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.
In the bright calm engulfing a late March afternoon a father took his son fishing. They followed the water’s edge of the Yellowstone River up from the county bridge. A herd of angus cattle stood there watching with their big blank eyes. The grip of winter’s ice had only just come off the river the week before. It still felt raw in that intervening period between proper seasons.
The boy spent most of the day watching his father fly cast instead of the worm and bobber setup of his own. After catching two trout they sat on the bank and ate ham salad sandwiches made from the leftovers of their Easter dinner.
There was a time, his father told him, when gold was mined upstream and arsenic leached from the tailings worked its way into the river. Water is a patient element, he added, methodically traveling around anything in its path, unperturbed with time. The poisonous runoff made the river lifeless for years, and years after the mine played out too. Treasure what you have now. Fight to hold on if you must, because this won’t be here forever.
The boy remained silent, giving only a smile in return. The sun breaking through the clouds distracted him with beams of light stretching out across the valley.
Max Hjortsberg is a poet, and the Conservation Director for Park County Environmental Council in Livingston, Montana.