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.

Childhood Unplugged

Matt Holloway

All of my favorite places in the world are within a stone’s throw of my Columbia Falls, Montana home. Mountains, valleys, rivers, and meadows that I return to season after season, year after year. And they are all public lands.

Barely north of town in the Flathead National Forest, I sneak silently through drooping rainforests of cedars and hemlocks, all the while crossing the tracks of moose, deer, and elk. Wolf and grizzly tracks, too. Farther up the North Fork, my family and I rent the historic Hornet Lookout and wake in the clouds. If it’s sunny, we gaze forever north into Canada, or west across the timbered mountains of the Whitefish Range, and east at the dentate skyline of Glacier National Park. Or we rent Schnaus Cabin, Ben Rover Cabin, or Wurtz Cabin — all public facilities, and all places where we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, friendship, and life. We watch river otters swim and ospreys hunt from the sky. My old dog Chief is buried above a long bend in the river that faces east toward the sunrise. Minus the scattered homesteads, ranches, and Polebridge, all of the North Fork is public land.

Or what about the east flanks of the Swan Range, or the Middle Fork and South Forks of the Flathead, where I hunt deer and elk. Thickly brushed basins with elk wallows the size of tennis courts and game trails as good as sidewalks. Places you get to know like the back of your hand as you learn how the elk move through them. Places you come to understand and love like you would a person. Public land that literally feeds my family. And provides the wood that heats our home.

Or what about the time my family and I camped on top of Doris Mountain and watched the Fourth-of-July firework celebration thousands of feet beneath us in Kalispell and Whitefish — tiny, myriad pops of color and sparkles on the valley floor. Us wrapped in sleeping bags, huddled together atop the open, beargrass mountain. Or the kiddy backpacks to Stanton Lake in the Great Bear Wilderness. The countless hikes to the waterfall and overlook on Columbia Mountain. My kids know mountains and wildness better than they know cities or technology. Childhood unplugged.

Where else are these things possible? Certainly not back in Mississippi, where I was born. To hunt, hike, or camp there is to know someone with a lot of private land. To be lucky enough to gain entry.

Montana, however, is a special place, and it is most special because of its public lands.

Teddy Roosevelt understood this idea, and during a time when our country was struggling to establish an identity, he capitalized on the one thing we had that the old word of Europe had lost — vast, wild landscapes. And he wanted these lands to be public — for all people of America.

It is this freedom of landscape that mirrors the freedom of the human spirit.

Because of our public lands here in Montana, we still have the chance to be free.

Matt Holloway lives with his family in Columbia Falls.

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