Broad brush stroke impressions of Montana:
- Big, big sky
- Cattle (mostly Black Angus)
- Horses (a whole lot of Quarter Horses)
- Hay (for the cattle and horses)
- Corn (for the cattle and horses)
- Cowboy hats
- Pickup trucks
- White crosses
- Super-friendly people
- Beef (I refer you back to cattle)
- Old West
- Mountains, mountains, mountains
- Big, big sky
There is so much more, of course. I’m currently sitting in Bozeman’s beautiful two-story library, clean and new and bright and state-of-the-art. Next to the library is a bronze sculpture park, and there is more artwork everywhere around town. Statues of owls and leaping trout. Paintings on junction boxes, some of them featuring horses covered with traditional Native American war horse symbols. There are breweries and musicians, galleries and restaurants, coffee shops and cool green city parks. There is Montana State University.
The city itself is surrounded by vast fields that stretch for miles; the vast fields are bordered by mountains that rise up into the wide sky, which opens to scattered puffs of clouds in the day, rivers of stars at night.
For obvious reasons, artists, photographers, writers, and poets are all drawn here. The streams and rivers sing. The air glimmers and hums in the bright sunlight. It is a place to stay for a while, which I may do. I feel as if there is something just beyond my ken, more to uncover, my fingers searching for an invisible veil behind which…well, that’s what I’d like to discover. It will require my being still for a time. It will mean sitting with my own stillness, which for all my practicing along my traveling way, continues to be an art form that eludes me.
Yesterday I drove out to Paradise Valley and took the East River Road that follows the Yellowstone River toward the south. I saw three other drivers along the route. I took my time moseying, drinking in the stunning vistas, creeping past enormous ranches and jutting mountains and honey-colored fields dotted with oversized bales of rolled-up hay, and catching glimpses of the translucent pale green river as it wound toward, then away from the road. From a distance it looked lazy and tame.
Later, when I found a place to pull over and walk down to the water, I discovered the Yellowstone River is anything but tame. Along the banks the bright water splashes insistently at round river stones and troubles the trailing willow fronds. Toward the middle of the wide river one sees the fast-moving current, over which white-throated swifts dart and skim, picking off insects.
I can imagine if one were in a canoe or kayak, one would soon be delivered downstream, and paddling back upstream would be an impossibility. These would not be waters in which I would want my swimming capabilities tested. Like everything else out here, there is wildness hidden behind the beauty.
Tonight I am going with friends to the Country Bookshelf (hurray for independent bookstores!) to hear environmental activist Brooke Williams (Terry Tempest Williams’ husband) read from and speak about his latest book, Open Midnight: Where Ancestors and Wilderness Meet. I’m about halfway into the book now. It’s a compelling intertwining of how our ancestors and the natural world around us speak to us, how mysticism is the correct approach to encountering the wilderness both outside and inside ourselves, and how to carry hope for reconnecting to all we’ve lost touch with – the resonance of the very earth and rocks and trees and hills, the signaling of both long-dead and newly-minted stars, the music of our own soaring souls, tugging at the traces of the everyday limitations we too willingly self-apply.
I’m eager to be in Williams’ presence. I’ve been spending a good deal of my time here watching birds, studying insects, examining rocks, gazing over fields, listening to the wind rattle the leaves in the trees – trying to reconnect with my own sense of wonder, which along this journey I’ve begun to misplace, falling back into old patterns of anxiety, worry, fatigue which then lead to “hurry, hurry, hurry and forget the life you are in right now.”
And I’m eager to be in his presence, because I, too, am listening for the ancestors. Before I return to North Carolina, I’ll be making a few final stops. One will be in Louisville, Kentucky where I was born and where grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are buried in their native soil. I think I am ready to hear what they want to tell me.
I might even be ready to hear what they will ask of me.