Perhaps you've heard that the live-in caretaker position on Missoula's historic Moon-Randolph Homestead is open for applications. People interested in tackling life with one foot in the 19th century and the other in the 21st can apply electronically or by mail through May 10.
As some might recall, my wife Joanna and I held the caretaker post from 2007 to 2012, living there year-round with our two small boys (one was born there). Based on our experience, the job description and qualifications listed in the application are accurate and comprehensive, a little more formalized than when we applied, but still the same in spirit: The homestead is rare and important and deserving of serious, thoughtful stewardship.
My best piece of advice is not to apply on a whim. It's serious business and you better be, too. To that basic caveat I would only add a few points concerning North Hills people skills, which are more important than you might think, and a couple other qualifications that weren't listed in the job description.
Must be able to relate to kids
Kids, lots of kids, kids all in your face, Dorito-teethed and wild-eyed from sunshine and chasing chickens and can we go on the rope swing mister please please please?
Spring swarms of mind-losing school kids are a sign of a healthy homestead with roots in both community and young imaginations, but unfortunately their mean old teachers usually insist they stand quietly from time to time and listen to the caretaker's guided tour. And if the caretaker drones or talks down or fails to engage them, he's toast. So the caretaker job takes a bit of performance, too, and it helps to have a fund of anecdotes involving skunks, chicken massacres and other colorful mishaps, which as new caretaker you will probably amass rather quickly. Kids prize grossness, too, so: name that scat!
Must be good at delegating
Take it from a terrible delegator: you're going to need way more help than you think. With long-range planning. With moving heavy things. With the famous fall party. With donations. Not to mention there's no real time off for you once you've got the caretaker job, other than what you can arrange with trustworthy, reliable friends who will look after things while you're away. Which will only be for a few days, and not very often. So it's never too early to start building a network of energetic friends and volunteers with complementary strengths and skills. You'll get burned out if you try to do everything yourself, which you don't want to be in such a lovely place. Happily, getting people to help you with homestead stuff is generally pretty easy because there are s'mores involved.
Must cope with public
How many people would you like to come tramping through your yard today? How many sweaty hikers would you like to barge in and use your toilet without asking? Professionally speaking, just how many times a day would you like to discuss how and where people went to the bathroom a hundred years ago?
As caretaker, there will be days when you simply wish you had the homestead all to yourself, without the obligations and responsibilities attached. Sometimes the place will feel like too much to handle even without having to stop weeding or hauling water or getting eaten by wolves every five minutes to "interpret" it for people. Buck up, though. Remember how lucky you are.
Though public property, the homestead technically is only open to the public at certain times throughout the year. In real life, of course, people don't always read or pay attention to signs or think signs apply to them personally, and so there is always the potential for lively misunderstandings at bedtime.
Must be neighborly
For most people, "Good fences make good neighbors" is an anodyne proverb from a Robert Frost poem. To live in the sparsely settled North Hills, though, is to feel the dark truth of it intensely. Good fences—which is to say, intact fences with working gates and locks that confine and/or exclude to everyone's satisfaction—preserve neighborly relations by reducing the likelihood of stray-animal problems, thus removing likely cause of unpleasant interactions between country neighbors. Your new neighbors prefer no interaction at all. Neighborly and nice aren't necessarily the same thing. To avoid finding this out the hard way, respect gates and property lines.
Must read the book
There's a great little book about the homestead, Butterflies and railroad ties: A history of a Montana homestead, by Caitlin DeSilvey. DeSilvey was an early caretaker, explorer and documenter of the rehabilitated homestead, largely responsible for rescuing the site from oblivion. Her book is required reading if you're interested in the position and, frankly, if you're thinking of applying for the caretaker position, you won't mind showing your support with a $15 donation to the homestead to receive your copy. Say on the first open Saturday of the year. See you there.
Andy Smetanka is a filmmaker, artist and writer, as well as a former caretaker at the Moon-Randolph Homestead. He wrote about his time at the homestead for the Indy in October 2008 in a piece titled, "Home in the hills." To learn more about the open caretaker position, visit the North Missoula Community Development Corporation at nmcdc.org.