rent a room, uh, a studio apartment at the Wilma Building for 150 a month. 


And, when I started exploring the Rocky Mountain West and the Pacific Northwest, I got my work into galleries in Seattle, uh, Kalispell, Big Fork, Truchas, New Mexico, and Palm Desert, California.  And also, um, a lot of my work was, uh, rather large, from five feet, uh, and I had one ballerina that was on point with her hands overhead that was eight feet tall, but they were very thin. 


But I had to transport them in a, uh, cargo  trailer.  And I wanted to make things that I could just put in the back of my Ford Ranger pickup.  and deliver it to a gallery. So I enrolled in a one credit independent study in ceramics at the university.  In fact, many people enrolled in one credit independent studies in a lot of subjects at that time so that they could get the health insurance. 


Um,  Where was I?  Oh, so I took my portfolio to Beth Lowe and Tom Rapone, and they looked at it and said, Oh yeah, you can work here as much as you want, uh, use as much clay as you want, as long as you mix it yourself. And it was a beautiful community of people, welcoming, supportive people. Uh, Bill and Cheryl West were there from Idaho, working on their graduate, um, degrees.


Uh, Joe Batt, was also working on his graduate degrees. He was the, um, lead singer in stand up Stella and, um,  Glenn and Amy parks was frequent, uh, visitors to the studio as was Jeanette Rakowski. We used to work at the downtown bakery before it burned down. 


There was one thing wrong though. The galleries weren’t selling my work  by the fall of 1991.  I found myself sleeping. And the camper on the back of my Ford Ranger pickup truck is one of those campers with the fold up doors.  And I would park just off campus. It was illegal to park without a sticker. And get up early, shower in the men’s, the old men’s gym, and cook my meals on a camp stove in the ventilated kiln room. 


But still, life was wonderful. I was making art.  And the weather was beautiful. No snow. Uh, no freezing temperatures all winter long.  Into the fall. In the early winter.  And, at the end of the day,  especially when I finish the piece, I would say thank you for this wonderful gift.  Oh, I forgot one little story.


Uh, Tom Rippon invited me to  sit on his sculpture class.  And, you know, I wanted to make these small things. And the first thing Tom said in class was, Everybody’s going to make something over six feet tall this semester.  I ended up making a statue of Hank Williams playing his guitar, seven foot tall, and a Lady Grizz basketball player holding a ball on her hip, and a couple of other pieces. 


So, um,  during winter break, my parents sent me a plane ticket to go visit them, and I got back to Missoula the afternoon of January 1st, 1992. Phew.  You deplaned on the tarmac at that,  at that time. And I walked out into warm sunshine, still no snow in the valley, and  thought, what should I do? For the rest of the afternoon.


Um, I didn’t feel like going to work at the studio. Uh, I usually camped up in, um, Deer Creek on the weekends and I didn’t feel like going up there. I thought I’ll go see a matinee movie.  So I went to the old triplex cinema at the end of Brooks, just before you head out to Lolo. And I chose to see dances with the wolves  about 20 minutes into the film. 


The screen went blank, the house lights came on, and an usher came down the aisle, and he said,  You may want to head home. There’s a wicked winter storm blowing up the Blackfoot. We’re going to get about two feet of snow and freezing temperatures.  I walked out into the lobby, and the wind was blowing so hard it was holding the exit doors open, and I could see the snow blowing parallel to the parking lot. 


Reached the Ford Ranger, got some winter clothes out of the back, and got in and instinctively drove to the ceramics studio, which shares the Quonset Hut with the Grizzly Pool,  intending to sleep there overnight.  I parked right in front of the door, even though I had no parking sticker.  Grabbed my sleeping bag out of the back. 


Reached for the door handle and for the first time in two years it was locked.  Got back into the Ford Ranger. Slowly drove off campus. Came to the intersection of Madison Street and there was a pickup truck.  Just sitting there in the middle of the intersection.  And I left the ranger idling and I went out and, to see what was going on.


And a woman rolled down her window and said, I can’t see anything. And the ice was encrusted on her front, front um, windshield. About a half an inch. So I took her scraper, uh, cleaned her window off. And as I’m doing that, I’m thinking, Hmm. How can I get this woman to take me home for the night? 


I couldn’t think of anything, so I handed the scraper back to her and she thanked me profusely  and drove off.  And I got back into the Ford Ranger and just sat there.  And when you’re homeless, you kind of lose contact with your friends.  And I’d heard of the Parvarello Center, but I didn’t know where it was.


