Marco Polo in Missoula

By Emily Withnall

April 20, 2020

Marco Polo in Missoula

My house is leaky. Wisps of cold air seep in—but my kids remind me this isn’t possible, that scientifically the warm air is leaking out. Certainly, there is oxygen flow in this old creaky house but taking a full breath is a privilege I don’t use, my face flattened against the bright screen-light as I gulp down news of all the unknowns.

I keep forgetting to leave the house, but tonight I left on foot down the empty streets and up the side of Mount Sentinel to overlook the city and the mountains attired in thin caps of snow. I reached out to rub sage between my fingertips, bringing my hands to my nose to breathe it in, forgetting that my hands and face should be strangers, inhaling more deeply than I have in weeks.

The sun sets, an orange yolk dipping behind the mountains across the ancient lakebed and I begin my descent. Howls float up from the houses beneath me and I stop on the path, listening, as a flood of howls swells and I realize it must be eight o’clock. Howling time. Grinning, I howl back. I howl and howl and listen as the howls taper off. Brimming with grief and hope, we lock ourselves inside but howl nightly to say I’m still here. We’re still here. I want it to be enough, but tears blur the path and wet my cold cheeks as I walk back to the house where we wait and keep waiting.


Emily Withnall lives in Missoula, Montana, with her two teens. Her work appears in Tin House, Gay Magazine, The Kenyon Review, and Ms. Magazine, among other publications. Emily is writing a book about domestic violence and hydraulic fracturing. To read more, visit


Photo courtesy of Alex Withnall.

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