It’s Not My Montana Anymore

I’ve just finished spending two months with my lady, B, in the place that has
always held my heart… Montana. The state where I grew up, the state where
I learned the life lessons that would sustain me… the state that waited for me
to pursue my career, and welcomed me home when the career was finished.

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From my years of 26 to 66, Montana lived within me, motivated me, always
reminding me it was still there for me. And, on the rare trips back home for
vacations and quiet time, it remained the old, familiar, rough-shod and
drop dead beautiful Montana of my youth.

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Back in ’76

The people of my town in Montana changed, slowly. The tough, WWII
generation of hard-living, hardworking rural folk slowly morphed into a
softer, more urbanized version with better educations and easier childhoods.
Many of the ranches in SW Montana were passed down in the family through
generations, but enough of them were scooped up by wealthy outsiders to
begin changing the land, its public access, and its culture.

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The Pooh in the back country

Then there was the weather. During the late 40’s, and all of the 50’s and 60’s,
the weather was as predictable as Montana weather can be. I don’t know
when it began to change, as I visited only during summer and Christmas,
while my parents were alive. It still seemed normal to me then… plenty of
snow in the winter, dry summers. By 2005 the weather had changed. Now
there was wind… a lot of it, winter and summer. Morning, afternoon, middle
of the night. The winters had become a bit warmer, the summers hotter, and
always the wind. Results of climate change, global warming? Of course!

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The change that really threw me when I came home for good back in ’05,
was my access to land and rivers that used to be open to me and my folks.
The public lands are more closely managed now, and rightly so… much of
our land can no longer handle the amount of people who invade Montana’s
lands for summer recreation. Also, partly because of the hordes of flatlanders
who demand to fish, hunt and camp, seemingly wherever they please, leaving
their urban messes behind them, the private land owners now have “no
trespassing” signs, and locked gates.

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This gate blocks a trail to BLM public land.

It has been tempting to visit a place or two on the Ruby River, particularly the
part on the Barnoski’s ranch, where Mom and Dad and I spent some of the
heavenliest afternoons together, fishing a few special places. I’ve attempted to
recreate special memories several times, and have found that the recreation
is never as strong, as sweet is the memory itself. So I don’t bother trying to fish
down on Barnoski’s ranch, even though I’m sure they’d still let me on it for
a little while. Those memories are clear and precious. It’s more likely they
would be dulled with an attempt to revisit them. Still, the gated trails and
pathways to the heart of the mountains that I’ve loved all my life, is a tragic
loss. It’s a little like taking away one’s favorite therapist, or taking away one’s
spirituality, or religion. The gates have taken away my inspiration for much
of the music I have made throughout my life.

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I can rely on memories, sure…
but why should I have to, in this case? I will never understand how someone
can legally gate a trail that leads to public lands that should be accessible to
all of us. I will never understand how they can legally gate the smell of the pine,
the chattering of the squirrel in the distance, the sound of the wind in the
huge stands of spruce, the view of that special meadow that explodes in color
with wild flowers in late Spring, that feeling of solitary peace that comes while
standing alone in the deep woods of the high country.
But then it’s not my Montana anymore.

Steve Hulse

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