And, and I didn’t feel right. My motto had always been, artists make art, they don’t wait on tables. So I had gotten myself into this situation.  And then I heard a voice. And it wasn’t inside my head. It was coming through my ears.  And it was the voice of Jeanette Rakowski. And she had said, If you ever get in trouble, you can stay at my place. 


So I made it over to her humble abode on the west side  and grabbed my sleeping bag and knocked on the front door and Jeannette came to the door, wrapped up in her bathrobe, opened the door and said, what the hell are you doing out there? Get in here.  She made me dinner. We chatted a while.  She went off to her bedroom to read and sleep.


And I spread my sleeping bag out on the sofa.  And for a while, I just stared at the ceiling.  And came to the conclusion that I can’t do this anymore. And I gave up. Heart. 


Twenty years later,  I’m working as an adjunct professor at, uh, Montana College of Technology when it was out by the, uh, county fairgrounds,  uh, teaching English comp and creative writing.  And I used to go over to the old Salvation Army store, which was also across the street from the fairgrounds.  And I’m going through the VHS  tapes, and I see Dances with the Wolves. 


I said, I’ve never saw the end of that film.  So I take it home and watch it.  Stopped it about half an hour in. And went downstairs to get a snack. And halfway down the stairs, I started weeping.  I’m like, what the hell is going on? The movie isn’t even sad.  And at that moment, all those memories of January 1st, 1992 came descending upon me. 


And I  admitted for the first time that I’d given up the thing I loved. I’m Because I thought I was a failure, because I couldn’t make a living from it.  And as abruptly as I gave up art, I decided I would take it up again.


Marc Moss: Thanks, Mark. Throughout his adult life Mark Matthews has worked as an artist, author, freelance journalist, wildland firefighter, and dance caller and instructor. He currently shows his sculpture and oil paintings at the Roosevelt Arts Center in Red Lodge, and at Manifestations Gallery in Eureka. Over the past dozen years he has visited scores of schools across the state of Montana, for Humanities Montana, teaching children of all ages how to contra and square dance. For more information about Mark’s art, and to hear an epilogue of Mark’s story, visit

In our final story, Kat Werner is stranded in Alaska, grizzly bears on one side, a father in crisis on the other.  In the face of fear, and with the help of her hiking crew, a community rallied and shared burdens. Kat calls her story “The Arctic Pain Cave” Sensitive listeners be aware that Kat’s story discusses someone who has suicidal ideations. Please take care of yourselves.  Thanks for listening.


Kat Werner: Kat Werner

I am on the Koyukuk River in the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  I’m with my husband, Curtis, and my friends, Samson and Cody.  For the last four days, we hiked hauling 80 pound packs to get to our river put in.  And it’s our first day on the river,  and we’re about two miles down. And when I look ahead,  everything happens really fast. 


I see a giant grizzly bear covered in blood,  and it’s charging at Samson, who’s the first in line.  And before I know it, something catches my eye on the left, and I look over, and there’s a wolf.  And as I start screaming,  the grizzly bear must get confused because it backs, backs off, and it hauls a massive caribou caucus. 


up the shore,  which gives us a much needed break to get the hell out of there,  take a deep breather,  because that was a close call.  And it was one of seven grizzly bear encounters in a 24 hour period. 


It’s our third morning on the river, and it’s one of those beautiful, sunny camp mornings.  And it’s, you know, it’s, I vividly remember it because the sun is shining, everybody always says, oh, Alaska, there’s all these bugs and it’s raining, but it was just beautiful, and I’m in a tank top, I’m hanging out with my friends, we’re really not in a rush, because we’re in the Arctic, and we have 24 hour daylight.


So we’re just hanging out, we’re sharing stories, we’re drinking tea,  and eventually, we’re like, alright, we should probably get going, it’s like noon.  And so, as we start packing up our stuff, I’m thinking, oh, I should turn on my Garmin inReach. And check if I got any messages.  And so if you don’t know what a Garmin inReach is, it’s a communication device.


It’s a satellite communication device that allows you to send and receive messages and it has an SRS function, but you’re not able to make or take calls.  And so I turn on the inReach and it takes a couple minutes to connect to the satellite  and within quick succession, I get two messages.  The first one is from my mom. 


