- January 05, 2015
- Posted by Amanda Garant
“Well there, girlie, it looks like you’ve got your wings. Now how about growin’ some roots?”
A complete stranger gave me this advice on the boardwalk of Mammoth Hot Springs in March of 2013. After spending the better part of my young adult life moving and traveling, I was making my way back to Montana for the fourth time in five years. This man, whoever he was, couldn’t have realized how much his intuitive words would resonate with me. After such a long flight, I was hoping to stay put, to dig deeper, and to find a home. I was ready for roots.
I joined MCC largely because it would grant me the opportunity to get to know this region—my home—in a very real, intimate way. Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of familiarizing myself with these hills and valleys, of leaving my mark on its ground, and of participating in our Bozeman community. The more time and energy I put into this place, the deeper my roots grow.
It isn’t a coincidence that this stranger’s statement should cross my mind at this time. As I draft this entry, I am sitting on a hill overlooking the Big Hole River Valley; this is the same hill where I have sat for countless evenings over the past few months. Although our crew has traveled all across the Greater Yellowstone this year, we have spent five hitches throughout the course of our season working on an extended project for Butte’s BLM office. We jokingly refer to this place as our “home away from home,” but that isn’t far from the truth. Because so much of our lives has been spent here, we have gotten to know this project, this land, and each other extremely well.
This project has become an emotional and physical investment for all of us on the saw crew. Mary Lou, our project partner, spent ample time making sure we understood the larger implications of our work. Because of years of overgrazing and fire suppression, some of Montana’s aspen groves are not as healthy as they should be. Saplings are being eaten by cattle and outcompeted by encroaching conifers. Our mission, then, was to approach an aspen stand, to cut down the conifers, and to build a buck and rail fence around the perimeter. This dynamic project has greatly increased our skill set. With plenty of opportunity to fell, girdle, buck and limb, and notch, we have improved our saw skills astronomically. After building hundreds of yards of jackleg fence, we’ve practically mastered the art of hammering spikes, carrying rails, and working as a crew to piece the fence together. And, thanks to our generous, passionate, and brilliant project partner, we have learned various techniques to monitor the state and progress of the aspen stand’s viability. Had we only spent a single hitch on this project, I doubt we would have gained this degree of technical skills and historical context.
Collectively, we have spent about a month and a half living and working in this area. Throughout this time, we have come to realize and appreciate how this place changes with the seasons. We’ve watched the snow slowly recede from the surrounding mountaintops. We’ve seen the waves of wildflowers shift from the precious bitterroot to the fragile mariposa lilly to the strong indian paintbrush. We’ve experienced the mosquito population dive from torturous, constant swarm to the occasional, buzzing loner. We’ve watched storms come and go, rainbows appear and vanish, the moon cycle through its phases, and the sun rise and set again and again. Most notably, we’ve watched our beloved aspens go from green, quaking leaves to golden, glittery flecks.
As I reflect upon how much this place has changed over the past few months, it is easy to see how much we, as a crew, have also transformed. What began as a group of seven, unique individuals—each with his or her own skills, history, and goals—has molded into a cohesive, strong unit of people who understand each other in a very real way. Our fireside chats have become more personal as we have come to trust each other and drop our personal walls. Our conversations while washing dishes have become more intimate and more hilarious as we allow ourselves the freedom to laugh unabashedly at ourselves and at each other. Together, in this place, we’ve experienced jaw-dropping beauty and unexpected loss. We’ve come to expect the inevitable sassy comment or witty pun. We’ve gotten to know each other’s skill sets and, of course, each other’s bowel schedules. We’ve come to rely on each other for emotional support, for energy transfers, and for physical strength. In the backdrop of this place, a place where we’ve experienced so much together, we’ve inadvertently become rooted to each other.
I was a drifter for a long time, and I love flying just as much as the next person. I do not regret those nomadic years; I learned a great deal about myself and the world. But by staying in one place—by getting to know a trade, a community, and a region better—I have come to experience growth, change, vulnerability, and friendship in an entirely different way. That stranger was right. I’ve got my wings already, and I know where they can take me. But now—in this place, in this work, with these people—it’s time to let my roots grow. It’s time to find a home. The good news is…I think I already found one.
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