Wednesday evening and the balcony space in the Good Earth Market was crowded with people celebrating the 50th anniversary of Wilderness Walks. The event was sponsored by the Eastern Wildlands Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association, and longtime EWC board member and Montana State University Billings Professor Bernie Quetchenbach welcomed the participants while other board members sold T-shirts, MWA memberships, and set up a table loaded with GEM food, wine and beer growlers provided by volunteers.
MSU Billings Professor Tim Urbaniak presented a lecture on the existence and importance of archaeological sites in wilderness areas. He noted that sometimes, in the “leave no trace” ethic, fire rings, pits, and hearthstones used by travelers over thousands of years have been dispersed and destroyed.
Urbaniak is an expert in applying the latest analytical technology, such as probing 3-D photography, to ancient sites and rock art and has inventoried with his technological photography many of the sites in this region.
He also notes how difficult it is for professional researchers to investigate and analyze archeological sites without the information becoming available to the public, a small portion of whom will then locate and vandalize the sites, sometimes without even meaning to do so.
Susan Gilbertz, also an MSU Billings professor, seemed to have an endless supply of T-shirts, hats and outdoor gear to give away. The upcoming Music for the Wild, the main EWC annual fund-raiser, was announced. Occurring May 19 at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co., aka The Garage, the concert will feature Dan Page and the Barn Cats as headliners.
This year instead of the usual loud rock on the venue, a softer, “sort of bluegrass” is planned. The $10 tickets, which are also being given away by Gilbertz, include food, a silent auction, great tunes and camaraderie, plus kids with parents free.
Then the chapter introduces George Moncure of the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. as recipient of the 2012 Brass Lantern award given for support of Montana wilderness. Moncure has helped organize the Music for the Wild event and provided the stage and space at his brewing company free to the EWC for the last seven years. A portion of his brew sales is also given to EWC.
It was noted that wilderness is becoming more and more important to Montana as the things we appreciate about living in the Last Best Place are increasingly confronted by more people, rural sprawl, and other impacts of area resource development and a growing community. If we do not care about and care for our great wilderness areas, such lands will slide slowly and irretrievably into oblivion.
The annual walks, the feature of the Kickoff, are intended to make people more aware of what’s out there in the still wild lands of Montana – to encourage by exposure to and experience of such lands in their lives. The walks invite the sedentary, the stressed, the solitude seekers and all the rest of us to get out and lay our private issues on the ancient altar of wild land.
Time to smell the rain on prairie grasses and the wind cleansed by ponderosa pine and juniper, time to submit to the chorus of birds proclaiming their joy to be in the prairies and special hills of Eastern Montana.
To get out of living rooms, the houses, the classrooms, the work places to where one can see for a hundred miles to a grey, misty horizon. To realize that in that distance are coyote, fox, badger, deer, antelope, beaver, long-billed curlews, shrikes and history in the remains of stone arrowheads and of sod houses, tumbled, long-ago dreams in the scattered timbers of a hundred-plus year-old cabins and ranchsteads.
To visit the Missouri Breaks and see elk bigger than elsewhere, landforms that record a history before man, and even traces of the huge meteor strikes that decimated life on the young Earth.
For some walkers it is only the sight and song of a meadowlark, but for those who listen carefully, the secrets are there, as in the 16 songs of the chickadee, the totem of the powerful Crow Chief Plenty Coups. Having a lone chickadee once raucously set me straight on a particular issue years ago, I can verify to their veracity.
The wild land seduces you when you finally, truly sense it. Feel the changing temperatures, the shifting wind, feel the ground you’re walking on with its cactus, snakes, badger holes and millions of small, alive creatures. The smell of the prairie alone is nectar. There is a fecund, earthy smell to Grandmother Earth in springtime that captures a complex dynamic – birds giving birth, coyotes hunting to feed their pups, partridges silently moving through last year’s yellow grass, of rain on a thirsty land. The moon has something to do with it all; it’s light permission to the night.
For more information and how to obtain this year’s free walks booklet, go to www.wildmontana.org.