And it says, bitte ruf mich an,  please call me.  The second one is from my mother in law Michelle.  Cat has to call home. It’s an emergency.  And my stomach just drops.  And I wish I could tell you  that the story I’m sharing tonight is just a good old adventure story.  You know, it’s really challenging physically and mentally, but overall, it’s a really good time. 


And that’s not the story that I’m telling. 


And so, to give a little bit of context to those text messages,  I have to look back at that year, and my dad, back in Germany,  who was having a really challenging year.  Despite any prior mental health issues.  He, pretty suddenly, and within a really short period, developed a really deep and severe depression. 


And so the morning of the day before we were set to leave for Alaska,  I remember calling both of my parents  and they didn’t answer.  And I got this standard, you know, Apple text message that just says, we’ll call you right back. And I’m, I’m already like, that’s weird. Like something’s going on. What’s going on?


I don’t know.  And so,  when my mom FaceTimes me, a couple hours later,  my dad is sitting right next to her and, you know, he doesn’t look, he doesn’t look at me at all, and he’s just in a pile.  And my mom says, you know, we just spend  some time with a crisis therapist who assessed your dad for suicidal thoughts. 


And, right away in my mind I’m thinking,  I can’t go on this trip, like,  what am I going to do?  And my mom says, you know, it’s, it’s okay. We have the support that we need, and we have the services, and you should go on this trip. 


And I do. And Kurt tells Cody and Samson what’s going on, and they’re great.  And the next morning, like 5am, red eye flight out of Missoula, before we leave, last minute I grab my passports, my German and my American passport, just in case.  And so, we head out, we get to Fairbanks,  and I’m just in a really weird headspace going into this trip. 


I’m really, yeah, I’m really just struggling to stay present and, you know, engage with my friends and soak up the beauty that is the gates of the Arctic National Park, one of the most remote places in the world.  And I’m really just worried the whole time.  And then I get those text messages.  Your dad tried to end his life today  and he’s at the hospital. 


And I respond to my mom and I say, I can’t call you.  At a minimum, I’m five days out from calling you.  And that’s five days of  hard, hard, hard back breaking work, trying to make it back to Coldfoot, the last truck stop, about six hours away from Fairbanks.  And so I’m like, well, alright, what do I do? I can’t curl up here on this sandy shore.


I can’t call a heli evac. I have to keep moving.  And, at that point, I enter  what my husband refers to as the pain cave. Which is really just this, like, alright, like, suck it up. So like, just go inside, and And just full on autopilot,  and I just, you know, one paddle stroke and one step at a time  trying to make it out of there. 


And I don’t talk, and I don’t engage, I just function.  And we all come together that morning on the river, and we basically brainstorm. How can we get out of here as fast as possible?  And we put in a massive day on the Koyukuk that day.  We finish the next morning,  and we make it to our exit, the Rock Creek exit. 


And,  I wonder if anybody has ever planned a trip following a blog post?  Especially if that blog post said,  This is not recommended.  It’s actually strongly discouraged.  That was the Rock Creek exit.  And it started out with a hike, well, a hike up a flowing creek.  My left little toe was literally numb for six months after that trip because the water was so cold. 


And you know, eventually the canyon gets really narrow and we get forced up the bank, um, this left, shitty side hill slope, the thickest alder bushes you can imagine, um, we labeled it the schwagadoom because it was, it was such thick alder and it’s hot and it’s humid and, um, We are hauling these heavy packs, and really, any time you needed a break, all you had to do was just go, uh  huh. 


Because it was so thick, you couldn’t go anywhere.  There is miles of muskag, so we’re just sinking into the slimy, muddy water. There’s bugs, there’s bees nests on the ground.  At our best, we’re moving a quarter of a mile an hour.  It was a full on sufferfest. I’m in my pain cave.  We make it. We get to Coltsfoot. 


I call my mom.  And I knew the whole time, really, that I’m, I need to go. I need to get home.  And so, you know, this whole time I’m just consumed with worry. Am I going to lose my dad?  And so after, you know, a pretty long, restless night, the next morning I flagged down the first person that walks.  Out of the Coltwood truck stop, and it happens to be a German dude, and I’m just like hey Can’t make mid name in each most of the house.


