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.
The Land is Our Story
Recently I spent a day in Washington D.C. with my husband and two daughters. We toured the sites: The Washington Monument. The U.S. Capital building, where my 12-year-old learned about our country’s founding motto: E Pluribus Unum. “Out of Many, One.” The Jefferson Library. The Lincoln Memorial at night, where my older daughter stood beneath the Gettysburg Address and wondered at such a fine testament to democracy. We were jolted by the patriotism of the WWII Memorial and hollowed by the Vietnam Memorial. The MLK memorial left each of us speechless.
Standing there, it occurred to me that if no one had told me the story of this place, I would not recognize its symbolic value or its history. It would only seem a collection of arbitrary structures in a vast urban sprawl. Yet the names matter. Washington. Jefferson. Lincoln. Martin Luther King, Jr. The hundreds of thousands of people who fought for my freedom of choice and my family’s quality of life, they matter.
Not many people in Washington D.C. know the stories of Montana. There is a disconnect with the fact that some of the grandest historic paintings at The Smithsonian depict our state’s mountains, our clean waters, our wild animals as representations of the ultimate national treasure. They may not recognize the sacrifices of indigenous people who fought for freedom and quality of life against the odds of America’s great expansion. They may not know the importance of preserving all the “empty” space.
But when I get home and stand at the scenic overlook on the way to Pine Creek Falls trailhead, I think of this land. I see Paradise Valley spread in front of me, threaded by the Yellowstone River and I see time spent on the water with my family and friends. I see my eldest daughter’s first whitetail harvest, hikes to lakes and peaks and brushes with bears. These trails have tethered our family to the land and to each other. These mountains offer respite and challenge and freedom. This land is our story.
Friends who visit me in Montana have said: There’s nothing here. An incredulous comment meant in a good way. One year our state’s tourism office even used the phrase as a marketing slogan for ads that plastered billboards in Minneapolis, Chicago and Los Angeles. Montana: There’s nothing here. Juxtaposed with a brilliant night sky or bighorn sheep tiptoeing atop massive mountains in Glacier National Park, a sweep of the Yellowstone River or a herd of horses storming across open prairie, the campaign won national awards and attracted millions of visitors.
Yes. Nothing. There are mountains in the Absaroka range that have no names, only designations by elevation on a topo map. There are trails that I’ve hiked and camped these last two decades that are unseen by millions of other people. There are stretches of rivers and forests remote and plentiful enough that I may never see them all in my lifetime. Even still, they are not nameless, they are Public Land. Wild. Valuable. Accessible. Worth protecting.
Seabring Davis is a writer and editor in Livingston, Montana.