I grew up in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a beautiful state, that has been graced by nature with areas of truly awe-inspiring geography. From the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the endless ribbons of wooded mountains and valleys stretching down its spine.
In 1783, Thomas Jefferson traveled to Harper’s Ferry (then Virginia) and upon seeing the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac River remarked that this natural wonder “is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below…This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
But Jefferson never traveled west of the Appalachians. He could only imagine what his Corp of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark had witnessed and seen on their journey to the Pacific and back. As a teenager, I too hiked high above Harpers Ferry and like Jefferson meditated with the beauty of the confluence. But Jefferson never saw the sunrise in Eastern Montana, the sunset and alpenglow on the Mountains in Glacier National Park. If Harper’s Ferry is “worth a voyage across the Atlantic”, then Montana is worth low bagging to get to. Montana is worth all the pains of having your heartbroken while you’re a zit faced teenager knowing that things are going to be better. Montana is worth the late night insomnia of doubt about what you should do with your life. Montana is worth all this and more. Not just one view worthy, but thousands, from the soul swallowing immensity of the Missouri Breaks to every peak in the Spanish Peaks.
Thank God I was not born in Montana and never had these state backdrops of Montana infused into my life before consciousness. Every drive is a discovery, every trip across this state another opportunity to fall in love and realize the promise of life. Montana, worth a voyage from anywhere.
Were you to live three thousand years, or even countless multitudes of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and the shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can one be deprived of what’s not theirs?
It was the first day of 2018, January 1. A big snow had fallen two days before and we struggled to get up the North Fork Road to find a place to shoot skeet. It was already getting dark when we made our way south, back to Columbia Falls. As usually I was driving way too fast and just happened to see something on the east bank of the North Fork. As the ABS engaged we slid to a stop and quickly reversed. Turns out I didn’t need to rush, they were two Moose who had just crossed the river. In fact, at first we thought there was just one but then the other stepped out from behind the first. They were still for many minutes. I imagine they waited for the chill of the freezing water to fade away from their numb legs. Then, slowly they moved into Glacier National Park.
It started to snow this weekend though the backcountry has been covered for a few weeks. I can only imagine the slow hardship that winter is on animals. It’s a silent death, or a narrow survival.
The first time I went into the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone was in the winter of 1998-99. Despite the reintroduction of wolves in 1994, there were still huge herds of elk in the river bottom. I remember thousands and thousands of This past week the only elk in the Lamar Valley was a pile of dirty hide and red meat. The shapeless carcass was 150 yards off the road and we had heard that wolves were feeding on the lifeless mound. We were told to be there starting at pink sunset or before the blue dawn.
We arrived at 3, no sign of wolves. Other than the dozen bison on the North Ridge and a few black ravens in the trees dotted along the Lamar there was no sign of life anywhere. Clouds raced along to the south spitting snow. A few minutes of glassing around the valley revealed professional wildlife photographers on the ridge overlooking the carcass. They had spotting scopes the length of my arm and probably telephoto lenses equally as long.
Soon the wolves would appear, perhaps beginning with only one, circling, watching. By nightfall, the feast would begin. In a week the elk mound would be gone and another act of the Lamar Valley drama would begin.