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Being Thankful for Montana

The pre-dawn darkness faded as we crested the Deep Creek divide headed for a whitetail hunt on a friend’s ranch at the foot of the Crazy Mountains. By the time we hit Wilsall the sky had exploded in a stunning display of color as the not-yet-risen sun backlit the rugged snow-capped peaks. Low-hanging clouds were infused with intense reds, oranges, purples and yellow against the lighter blue of Montana’s famous big sky as my hunting partner and I gazed in awe at the sunrise spectacle before us.

The softly gurgling Shields River wound through the bottomlands so beloved by whitetail deer and, like the sunrise itself, the colors of autumn persisted in the reds of willows, the yellows of the few remaining leaves and the soft brown of the closely mown hay fields.

While quietly walking through the cottonwoods trying to avoid patches of crunchy early snow, a huge great horned owl left its low perch in a dead tree and silently flew a few feet above me on enormous gray wings through the now leafless grove. Seconds later its mate followed, equally silent, equally majestic.

A shot rang out and my partner’s good luck and accurate shooting brought his hunt to an end in less than a half hour since we left in separate directions from the truck. It would take me a while longer, but by noon we were heading home with our whitetails cooling in the back and the satisfied smiles of successful hunters on our faces.

We got to Townsend and hit the spud depot to pick up 200 pounds of beautiful red potatoes grown in the rich soil of the valley floor. With dirt still on the outside, the thin red skins covered white flesh so crisp and cold that it snapped when cut. There was no question but that these sweet and delicious products grown by Montana’s farmers would be a welcome part of the Thanksgiving dinner for the families and friends with whom they would be shared.

Driving back to Helena with Canyon Ferry’s not-yet-frozen waters glistening between the Elkhorn and Belt mountain ranges, the sheer beauty of Montana’s natural landscape was unmarred by the blight of development all too common in other mountain states. The harvested fields, dotted with herds of antelope and deer, blended gently into the sagebrush and juniper ecotone before giving way to the forested slopes and rocky summits outlined against the bright, smog-free sky.

Once home the spuds were unloaded, the whitetail hung on the gambrel in the backyard tree to cool, and it was time to clean up and put the rifle and hunting gear away for another year. Reading the morning’s paper that arrived after our departure and firing up the email to see what the rest of the world was up to brought the post-hunt euphoria back to earth.

And yep, things were still chaotic in the nation’s capital and the bitter partisan warfare that characterized so much of the election season showed no indication of abating. If anything, all the signs pointed to a brutal month ahead in the political arena and significant battles to come when the new Congress convened.

Yet, while the realities of our current national condition continue to assail our daily lives, there are still Montana’s mountains, rivers, forests and fertile plains to hold us in their embrace as life goes on. In the end, political turmoil plays an almost non-existent role in our daily lives. For that — and Montana’s natural beauty and kind citizenry — we should be truly thankful.

 

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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