Montana has a long tradition of listening to and respecting — revering — its writers and the state’s literary tradition. In an unprecedented show of unity, more than forty of Montana’s best writers have gathered, in rapid response fashion, to write original essays and testimonials advocating for the protection of our public lands, and endorsing Democratic House of Representatives candidate Rob Quist’s position on this (literally) most common ground of issues. Please vote on May 25.

Moving to Montana

Brian Schott

I moved to Montana when I was 23 because there was space to breathe. The lesser-known haunts of the Flathead National Forest opened me up inside as I wondered what to do in the world. My goal that summer was to reduce my life to the bones. Explore the woods. Read. Work enough to live. The lands owned by all of us made all the difference.

Near Tally Lake, I rented an old cabin. I explored game trails with no particular direction, just followed rutted paths past huckleberry bushes and stalks of budding bear grass. I fly fished remote creeks, picked mushrooms rising up from a recent burn. The forest floor had never before offered me a reason to really look. How many times had I walked among the trees, lost in some thought, missing everything that I was stepping on? The woods brought me new gifts every day. What would I give back to the world?

During my time wandering, I discovered that there is a vast difference between being lonely and being alone. And much of it depends on an ever-present, distant voice. An intimate relationship with thought.

Who could ever think of selling public lands? Even one acre.

In the woods I saw everything more clearly. A spider web in the moonlight. A dewdrop on the petal of a Glacier Lily. I pressed my hand into moose prints by a pond shore.

One afternoon as I sat by a pond gazing at ducks, a moose walked by me. It was massive — its muscular horse legs rose up from the earth, attached to a barrel body with taut skin, like a huge burlap sack of sand. It paused and stared back at me; big apricot eyes below its jagged rack of dirty bone, cupped upward like shallow bowls. It looked curious, like it was thinking, considering me too. Then it moved on.

I became wilder and without worry that summer. I thought about the cost of making money. Sure, you might make good money, but how much does it cost you? I was on the right track. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know where it would lead.

The next day I walked through a meadow filled with butterflies, the light flashing on their wings as they rose up to the sky. Stay here in Montana, I thought. Read and write. Continue to learn how to live. You’ll figure it out.

The public lands of Montana helped me determine how to live as a man. Wildly carefully. Too many people I saw had lost the dream, been gobbled up by life, and forgot about living. My time in the woods was about saving my future self. I had $17 in the bank, but I was rich beyond my dreams.

One evening near the end of summer, I saw a mountain lion — from tip to tail it must have been six feet long. It flashed in front of me on the trail and was gone. Deadly power and frightful grace, a sleek outline I will never forget.

The lands we all own changed me. Made me who I am. One acre less is an affront to all that is good.

Brian Schott is the founding editor of Whitefish Review.

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