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Landscape Without Figures
 

From Highway 278 eastbound after Badger Pass
Alan Weltzien

Tom Murphy

Just beyond a chute fringed by lodgepole
the roadbed rises then breasts, sagebrush
clumps forever and the Beaverhead Valley
unrolls, widening ripples in a giant pond,
girded by near and distant ranges with local

names tagged to memory. Somewhere in this
broad brown bowl capped by winter snow
a river runs through it and borders the town
called home this quarter century, invisible
in the big round view where riparian zones

retreat to mountain shoulders and sheds
or houses, infrequent, shrink below vision
and what’s changed since William Clark
and crew trod through and long before
them, Shoshone hunted and fished? Where

is the crowded 21st century in this Montana
panorama, this wide-angle basin and range?
Where am I, a dot between wagging sagebrush?
Novelist Thomas Savage said, “it’s impossible . . .
to look at the horizon. . .and consider that there

is such a thing as Europe or neighbors or
anything else.” Big Sky Country shrinks a guy,
enfolds me within countless open benches
and ridges like standing on a mountaintop,
growing tiny amidst a jumble of aspiring

points. I lose myself in the curving rim
without end that cups my middle life.

Alan Weltzien teaches at the University of Montana Western in Dillon.