Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Between Grass and Sky

The Prairie is a landscape for the eyes; but even more so, it is a landscape for the heart.  Its vast and sweeping horizons carry so much cultural and biological weight that the eyes become only a trigger for the mind.  To look out onto the high plains of Montana is to dream of a rich past, to imagine an unmarked future, and to feel the significance of the present. The land is big, rugged, and unforgiving. It requires people to adapt, and it works only  with those who embrace its challenges and hostilities. For those people and animals willing and capable, the prairie shows its splendor. To those who choose to ignore its nature and fight against it, the prairie shows its callousness   

Since its settlement, the Hi-Line has been the edge of the world. In the late nineteenth century, it was outlaw country.  Few people, places to hide, and the Northern Pacific railroad lent itself to being a haven for the man-on-the-run.  Known notorieties, like Jesse James, Buch Cassidy, and the Hole in the Wall Gang, found safety  here.  Brave homesteaders, inspired by big, open spaces and the endless potential of hard-work,  drifted to the region to make a go-of-it.  Dust Bowl hardships, economic difficulties, Eminent Domain,  and a hostile climate took its toll on the farming and ranching communities of the northern plains. Today, only the persistent, tough, and creative people remain on the landscape. Alongside them, only the hardiest of creatures, both wild and domestic, thrive here. 

The severity of the land and the scarcity of human existence,  has fostered a  tough, but caring society. Despite miles between residences, people here are, unified, charitable, and social.  Families will travel far on rough gravel roads to help extinguish a fire,  brand a neighbor’s herd of cattle, or simply to say "hi". 

This is a landscape that binds people with people and people with animals.  A nexus of mutual dependence and self-reliance is a thread running through this open country. Here, stuck between sky and grass, lives a deep relationship. This connection between people, animals, and the land is one that few in this century know.

The Montana Prairie is a landscape for a special type. Those looking for solace; The Rancher, the Cowboy, The biologist, the adventurer, can find it on the Hi-Line. Here, a love for the land and room to roam  keeps the heart pumping, the mind dreaming, and the hands working.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Lot of Grass

Take it to the ground level. Ditch the car. Weave through the sage brush, cut through the coulees, sit still in seas of grass.  Hike, bike, run, wander.  Lie beneath the big sky, and drink in the stillness of the high-plains. We evolved, as a species, to walk the savannah. This is what we were built to do. 

Some think that the plains is nothing but a lot of grass. Well, a lot of grass, it is. There is tall grass, and small grass, rough grass, and soft. There is grass with cotton tufts, and grass with razor edges.  Thankfully there is a lot of grass.  With such an abundance, comes  a whole lot of running, breathing, throbbing life.  

prairie dog town

a closer look