You might want to cozy up with a hot cup of tea and a blanket, because I have a little story for you. A Montana story.
It started with a snowflake.
Dancing in the freezing breeze, it kissed my nose as I stepped off the plane at midnight. The first snow of the year. Magic.
I awoke the next morning to an autumn wonderland – brilliant yellow aspens delicately outlined in a thin layer of frost and snow. Soaring white peaks in the distance. Golden fields and rushing rivers.
And I hadn’t even gotten to the ranch yet.
But let’s rewind for a second. Let’s go back to the reason I was there. The reason everyone was there. Mary and Jeff.
Mary is a dean and runs a research lab at OHSU. Jeff is a CEO of a transit agency. They were both born and raised in the same city in Minnesota. They grew up vacationing in the same places (Montana especially) and both settled in Portland, Oregon. Yet their lives remained two parallel lines; never crossing until a few years ago, when a little bit of luck and a patented online dating algorithm brought them together.
Mary knew Jeff was successful and hard working, but what she learned from dating him was that he was also warm, empathetic and shared her love for poetry. Only a few dates in, Mary’s daughter Lucy, her only child, left for college. Jeff had planned a canoeing date, but Mary was so blindsided by the emotions of Lucy leaving that Jeff dropped everything and offered to come over and bake an apple pie with her. “He told me he wept when his son left for school and he knew exactly what I was going through,” she said. She couldn’t believe that he was so open about his emotions. That’s when she knew he was something really special.
She was right, of course. It was special. From their gourmet picnicking date on the moonscape that is Mt. St. Helens, to their Saturday morning tradition of reading poetry to each other in bed while drinking cappuccinos, their relationship became a supportive respite for them in the midst of their busy working lives.
It was only natural that they wanted a wedding that reflected that. A relaxing getaway to celebrate their love with the people closest to them, in a state they both adore.
So, on that snowy Friday morning in early October, family, friends and one photographer trickled into a guest ranch tucked 5 miles up a dirt road in the middle of nowhere mountainous Montana. Mountain Sky greeted us with cozy fireplaces, mouthwatering food, beautiful horses and some of the most gorgeous, welcoming accommodations I’ve ever seen. Laughter reverberated throughout the great rooms of the lodge as I watched family members reunite after years spent apart. This was heaven.
On the morning of the wedding, everyone rose bright and early for a breakfast of pancakes, French toast, bacon, omelettes, quiche, sausage, gravy, fruit, yogurt, bagels, toast and coffee. As soon as breakfast was over, we bundled up and head out to the stables. Everyone was assigned a horse for the weekend, we had a short lesson, and then the bride and groom set off into the sparkling frosty mountains for a 2 hour horseback ride before they got married.
After the ride we all had a big lunch and started to get ready for the wedding. I loved getting to see Mary and Lucy’s relationship as Lucy helped her mom with her makeup and her dress.
Once ready, Mary insisted that Jeff take a shot with her before they started taking pictures. Jeff was less than enthused but went along with it, making faces as he drank it. “You are so damn cute!” I heard Mary whisper in response, pulling him in for a big kiss.
The dinner setup by RC and Stacey Townsend at Mountain Sky was one of the most beautiful tablescapes Ive ever seen. It was perfect for Mary and Jeff’s five course dinner interspersed with toasts and roasts and most of all, laughter.
Their family and friends absolutely insisted that they cut the cake!
On a whim, Jeff’s children and friends decided to literally carry him onto the dancefloor for the first dance.
The live band, Western Skies, then led the group in dance lessons, explaining the two-step, jitterbug, and even attempted to teach everyone how to do a move called “the pretzel.” Hilarious.
Everyone danced, drank and partied the night away until well past 1am. Such a fun time!
Mary and Jeff’s last dance was incredible. Such a perfect day and night.
But the weekend wasn’t over yet.
Despite the late night, everyone was up bright and early again on Sunday morning for a little activity known as “team penning.” Essentially the guests were divided into teams and timed while trying to herd numbered cattle into a pen while on horseback.
Team penning took up most of the morning, so after that everyone relaxed, goofed off, and took a few more fun pictures with me before I had to leave.
It was so sad going home. I didn’t want to leave!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Mary and Jeff (and Lucy!) for bringing me along for the wedding of a lifetime. I will never forget this experience or your kindness. I am so beyond grateful that I was chosen to document this meaningful event!
Here’s a list of the incredible vendors behind the day:
Venue: Mountain Sky Guest Ranch outside of Emigrant, Montana
Dress: The dress was designed by Cocoon Silk Bridal Shop in Portland (NW 23rd) and made by some of the shop’s employees in Cambodia. The dress design was modeled after the Onyx Gown by Anthropologie’s bridal line BHLDN
Suede shawl: from designer Wendy Murray based in Sydney, Australia.
Bouquet: from etsy store NHWoodscreation
Cupcakes/Cake/Food all by Mountain Sky’s chef Brian Bielen
Ranch manager: Yancy Arterburn
1. collaboration of Mountain Sky operations manager RC Towsend, his wife Stacey Townsend for the table decorations
2. Peggy Poore’s garden store Uncommon Gardens in Minneapolis, MN for the place settings
3. Lights by pool/reception area were from Restoration Hardware
Coordination/planning: RC Townsend (Mountain Sky) and Lucy
Band: Western Skies