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Battle for the Sweetgrass Hills Blue Light

Blue Light

by JOHN HOLT

There are three of them standing alone out here looking like volcanoes that pushed up through the ground of the short grass prairie when no one was looking. Up this way by the Alberta border a hot wind shoves the browning grasses back and forth all day. Distant yellow fields of canola and fading emerald lakes of wheat ripple far south to Shelby and off west to peaks of the Rocky Mountain Front, snowfields blending with miles of hazy, simmering air.

A pond below camp sparkles clear blue and sunlight flickers from its wave-broken surface, the water spring-fed and cool. Small rainbow trout leap from the surface chasing midges. Dragonflies cruise just above the water hunting down the same insects.

In country that seems desolate, barren from a distance, life is everywhere. Yellow-and-white butterflies bounce around. So do grey-and-orange ones. Red-tailed hawks, long-billed curlews, pelicans, mallards, and nighthawks dip and glide on hot patches of air or curl upwards riding the easy force of lazy whirlwinds. Sharp-tailed grouse kick up from moist draws. Spotted ground squirrels prance about like pets. Badgers growl from beneath the ground when their burrows are approached. Coyotes chatter and howl back and forth around evening. Later, a crescent moon hangs in the sky along with a rising Jupiter and some bold stars not afraid of the moon’s brilliance. This land is not dead at all.

The three buttes tower above the prairie, lower flanks covered with Blue Grama, Buffalo Grass and sage. Also, tall stems of Sweetgrass stand in isolated spots. Above this is dark grey almost black igneous rock, consisting of mostly feldspar, rock that rises steeply in ragged chunks and loose sheets for hundreds of feet, formed more than fifty million years ago, the surrounding, softer stone cut away by ice during the Bull Lake Ice Age. The buttes are like miniature island mountain ranges far out in nowhere.

Still the land is alive with a hum that sails beyond electric.

The place is sacred to the Blackfeet and they fear for its vast spirit. In a way I know why. Why they feel so strongly about this place. Years ago I saw stick-like figures dancing on the northern horizon at sundown and later that night large trout leaped above the pond taking my fly before it ever hit the water. Wild, unexplainable doings. There is serious power here, not the false juice that comes from owning fancy cars, gaudy jewelry or a big house. The real thing.

Perhaps not for much longer.

Rapacious mining interests from both Canada and this country want to level the hills and reduce the pulverized rock with a solution containing cyanide. The greedy bastards are after the gold that lies here in microscopic flakes. The mining industry doesn’t give a damn about the heart of this country and what it means to the Blackfeet, people who have lived and worshipped here for centuries. Some of us who aren’t tribal members love this place, too.

Gold, money, power, conquest. The same perverted steps to the same old, sick dance. Level the Little Rockies. Plan to do the same along the headwaters of the Blackfoot. Destroy this country we’re looking at. What’s the difference? There’s plenty more mountains just over the horizon. Who’d miss these three rising out where nobody really lives? Dead country to the mindless thieves.

Except for the gold.

That’s all the fools can see.

The Blackfeet believe, actually they know, that if these hills are cut down the spirits that live here will vanish. They’ll fly far away. Imagine going to church, dropping on your knees and praying to a god that no longer exists for you. No all-powerful being to hear your pleas for mercy and forgiveness.

Empty doesn’t quite get it.

No redemption this time around, kid. Try again in the next life, if you make it that far.

Maybe the miners will be stopped. For now, there’s always hope, but don’t bet on it. The industry has lots of money and owns lots of people in all the wrong places. They’ll probably get what they think they want.

I sit on the ground and look at the middle butte, watching it change in shape and dimension beneath the moving light of the sun, the grass and rock shining with brightness. I look along the low rises flowing south from the butte. A thin line of blue light, pure blue, shimmers just above the land and begins to explode into bursts of charged clouds of this unreal color.

Am I really seeing this? Of course.

Crazy being crazy, I always see these types of things even if nobody else does. What’s the damn difference. You must believe everything you see before the dream spins real.

I turn back to the view from here. Bolts of the light shoot back and forth among these grassy knolls and to my left a darker more intense blue sizzles up the north slope of the butte before rolling over the crest like a swirling storm cloud blowing over mountain a peak. These edges of landscape are alive with the blue. Light fires back and forth between the hills and this lone mountain, wave after wave for hours that seem like seconds and last forever. The light just keeps flashing and then the grass at the tops of the hills shines copper and gold. Flickering beneath is the glow that pulses with a rhythm far beyond any jazz, farther along than any human beat. Time passes in a way and the blue slowly draws back into the earth as the sun begins to set, its light shading the country in soft oranges, reds and purples. Smaller bursts and bolts shoot from the ground and then the glow is gone. For now.

What I experienced, I’ve never seen before. A shade of blue foreign to art. Unknown to photographers. Out of the reach of musicians. Beyond words. The land resonating with a human who cannot explain what he saw but will always recognize the light whenever he sees it again.

JOHN HOLT has been called the Hunter Thompson of Montana. He is the author of numerous books, including the gripping novel Hunted, and Coyote Nowhere: In Search of America’s Lost Frontier. He lives in Livingston, Montana and can be reached at: jholt@msn.net