I have a problem that I’m yep. All right jump in the car I Get I get to Fairbanks There’s a six hour stretch from Coltwood to Fairbanks where you do not have cell phone reception I get to cell phone reception my phone blows Up hey, did you take the rental car keys with you by chance?  Yep, yeah, I did So I get to Fairbanks Leaving my crew stranded, but it is a trucker route, so thankfully, I’m just like, telling the German guy, hey can you pull over, I need to flag down this trucker, trucker takes the keys back up the road, that all worked out. 


I sleep at the Fairbanks airport, I get to Seattle, I fly to Frankfurt, I jump on a train, I get to my hometown of Nuremberg, my friend picks me up, I get to the hospital, I see my dad.  And the first thing he says, he’s just like, well.  What can I even say?  I just say. I don’t have to say anything.  I just give him a big hug and just,  Hey, I’m just so thankful I get to see you. 


And so when I look back at that experience in Alaska, but really that whole year,  it’s safe to say that that was the closest to the edge I’ve been in my life  physically and mentally and emotionally.  And here is what, over and over again, pulled me back from that edge.  It’s my oldest childhood friend back home who dropped everything  that weekend and that night to be with my mom and support her. 


And it’s my friend here in town who hand bedazzled these solar shields, if you know what they are. They’re these giant grandma sunglasses you can put on over regular glasses.  They’re styling.  Because I was so stressed out that I had a really bad eye infection,  and it’s my friend who left a care package with a note on my patio that said, this fucking sucks. 


I’m here for you.  And my therapist, who reminded me that there’s a lot of hardship and grief that can’t be solved,  but it can be shared.  And Curtis, who keeps planning these miserable epics,  despite everything.  And really, there’s a dozen more people and a dozen more acts of love and support.  And I think, for me, that’s really the beautiful thing about this story, that it’s my story,  and it’s my dad’s story.


And this community of people. that came together for me to rally around me.  That’s my community,  but it’s also my dad’s community.  And you know, his path,  um, wasn’t, wasn’t straightforward. It actually got a lot harder before he got to a better spot, but he is planning his next visit to Missoula this spring. 




He loves Missoula.  Ever since he first came here, he loves going to the break to read his German newspaper.  He loves taking his Harley with a German flag on the back to the locks a lot for a late breakfast.  He loves having a blue moon. I know there’s better beer, but he loves blue moon.  Having a blue moon on the patio with me. 


And so,  if you see him this year, wandering around,  Downtown Missoula, likely wearing some German shirt with like some German phrase or reference to the German national football team.  Please say hi, welcome him back, give him a high five, and tell him, Archie, you’re awesome. Thank you. 

Marc Moss: Thanks, Kat. Kat Werner was a German high school exchange student in South Dakota — some of you might remember her last Tell Us Something story about that experience and meeting her husband there.She has called Missoula home for almost 15 years. Kat is a licensed clinical social worker and faculty member at the University of Montana School of Social Work. Things that fill her soul are: any outdoor or wilderness activity, traveling the world, genuine human connection, cooking and eating good food, and creating and checking off a good to-do list.


Tune in next week to hear the concluding stories from the Close to the Edge live storytelling event 


Kathleen Kennedy: And I was simultaneously indignant  and sympathetic. 


But I also had this I was feeling like I would love for squatters to come there and, and light a fire and burn it down, like problem solved.


Susan Waters: And the voice said, do you want to stay or do you want to go?  And without even thinking about it, I said, if I still have work I need to do here, I want to stay.  And the voice said,  okay.


Annabelle Winnie: I do wonder if what we think of as traits for neurodivergence, if they’re really adaptations, there are ways that the body adapts. 


Behaviors adapt, and even the brain itself adapts to a world that often feels too, too bright, too loud. It’s just too much. 


Amanda Taylor: we were texting each other every day, morning to night. We called them play by plays, which I also loved cause it made me feel sporty.  I’m like, yeah, we’re sending play by plays.


Marc Moss: Listen for those stories at or wherever you get your podcasts.


Remember that the next Tell Us Something event is June 11th. You can learn about how to pitch your story and get tickets at 


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And thanks to our in-kind sponsors Float Missoula Joyce of Tile.


When you patronize these businesses, thank them for their support of live storytelling in Missoula.


Please remember that our next event, in partnership with Missoula Pride is on June11 at the Glacier Ice Rink at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. The theme is “Going Home ”. You can pitch your story by calling 406-203-4683, and we encourage our friends in the LBGTQ community to pitch a story.

Learn more about Tell Us Something including how to pitch a story and get tickets for the next event at