by Mike Thompson,
wildlife biologist FW&P
Game Range Ramblings column
June 10, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
When I was graduate student, living for a time in an old ranch house along the Rocky Mountain Front near the mountain goats I studied, all evidence suggested I was pretty much alone. No traffic passed by in the evening, no lights interrupted the darkness of night, no sounds overshadowed the coyotes and crickets.
Then one day I received an invitation to a house warming at the new place the Prewerts had built at the edge of the Blackleaf swamp. I looked forward to a tour of the house I had observed under construction when I passed by each Saturday on the way to and from Choteau for groceries.
It was November, and night fell well before the evening calling hour. I'll never forget standing out on the porch of the house I lived in, stars blazing above me, the air as still as it ever gets between the mountain front and Bynum, mesmerized by the sight of headlights. Dozens of headlights where I had never seen headlights before. They crawled silently over the plains from the four corners of the horizon, and I watched until the first one finally came to rest at the social.
There's no guesswork in planning to be fashionably late on the prairie.
I'm not confident I can express what I felt at the sight of people emerging and converging where there had never been much evidence of people before. But, I can tell you I'm feeling it again this spring on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range.
A few months ago, I wrote that the Game Range is a place people pass on the way to someplace else. There's nothing special about the Game Range itself that attracts public attention and appreciation.
Now I know I was as wrong about the Game Range as I was about the community along the Rocky Mountain Front twenty years ago.
Today, when I talk with people about the 50th Anniversary and the June 12th Celebration, I'm impressed by the number who reply with stories that connect them with the Game Range, or the broader area affected by the Game Range. We're getting calls from people who have experiences and information to share. We're making lots of new acquaintances and learning how much we have in common.
It was one of the benefits I think we all hoped to gain from the 50th Anniversary Celebrationthe coming together of people and stories, photographs and information that would shed light on old mysteries and extend the work that began in 1948. For me, the unexpected reward has been to realize that we are connecting a circle with no known beginning and no foreseeable end. We are part of something that was instilled in us many generations before 1948 and will burn as brightly within our successors in the future, even if they do put their caps on backwards.
It is the land that connects us.
When Sharon and I take our annual walk across the bunchgrass on a warm summer's evening, we see no one, but we are not alone. We're just revisiting the touchstone at a moment of our choosing, a touchstone that takes many forms for countless people. It may be the same clumps of rough fescue on a different evening. Or, it may be a cow elk with a new calf alongside Woodworth Road. Or, the flash of legs and a rack of antlers disappearing in the fir on a snowy slope of Morrell Mountain.
This Saturday, June 12, just for this one day in our lifetimes, we'll gather together at the Horseshoe Hills Guest Ranch to see whose spirits are also with us in our few moments on the Game Range. We'll say we're doing it for the Game Range, for our children. But, now I know we're really doing it for ourselves. And, we'll take home a restored faith in each other that reassures us. We share fundamental values, whether we come from Seeley, Missoula, Kalispell, Helena, Great Falls or New York. We are still rooted in the land.
And, the best thing of all will be when it's all over, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, when the Game Range finally falls silent once again. The last headlight will fade in the horizon and then there will be darkness. It's been a long time since I've been left standing at that time of night, but I hope to make it this one more time. To see the Game Range given back to its wildlife, to see our touchstone preserved.
For another fifty years.