[ by Annick Smith ]
I'm the lucky one, a person who lives at the edges of her dream. Everyone has a dreamplace, and they call it dream because they don't live there. Their dream is perfect. My edge is not.
I live in the valley of the Blackfoot River in western Montana, and my wild river is under siege: by logging, mining, development, recreational use. But the Blackfoot is still vital, running green, clean, and undammed through timbered hills and pastures. It flows past gorges of red rock, riffles across gilded shales, eddies in sandy pockets where children play.
Walking the river, I touch the picture-puzzle bark of a 200-year-old yellow pine. Ravens croak. A kingfisher dives. A bald eagle wings upstream. Like homebirds, my family comes to the river in every season, to fish, swim, or walk. Once it seemed our secret; now tourists float by us in inner tubes, kayaks, and rafts. It's become a public park--especially the 10 miles of BLM land called the Blackfoot Corridor, a few miles from my house.
Norman Maclean, in A River Runs Through It, said the stones of the Blackfoot go back to the beginnings of time--the maroon, aqua, and sea-green stones milled from bedrock by the rampages of ancient Lake Missoula. Flood after flood carved the watershed as ice ages came and went. In the face of such massive forces, human acts of destruction appear puny, and our efforts to "save" the river seem inconsequential. Yet we must do what we must do.
My companion, Bill Kittredge, defines sacred as those things we cannot do without. The Blackfoot River is, for me, sacred. Not because God made it (although that may be justification enough); or because it is beautiful; or because its history includes Blackfeet and Salish Indians, Lewis and Clark, and immigrants such as me; or because of its rich natural life. The only way to explain how I feel is to name the names. I have waded the Blackfoot's tributaries, counting redds where the endangered bull trout spawn. Blue dragonflies hovered over my head, and mayflies rose like mini angels. I have seen elk come down from the hills to graze wildflowers called spring beauties, and when I pick huckleberries, I keep an eye out for bears. Some of my neighbors herd cattle on Blackfoot meadows. Others are loggers, teachers, wilderness guides, retired Texans, survivalists. My granddaughter lives in Potomac, where my sons attended a four-room school. The valley offers all of us identity and continuity. It is our home. We cannot do without it.
But home is not necessarily where you live. It can be where your stories abide. My youngest son, Andrew, recently moved to Brooklyn. I was anxious about him on September 11. When I finally reached him, I asked how the destruction of the World Trade Center affected him.
"I saw it from my roof. It was horrible," he said. "It makes me sad to think about all those people. Their families." Seeking relief, he went running in the park. It was filled with others, also looking for comfort. "It's complicated, how I feel," he said. "I was thinking about parks as a symbol. If they'd destroyed Central Park, and all the life it holds, that would've felt like they'd attacked my home."
Central Park is his metaphor for the natural gardens our culture cannot do without. To Andrew, and to me, Central Park is code for the Blackfoot, where he grew up. For Yellowstone, the Everglades, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. America's last wild places are everyone's good dream--our national commons--the enclaves we set aside for solace and renewal.
CATSKILL PARK by KEVIN KEITH
My wife and I hiked up to Giant Ledge with two good friends, and I took this picture with my pinhole camera. It took about five minutes. You really don't have a choice with that camera, because it doesn't let a lot of light in. But the longer exposures let you capture movement. And it gives you a minute to sit down and think while the photo's being taken. This photograph is really about time. That one little pine tree is pretty solid; the others are blurred by the wind.
Some say our patriotic duty is to mine gold with cyanide at the headwaters of the Blackfoot River. They say we must log America's few old-growth forests, building roads where no roads have been. They claim it is urgent to explore for gas on the Rocky Mountain Front, where endangered grizzly bears venture onto the plains. Or to drill for oil in the pristine breeding grounds of the Arctic. For jobs, for defense. No one mentions profit.
On September 11 we were witness to terror and violence, and then to a spirit of generosity that tore our hearts. The empathy of loss connected each person, for one moment, to all the living world. That's the impulse worth cultivating. Hate may destroy our towers of commerce, but we must not allow revenge, fear, or greed to destroy our actual Edens.
Annick Smith's latest book is In This We Are Native: Memoirs and Journeys. She is a writer, filmmaker, and environmental activist in western Montana.
© 2002 NASI
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