Haunted by Big Sky country

By Katy Nesbitt July 17, 2013 11:59 am
A friend recently bought a new car. She said, “I had never seen any of this make and color until I bought mine. Now I see them everywhere.” I feel like my summer is going that way. Every time I turn around there’s another Montana reference.

On my fellowship last month with 17 other natural resource journalists, I met a woman who runs an education center in Montana’s Swan Valley. She has friends here in Wallowa County I discovered last weekend — people dedicated to restoring forests and communities.

I also visited with a woman who has lived in Enterprise for more than 20 years who moved here from the Seeley Lake area. She said if she had to live anywhere but Montana, Wallowa County is the place to be.

Friday morning I sat in on a wildlife commission meeting and another “listener” gathered around the conference table wore a hat from a Montana ranch — a ranch I toured in the Blackfoot Valley. Jim Stone, who talked about non-lethal wolf deterrents and trumpeter swan reintroduction, has friends in Northeast Oregon, as well.

And so it goes as I flit from car wreck to rodeo to Fishtrap I am reminded again and again that there are a lot of people in the Intermountain West connected by their love of the land.

Two of my favorite writers, also tied to Montana, have been brought to the county this past year — David Duncan and John Maclean. They are disciplined writers who appreciate the importance of tearing themselves away from their work to catch trout, then return to the computer screen, refreshed by their nature break.

Last weekend two more Montana writers graced the Summer Fishtrap stage at the Wallowa Lake Camp — Bill Kittredge and Judy Blunt. Kittredge started out life in that desertscape of a county in southeastern Oregon known as “Lake” and Blunt hails from northeastern Montana, but eventually settled in a place with stoplights and choices of grocery stores.

My last night with the Institute of Journalism and Natural Resources we dined at a place called The Depot. As we left a fellow who lives in Missoula said, “Most nights you can find Bill Kittredge sitting there,” as he pointed to a bar stool. I thought, “And I get to see him at home, very soon.”

Kittredge is familiar with the same desert I am — cattle and pronghorn share the landscape with coyotes and jackalopes — and a smattering of humans bold enough to raise cattle on the desolate vista.

Blunt’s ties to the prairie are permanently imprinted on her and her stories — the open spaces and small communities of her life resounded with her audience gathered at the base of the Wallowa Mountains.

And who better to weave in the local fabric along with these writers than our own Nils Christoffersen, director of Wallowa Resources, an organization that contracts work to locals doing their own work to restore the ecosystems?

Listening to a panel discussion swirling around social, political and economic issues on a summer day surely is a good way to spend a couple hours, especially when I get to go home and write about it.

A friend of mine asked if my life had been changed by Montana. All experiences change me or are added to my toolbox of experience — whether in Big Sky country or a sidewalk with cardboard shanties in front of Manhattan’s Gucci Store. It’s just that yes, some adventures are sweeter and their memory lingers.

Norman Maclean ends his novella “A River Runs Through It” with the phrase, “I am haunted by waters.” Apparently this summer I am haunted by Montana.