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.
I’m wandering in a low dark forest. I can’t see very far. I could walk for days in these dense woods without crossing a fence or seeing a “no trespassing” sign. I’m looking at small things — ochre specks of lichen on granite boulders, moss-covered patches of soft soil. All day, a kaleidoscope of sunlight has been moving across the damp ground. I follow what interests me — thickets of black raspberries, vines of damp monkshood, weasel fur and bones scattered on top of a high stump; the remains of a hawk’s lunch. I’m not thinking beyond these details. It feels good to get out of my head and into the wind and sun, the raw elemental world — away from the polarizing and frightening politics of the world I inhabit more regularly — and into a bigger space for a while.
I am only looking forward, looking over the next fold, into the next drainage, wondering what I’ll find there. At some point in wandering, I realize I am no longer aware of my path home. After focusing so intently on where I’ve been I’m unable to recall how to get back to where I started.
I search for a path home through this damp dark garden, and find one. At times, I’m on my hands and knees, crawling in soil and decomposing leaves, ducking through dense alder, legs stinging from hidden patches of devil’s club. My boots are damp. My knees are dirty. It’s getting dark. I’m tired, a little anxious. Just before dark I walk through a grove of old growth cedar. There’s a small pond from which comes a chorus of frog song.
Being lost breeds fear, determination, doubt, and sometimes inspiration. Public lands are the gift of space — where we can get lost and safely find our way home — where the world is not parsed and divided into ownerships. No one is excluded by law or any other predetermination. What could be more democratic?
What does a country look like, when lost? I think it looks like where we are. But I trust, so long as we have our land, we can find our way back.
Jessie Grossman is a writer, activist, and educator in Yaak, Montana.