By Kevin S. Giles
You stole my heart. You own my soul.
Can you help me understand why I left your embrace, crossing over your borders to places far from the rhythm of your waters and the beckoning from your tallest peaks? To live apart from you for all these years?
Like many before me, I moved away but never really left. I grew up in a working class family in a blue-collar town where magnificent mountain ranges surrounded us. In the midst of that splendor we thought we were the richest people on earth.
In my exploration of our nation I’ve found large cosmopolitan cities and ocean vistas and incredible peace on the prairie where it stretches to infinity. I’ve found other mountains that whisper to me, in other states and countries, in regions so different from Montana that after visiting them I pronounced myself an educated traveler.
But you, Montana, it’s you that calls me home.
As a boy in western Montana I knew little of the outside world, but that’s not the point. Montana was never about what we didn’t have. It was a journey into one’s soul, a three-dimensional experience in nature, a whispering of wind in lofty firs and pines, an eye candy of mountain ranges unblemished by man or time. It was knowing the land around us by names given to creeks and mountains and old logging roads that faded into tangles of fallen trees. It was peace in the silence of a forest. It was an intuitive love affair with belonging to something that felt spiritual and ours alone.
Do you remember me, Montana? I’ve wandered far from you in definitions of geography, but what’s a few miles’ distance between friends? Yes, I’m one of those natives who fondly repeats that Montana is a “state of mind” and that gives me license to tout your virtues at will. Do you hear my voice?
When I seek solace from an angry world, I think of you. When traffic and noise overwhelm me, my mind turns to the vast empty landscape that’s Montana. When I need a touchstone to remind me of my purpose, I recall my boyhood under your watchful eyes when life felt unburdened and full of wonder. It’s important, Montana, that I tell you that I’ve never lost sight of my origins on that hard road called life.
Thank you, Montana.
(Kevin S. Giles wrote the novel Summer of the Black Chevy, and Jerry’s Riot, the examination of Montana’s 1959 prison disturbance. He also wrote the biography Flight of the Dove: The Story of Jeannette Rankin. He is one of those Montana writers who finds stories in the woods and valleys and streams and small towns of western Montana.)